Germany was cruising to an easy victory over Japan, as expected.
The Japanese team was plucky and played hard in front of their home crowd for their FIBA World Cup opener, but they did not have the size or the talent to keep up consistently other than to make occasional runs to bite into Germany’s often 20-point lead.
The real challenge in the game was for Germany to just keep its attention long enough because everything came so easily.
That is usually the kind of game where tragedy can strike. A game where it feels like you can do anything.
So with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the intrigue began. Franz Wagner drove through the lane as he often does and attempted a jump pass toward the corner. He came down on the foot of a Japanese defender and rolled his ankle, immediately going to the floor and clutching at his left foot.
Germany easily defeated Japan to open its World Cup play. But everyone is concerned with the ankle injury to Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner.
He walked off the court under his own power with a noticeable limp. But now the specter of injury hung over this game, an 81-63 win in what is likely to be the least competitive of Germany’s three group play games.
It does not seem bad at least on initial reports. But Germany expects to get an MRI to ensure that there is no other damage. His status for Sunday’s game against Australia is certainly in question.
That put a damper on what was a pretty solid game and a good performance for Germany overall. Germany did exactly what they were expected to do. And even Wagner seemed to be taking it easy.
He finished with 10 points on 5-for-12 shooting (he missed all six of his 3-pointers) but added six rebounds and five assists. The well-roundedness of his game has been the most encouraging growth from his run with Germany this summer. He has found ways to expand his threat as an attacker.
That only opens up his ability to get to the basket and finish. Something he did repeatedly throughout Friday’s game.
Still, the injury is a big concern.
Wagner has rolled his ankle several times in his two seasons with the Magic — his footwork is critical to his drives and his ability to work through the paint, sprained ankles happen when you do that. But Wagner has rarely missed time. Wagner has played in 159 of 164 games in his career — and all five occurred in the final games of his two seasons. That is simply incredible durability for a young player.
If there is a reason to believe Wagner is fine is that typically if he can walk, he can play.
That may not be the right approach here with Germany at the start of this tournament run and there are a lot of games in a short time ahead. Some rest now so he can be ready for the second round and knockout rounds might be a better prescription.
Then again, it will be tough to keep Wagner on the sideline.
Moe Wagner dominates the block
Germany had a major advantage on the inside and the team seemed to know it. It worked a lot of pick and rolls with Daniel Theis early and then fed Moe Wagner on the block when he came in.
And Moe Wagner ate up.
Wagner scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Germany to the win. He had 11 points at the half and by then everything was loosened and he just kept eating with dives to the basket and pick-and-roll passes.
Wagner’s skill as an offensive player really comes from how he does the simple things really well. That includes his post-up play.
Last year for the Orlando Magic, Wagner averaged only 0.5 post-up possessions per game according to data from Synergy. He averaged 1.29 points per possession on those post-ups. So those rare opportunities he made those moves, he tended to score.
Even with those limited attempts, Basketball Index estimates he scored 0.3 points per 75 possessions more than expected from post-ups last season. Perhaps this is an underused part of Wagner’s game.
No doubt, his best skill is his screening and his ability to use his physicality to create space for others. The Magic — and Germany — are using that plenty.
But this game saw Wagner take advantage of all of the space and size Japan was giving him. And he turned in a stellar game.
Joe Ingles’ passing is the thing
Orlando Magic fans are still getting a feel for who Joe Ingles is.
The Magic’s new free agent signee is a bit different than what the team is used to having — beyond just the fact he is 35 and very much not a child like the rest of the roster seems to be.
Ingles has a reputation for being an ace 3-point shooter. But his best and most important skill for the team might well be his passing.
All of that was on display in Australia’s 98-72 win over Finland to open the FIBA World Cup. Ingles tallied 13 points on 3-for-7 3-point shooting (3 for 8 overall). He added four rebounds and two assists.
The assist number is low, but it does not capture the kind of passing he put on display throughout the game. Or the role he plays for Australia.
Australia likes to put Ingles at the top of the key in the half-court and essentially use him as an organizer for the team. He can fire incisive passes to cutters or run pick and rolls and use his strength to fend off defenders and find outlets as the defense reacts.
Ingles is not necessarily going to be driving to score all the time. He plays at a more methodical pace. Nothing seems to speed him up and he keeps his cool.
This is why his ability to fire passes with some accuracy and pace is so important. If a player breaks free on a cut, for instance, Ingles is capable of firing the pass to him just as he gets open, allowing that player to catch and run to the basket.
Last year, Ingles averaged 3.3 assists per game and 5.2 assists per 36 minutes. According to data from Basketball Index, he averaged 1.99 assists per 75 possessions more than expected for his role and accumulated 21.4 potential assists per 75 possessions, placing him in the 88th percentile.
He averaged 3.8 “high value” assists per 75 possessions — assists that lead to a 3-pointer, free throw or shot at the rim — putting him in the 77th percentile. That means he is finding the right pass a lot and feeding it to open players in clear position to score.
That should be noted that was with the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the best offensive teams in the league last year. But it is proof Ingles is a facilitator. He will look to move the ball and get it to the open man.
But his role for Australia is very similar. He holds the ball and organizes everyone until the right pass come open. That is why he made such a positive impact for Australia and kept them afloat until the team calmed down and started executing more effectively.
There will be a lot made of Ingles’ addition to the team as a 3-point shooter. And that is for sure important. That will be there for the Magic too. Ingles is still a very capable 3-point shooter.
But his passing is something to watch out for too. Orlando did not just grab him for his spacing. His passing is a big part of his effectiveness too.