Orlando Magic 2023 FIBA World Cup: Moe Wagner vs. Goga Bitadze

Moe Wagner continues to put together strong games off the bench as Germany clinched a spot in the quarterfinals. (Photo by YUICHI YAMAZAKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Moe Wagner continues to put together strong games off the bench as Germany clinched a spot in the quarterfinals. (Photo by YUICHI YAMAZAKI/AFP via Getty Images) /

The highlight of the first day of the second round in the FIBA World Cup?


Absolutely Nobody:

Me: The Orlando Magic’s two backup bigs went head to head and both players made a great case for playing time as we inch closer to training camp.

OK, this is not the most attractive matchup on the docket for the FIBA World Cup and certainly not at this stage of the tournament. There were more entertaining and important battles happening throughout the day — just look at Brazil’s upset of Canada or Latvia’s upset of Serbia.

Still, there is going to be intrigue when Moe Wagner and Goga Bitadze return to Orlando. The Magic’s backup center position is wide open. It was flung open when Bitadze played well to end the season after Orlando picked him up after the trade deadline and Bitadze started eating into Wagner’s minutes.

So who is going to get this spot?

That is a question better left for coach Jamahl Mosley and his staff when the team gathers again in October for training camp. But the one thing this tournament has made clear is that there will be a tough decision for the spot.

Both Bitadze and Wagner continued to show the full extent of their abilities through their runs at the FIBA World Cup as both their teams advanced to the second round and perform beyond expectations.

Wagner got the better of Bitadze in the team matchup with Germany running away for a 100-73 victory. Wagner was excellent, scoring 14 points on 4-for-7 shooting with seven rebounds and five assists.

It was this mix of the inside and the outside that made Wagner so valuable. He made two of his three 3-pointers and looked mobile and active on the perimeter, often swinging the ball quickly to open shooters.

That was the big key in the game. Georgia had two long scoring droughts and Germany pounced on both to extend the lead out to 15. It got to nearly 30 points thanks to a late 3-point barrage and Germany hit 20 of 35 3-pointers. It will just be extremely difficult for any team to recover from that.

Bitadze got his shots in too. He scored 15 points on 4-for-8 shooting, making five of his six free throws. He added six rebounds.

Three of his four misses came from three as he hit two 3-pointers in the game. That was an element that Bitadze has been working on but did not really show in his short stint with the Magic.

Bitadze is still a better overall defender on the interior and that gives him an edge. Wagner is clearly more versatile offensively as an excellent post-up player and a decent shooter.

So which direction are the Magic going to go? That is not something to figure out on this day and in this game. Both Bitadze and Wagner have their pluses and their reasons to get the job. It will be a camp battle and may end up being something the team goes by committee, switching at various points in the season.

Paolo in the post

The biggest fear for the United States in this World Cup was their size.

This is not a particularly big team with Jaren Jackson Jr. as the team’s starting center, even though he plays power forward alongside Steven Adams or Brandon Clarke for the Memphis Grizzlies. He would only have Bobby Portis and rookie Walker Kessler. When the U.S. added Paolo Banchero to that mix, it only added to the questions of the team’s interior presence.

These two second-round games against two of the better and more physical centers in the World Cup in Nikola Vucevic of Montenegro and Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania would certainly test the U.S.’s size.

Montenegro managed to get 23 offensive rebounds and Vucevic had a double-double of 18 points and 16 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds. They got Jackson in foul trouble and forced the U.S. to run Jackson as an off-ball roamer, using the undersized power forward Jason Hart to defend Vucevic. It put a lot of pressure on the U.S.’s defense, despite forcing more than 20 turnovers.

Yet, the U.S. emerged on top with an 85-73 victory. They kept control of the game and the lead but could not fully pull away until the end of the game.

The U.S. passed this big test with another big test ahead in the much more physical Lithuania team ahead in a group championship game Sunday (the U.S. clinched its spot in the quarterfinals thanks to Lithuania’s win over Greece with seeding on the line Sunday).

They will have to battle a lot of the same challenges in that game. And the U.S. will have a lot to learn from this game.

That will also go for whether they will stick with Banchero at center for these games.

Banchero scored eight points on 3-for-5 shooting, making 2 of 4 from the foul line, with four rebounds in his nearly 15 minutes on the court. But it was clear pretty quickly that he would have trouble defending the bigger players on Montenegro. He played more minutes at power forward alongside Bobby Portis than he has at any point so far in this tournament.

This would always be the question and the risk of playing Banchero at center. His defense overall was certainly a question mark coming off his rookie year, but his interior defense also left some questions.

Opponents shot 65.9 percent at the rim against Banchero, according to data from Second Spectrum. Nobody would think of Banchero as your typical post defender.

Mostly playing power forward, he had limited defensive possessions on post-ups (especially considering his size which is perhaps his greatest advantage). That is why Banchero has shown some potential as a post and interior defender. It is certainly his strength defensively.

According to NBA.com’s tracking data, opponents scored only 0.78 points per possession and shot 16 for 40 on 50 total post-up possessions against him. According to data from Basketball Index, Banchero had a +0.31 post defense rating, putting him in the 89th percentile and averaged 0.35 rim points saved per 75 possessions.

According to Basketball Index, opponents shot 3.10 percentage points worse than expected at the rim with Banchero as the closest defender.

This has shown itself in Banchero’s sudden rim protection and shot blocking throughout this tournament. But the context is that he was mostly guarding power forwards — 32.0 percent of his minutes defending power forwards and 29.2 percent of his time defending players in the lowest usage tier and 22.1 percent of his time defending players in the third usage tier, according to Basketball Index.

Banchero was not asked to defend a ton of high-usage post players.

That is why it was a tough ask for him to do that against Vucevic on Friday just like it will be tough to ask him to do that against Valanciunas on Sunday. But this tournament has been about uncovering some of Banchero’s defensive strengths and potential that were hidden by him being a rookie and the Magic’s focus on developing his offensive game.

Even though there are still things for him to clean up defensively, Banchero keeps showing hints he can do more. Now the question for the U.S. is how to properly scale him for these challenges.

Ingles’ shooting struggles continue

For a lot of Australia’s 91-80 loss to Slovenia in the second round of the FIBA World Cup — a loss that eliminated Australia from championship contention — the simple challenge was to make shots.

The team got within four after trailing by double digits for most of the game thanks to a 12-point third quarter from Josh Giddey (he finished with 25 points). And with Luka Doncic in foul trouble for much of the second half and not taking many shots, the path seemed open for Australia to secure the win and a chance to advance to the quarterfinals.

Slovenia took advantage though and everyone seemed to contribute during an off night for Luka Doncic (19 points, 4-for-9 shooting, 9-for-10 shooting from the foul line). Australia was just climbing uphill the entire way and struggling to get a grip.

So the question has to be asked about their veteran forward in Joe Ingles. Ingles has struggled to shoot throughout this tournament and he was notably absent as Josh Giddey and Patty Mills carried so much of the offense.

Ingles went scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting, missing all three from beyond the arc. That brings him to 4 for 15 (26.7 percent) for the tournament.

That is hardly the efficient and effective shooter the Magic believed they were getting from free agency. Albeit this is a small sample size in completely different contexts. But shooting should be something that translates and Ingles has consistently proven himself in these international competitions.

Ingles was fine last year with the Milwaukee Bucks but hardly the sharpshooter he was with the Utah Jazz. How much of that was his recovery from the torn ACL from a year before? And at 35 years old, how much does Ingles have left in him?

Next. 5 Orlando Magic players who could shock the world next season. dark

Magic fans certainly hoped to see Ingles’ shooting come to the front and alleviate fears about what his role would be. Instead, this tournament has made us all wonder if Ingles is too close to the end of his career to contribute.

Only October will tell us perhaps.