Throughout the FIBA World Cup, a lot of the American media’s focus has been on watching Anthony Edwards take the leap toward superstardom.
His performance for the U.S. team and the way he quickly emerged as the team’s best player and go-to scorer has everyone eagerly anticipating a breakout season for the All-Star.
He showed hints of this in his Playoff appearance with the Minnesota Timberwolves. There is a lot of hand-wringing already not only about his national TV appearances but his future in Minneapolis because he is so clearly a star (the latter point a debate for another post).
The World Cup and these international basketball tournaments are indeed that kind of appetizer for the NBA season. In pressure-packed games and fairly big stages, the cream rises to the top. And there are a lot of young players who get their chance to showcase themselves and show things on a bigger stage.
Franz Wagner did not really get the chance to step onto that stage this year. He had his breakout at Eurobasket last year, but that was a smaller tournament featuring only teams from Europe. Germany won the bronze medal in that tournament in a breakthrough for that national team. He missed a week with a left ankle injury after going down in the fourth quarter of Germany’s opener.
So after this upset 113-111 win over the United States in the semifinals of the FIBA World Cup? Maybe it is time to start talking a bit more about Wagner in the way everyone is fawning over Edwards.
Orlando Magic fans have long known Franz Wagner could be an All-Star player. His performance at the World Cup is opening eyes and getting notice. Stardom is there if he takes it.
Wagner continues to provide solid play that just builds on itself and produces eye-popping numbers. Stardom is there for Wagner. He just has to take it.
Franz Wagner has been put in a featured role, playing off of Dennis Schroder in clutch situations, and he has thrived in his last two tournaments with Germany. The question is whether Wagner will take that step up to the level of stardom his talent and stats suggest he can reach.
Wagner was among the players pacing Germany early in Friday’s win, scoring 14 of his 24 points in the first half. He has been that way every game he has played for Germany — from the warmup games to the three games he has played in the World Cup.
Wagner was doing it all in the way Wagner always does it all for the Orlando Magic.
He hit some step-back threes and spot-up threes, making 3 of 10 3-pointers in this game although he has been more willing to take more difficult threes in his World Cup run. He drove the lane in transition with his big sweeping steps through the lane and finished at the basket. Wagner is even getting to the line more at 5-for-6 shooting from the line in this game.
Friday’s game was not Wagner’s best game in this run. He made only 7 of 18 shots and 4 of 8 from inside the arc. Yet, Wagner still was a net positive when the ball was in his hands. He had five rebounds in the game, continuing a burst of rebounding during this tournament, and still moved the ball well.
There has long been a feeling among Magic fans that Wagner does not have the ball in his hands enough or take enough shots. Some of this is well-founded but is still more perception than reality — his 23.5 percent usage rate was second on the team last year and his 14.0 field goal attempts per game were also second on the team behind Banchero.
Wagner is the budding star that the Magic have that nobody seems to know about.
Some of it is certainly Wagner is such a consummate team player, he does not always do something flashy. Yes, Wagner still has big slams like the one he had over Jaren Jackson Jr. early in this game.
But Wagner often accumulates stats fairly quietly. He is just a steady drip, exploding to the rim for a layup in a burst of scoring and then hanging on the perimeter and keeping the ball moving.
At the end of the night, you look up and Wagner has led the team in scoring or been the steady pacer for the team.
That is what he did off the bench in helping Germany build a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter against Latvia and that is what he did throughout the win over the United States. He was a constant outlet in a game where everyone was scoring seemingly at will.
Everyone can see the potential for Wagner to do more. German fans are like Magic fans screaming for Wagner to get more involved, especially late in games to carry the team to the finish line.
The question then is how far can Wagner take this potential? What is the step up he is going to have this year?
Wagner improved his scoring average from 15.2 to 18.6 points per game last year. His efficiency jumped from shooting splits of 46.8/35.4/86.3 to 48.5/36.1/84.2. His effective field goal percentage jumped from 51.7 percent to 54.3 percent and his true shooting percentage jumped from 55.9 to 58.9 percent.
He got significantly better throughout his sophomore season. Everyone is expecting another leap from him.
But stardom is not merely just about stats. Wagner can clearly put up the numbers that have him flirting with an All-Star berth assuming the Magic are competitive and in the postseason chase. Wagner should be in those conversations of potential first-time All-Stars this year or in the near future.
Stardom is also an attitude though. It is a way of being and a way of dominating and imposing yourself on the game.
This is the part Wagner still has to grow and develop. He still has to grow this ability to be the star on the team and take over. If he wants to be an All-Star, this is the factor he has to grow and develop.
The Magic are obviously in a fun position with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner set to anchor the franchise for the foreseeable future. Everyone is gushing over Banchero and believes he is on an All-Star track. Banchero had a historic rookie year.
Even in a reserve and defensive-focused role for Banchero for the United States, Banchero made an impact during his World Cup run. He finished Friday’s semifinal with six points and three assists in 17 minutes.
Wagner can be as good as he wants to be. And sometimes that means forcing himself into the game more often. When he does that he can have some truly outstanding games. He is good enough to be a forceful leader on this team.
It is not even asking him to do much more. Markelle Fultz and Paolo Banchero will set him up in favorable situations with the attention they will soak up and their playmaking.
There is another level to Wagner’s game. And some of it just might be Wagner being a bit more selfish at times and seeking out his own and making sure he remains involved.
If Wagner repeats his second season, he is still a great player bordering on stardom. Everyone can see and sense that.
But the World Cup has shown once again is that Wagner can do a whole lot more. He can be a second player on a winning team knocking on the door of being the team’s star. That is where he is at for the Magic.
Wagner is more than capable of reaching an All-Star level. As much as the Magic need Banchero to improve and continue growing, Wagner’s growth into a future All-Star will also help the team take its next step.
The World Cup has indeed whetted the appetite for the season. Wagner has not missed a beat even after missing a week with an ankle injury. He has continued to thrive and expand his game.
The question then for Wagner entering this season is how far does he want to take it?