Franz Wagner needs to reach the next level to lift Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic are hurtling quickly toward the playoffs as the season winds down. As they get ready for the postseason, they need their third-year forward to play his best more often.

Orlando Magic v New York Knicks
Orlando Magic v New York Knicks / Sarah Stier/GettyImages
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First off, Franz Wagner is a heck of a third-year player.

We know about his story of being the FIBA World Cup Finals MVP and the sidekick to last year's Rookie of the Year in Paolo Banchero. He had great expectations heaped on him for a young Magic team.

He has added to that legend in his third year in the NBA, averaging 20.1 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game entering Wednesday's game against the Brooklyn Nets. If that continues he and Banchero will be the first pair of Magic players to average 20 points per game in the same season since Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway did so in 1996.

The Magic truly have their own 1-2 punch as they prepare to enter the Playoffs for the first time since 2020.

This is all old news though. It is playoff season and the Magic need everyone to take a step up.

It is time for the Magic's third-year star to add another layer to his already borderline All-Star trajectory.

He is already a successful basketball player. But there are levels to this. And the Playoffs are going to demand another level than what everyone has played so far.

Wagner has shown he can take his game to that next level. He has poured in dominant scoring games before, deftly attacking the basket and hitting shots from deep.

The Magic are 7-0 when Wagner scores 30 or more points. He scored 38 points to carry the Orlando Magic past the Detroit Pistons in February. He had 36 in the overtime win over the Chicago Bulls and 32 in a big December win over the New York Knicks. Wagner has proven time and again he can be a dynamic scorer.

Wagner is averaging a career-high 20.1 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game. He is one of the better defenders on the team and is having a pretty good third year.It feels like Wagner is having that breakthrough as the team has climbed the standings.

But there have been a lot of holes and a lot of seeming inconsistencies in his game.

His shooting has taken a major regression. He is only hitting on 29.5 percent of his 3-pointers this year, down from 36.1 percent last year.

For a team that lacks shooting, Wagner's sudden downturn from deep has been puzzling and frustrating to say the least. The Magic need him to shoot a higher percentage from behind the three-point line.

Even during the Magic's winning stretch since Jan. 31, Wagner is shooting an icy 26.4 percent from deep. It has been puzzling to watch. He missed all eight of his 3-pointers in the Orlando Magic's two critical games against the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers last weekend.

His defense helps his overall value, but his lack of consistency from downtown is one of the reasons why he has up-and-down scoring performances. The team needs more from Wagner, and they need it quickly if they plan on making a serious run.

Orlando is already a team that struggles to shoot. The team entered Wednesday's game against the Nets shooting 35.1 percent from deep, 26th in the league. Orlando experienced a brief surge during its win streak, but is shooting 37.3 percent from deep after the All-Star Break, a far better percentage.

That is even without Wagner's contributions. If Wagner even climbed to 35 percent as a 3-point shooter, that would mean 15 more 3-pointers made total. It will not take Wagner very much to become a reliable 3-point shooter again.

But the Magic desperately need the spacing he can provide. Especially as they prepare for the Playoffs when teams will pack the paint against them and dare them to hit from deep.

For Orlando to succeed in the playoffs, the team needs him to be one of the better second options in the league.

That means improving not only his 3-point shooting but also his percentages on drives, where Wagner is shooting a more robust 52.4 percent on 6.6 field goal attempts per game and 12.2 drives per game, according to Second Spectrum. That is an improvement from the 49.7 percent he shot on 6.0 field goal attempts per game and 10.8 drives per game last year.

Wagner has gotten better even though his 3-point shooting has fallen off. But he needs that dynamic and varied part to his game.

The Magic need him to rise to another level if they plan on winning games down the stretch and securing a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. The games get harder because the future playoff teams are jockeying for position and the pressure ramps up as time winds to the postseason.

Orlando has a softer schedule, but taking care of business against those teams is a challenge in itself just like moving up a level to a postseason level of play is a big task.

More importantly, the Magic need Wagner to consistently play to his potential because most of the stars' second option play to their potential. As Shaquille O'Neal likes to say, stars have to step their game up in the playoffs, but they need the "others" to lift them up.

Wagner's job is to be that second star that eases attention on Banchero and helps free others up. All the top teams have consistent second options from the Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown to the Milwaukee Bucks' Damian Lillard to the Cleveland Cavaliers' Darius Garland to the New York Knicks' Julius Randle. All these second-option-type of players are more consistent than Wagner, which helps their team win games.

Wagner is still young, of course. This is his first postseason too. And he needs the time to learn and understand what his role will be in the postseason.

It might be too early right now to ask him to play at the level that the Magic need him to play at consistently. He may be a year away from where the Magic need him to be.

And that is OK for this season. But if the Magic want this dream to continue, they will need him to play at a level he has only dreamed of.

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The Magic's ceiling is directly tied to how well Wagner plays. If he can raise his game and play at a higher level, Orlando will have an opportunity to make some noise in the Playoffs. The team will gain more confidence when they see their leaders having their way with the other team.