It was safe to say there were big things expected for Franz Wagner this season.
He had a strong sophomore season and followed that up with a starring turn to lead Germany to the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. Paolo Banchero rightly gets a lot of attention, but Franz Wagner deserves attention too.
And he has been getting a lot of it as he has struggled through a good chunk of this season -- especially with his three-point shot.
Wagner has not become a forgotten player by any means. But he is a player who everyone has high expectations for and in some sense, he has not quite hit them.
That has not dulled his importance to the team or overshadowed the ways he has impacted the team. There are areas Wagner has taken a step back, but there are still so many areas where Wagner has taken steps forward this year.
Wagner may not be having the same kind of All-Star year that Banchero appears to be having -- Wagner even admitted that much of the Magic's success is a credit to the attention Banchero has soaked up. But Wagner is putting up near All-Star numbers.
And the exciting part is understanding that he is going to get a lot better still
On one hand, Wagner is averaging a career-best 20.3 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game. Wagner is having a career season just looking at these raw numbers.
Of course, Wagner is having the least efficient shooting season of his career. He is shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and now 27.4 percent from beyond the arc on 4.8 3-point attempts per game. He has made just two of his last 25 attempts from deep.
That has colored a lot of the perception of Wagner.
He has lost some of the efficiency that made him great in his first two years as he has tried to explore and grow his game. But there are still a lot of areas he has improved. And despite his poor outside shooting, Wagner is making great strides in his game.
The first place to start is to look at his shot volume.
Wagner is shooting a career-high 16.5 field goal attempts per game, more than two more field goals than he took last year. That is inching closer to a level of production and usage that stars approach.
Wagner's usage rate sits at 25.5 percent (also a career high) and he is certainly looking to be more aggressive and find his shot more this year. That is seen elsewhere, especially now that he has to figure out where to find his shot elsewhere with his 3-point shot not falling.
Wagner is taking more shots. And he is driving a lot more too.
You can see that in how he is getting to the line more -- up to 4.7 attempts per game from 4.0 per game last year. He is also driving the ball a whole lot more.
According to tracking data from Second Spectrum, Wagner averages 12.0 drives per game (second on the team behind Banchero). He is shooting 50.6 percent on these drives and scoring 8.8 points per game off drives (the most on the team). He adds 1.1 assists per game and 0.6 turnovers per game on these drives.
Last year, he was at 10.8 drives per game and 49.7 percent shooting for 7.2 points per game. He had only 0.9 assists per game against 0.7 turnovers per game.
To see a player like Wagner increase his volume on drives and improve his efficiency is quite something to see. Add that into how he is getting to the line a lot more and it is easy to see why Wagner can maintain his scoring numbers despite a decrease in his outside shooting.
In many ways, Wagner's offensive repertoire and shot profile mimics the overall team's shot profile.
As a team, the Magic make up for their poor 3-point shooting and lack of outside shooting with an aggressive attack on the paint and the rim. A big part of the Magic's goals this year is to play exactly the way Wagner is playing.
Looking deeper into his shot profile, Wagner is averaging 6.5 field goal attempts per game in the restricted area and another 4.3 attempts per game in the paint outside the restricted area. In total, 39.3 percent of his shots come in the restricted area and 65.3 percent of his shots come in the paint.
Lest you think he is struggling there, Wagner is hitting 61.9 percent of his shots in the restricted area and 53.8 percent overall in the paint.
Last year, Wagner averaged 5.1 field goal attempts per in the restricted area, shooting 65.4 percent in the restricted area (meaning there is a slight dip in his efficiency at the rim this year). Only 36.4 percent of his shots came in the restricted area last year.
He added another 3.4 field goal attempts per game in the paint outside of the restricted area, making 41.1 percent of those shots for 55.6 percent overall shooting in the paint.
Some of his struggles to finish are still apparent just as it is apparent that he is making it more of a focus to attack the basket and get downhill. That is where Wagner has found success.
Like the team as a whole, Wagner's shot is not falling and so he is doing more to get to the basket.
All of Wagner's big games -- from his run of three straight 30-point games in late November even to scoring 29 points in Thursday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks or 24 points in Saturday's win over the Indiana Pacers. Wagner is living in the paint.
Still, Wagner can play a whole lot better. And everyone is waiting for the outside shot to come around.
He has taken a step back with his efficiency as his offensive load has increased. Like with everything else, Markelle Fultz's return and easing some of his playmaking and creation burdens will go a long way to setting him up for more shots.
Wagner's game though has expanded even as some expected parts have struggled.
A lot of fans complained Wagner did not seem as involved in the offense as he should be the past two years even though he was second in field goal attempts per game both seasons.
Coach Jamahl Mosley has often promoted the by-committee nature of the team. And the Magic like how Wagner can create for others.
But Wagner is getting a healthy amount of shots this year and is finding his ways to contribute.
Perhaps Wagner is not living quite up to the expectations everyone placed on him after his stellar run at the World Cup and his strong first two seasons. There is always something for him to reach.
But Wagner is still putting up All-Star quality numbers for the team. He has taken several steps forward this season even with plenty more work to do.