Moe Wagner squeezed out of rotation by returning players

The Orlando Magic have competed fairly well without one of their best bench players in Moe Wagner. But the question is when does head coach Jamahl Mosely add him back to the rotation.

Dec 27, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Mo Bamba (7) holds the ball against
Dec 27, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Mo Bamba (7) holds the ball against / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
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Where is Moe Wagner?

The fans in Central Florida want to know what happened to arguably the best player off the bench not named Cole Anthony. You can make an argument that Wagner was the leader of a bench group that has been ranked number in the top five the entire season.

The Orlando Magic (22-19) are currently ranked fourth in bench scoring right behind the Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz and the Indiana Pacers. But the team has been ranked as high as second and have been winning games on the strength of their bench.

You can make an argument that the Magic would be under .500 if the bench was not top five. Depth and the production especially from Wagner has been a key to the team's success this season.

One of the reasons that the bench was so great earlier in the season is because of Wagner. He is a mismatch for most power forwards who come off of the bench and he has shown big strides defensively in addition to incredible efficiency around the basket.

This year Wagner is averaging 11.5 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game off of the bench. He is shooting a career-best 59.4 percent from the floor including 68.6 percent on 2-point field goals.

Wagner was vital in the Magic tying a franchise winning streak of nine straight games, averaging 13.3 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting 61.0 percent from the floor during the win streak.

In late November, Wagner scored 27 points off of the bench against the Boston Celtics, the clear favorites to land the top seed in the Eastern Conference. He was on fire in this matchup, hitting corner threes and getting to the rim at will against the stingy Celtic defense.

He and Goga Bitadze essentially split the center minutes with Wendell Carter out of the lineup. It was a good system.

But Carter has returned to the lineup and that has forced the Magic to make some difficult decisions. It is extremely difficult to play all three centers and someone was going to get squeezed out.

For now, Wagner has been the odd man out.

The Magic are missing Wagner's energy and production badly, but he has not been able to crack the rotation with the emergence of Goga Bitadze and a need to play Jonathan Issac due to his defensive prowess. Coach Jamahl Mosely has to find ways to get him more minutes in the rotation.

The last game Wagner played was against the Oklahoma City Thunder where he scored four points in 18 minutes on the floor. Mosley decided not to play Wagner against the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks, giving those bench minutes to Carter as he returned.

In the 98-94 win against the New York Knicks, Jamahl Mosely decided to play Jonathan Issac and Wendell Carter instead of Moe Wagner off of the bench. He repeated that same formula in the 106-104 loss to the Hawks. He decided to play Issac and Carter instead of Wagner off of the bench again.

The two back-to-back DNPs are a head-scratcher for fans who have seen Wagner's production. His production seems to help lift his brother Franz Wagner when he is not having his best game. We got so accustomed to seeing the two brothers on the court together to not seeing them at all. Wagner has been out since early January with a sprained ankle -- he is still making progress on his return but is out Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Wagner's absence seems to be a numbers crunch and among the many difficult rotation decisions he has had to make. Mosley has opted to lean on Bitadze's defense over Wagner's offense even with Orlando struggling to score.

The question will become whether the Magic shift back to Wagner when Carter returns to the starting lineup. That could be the window to return Wagner to the fold. Right now, the Magic want a strong defensive start and so Bitadze has settled in as the starter.

Mosley has constantly preached a "by-committee" approach. At some point the dial will swing back to Wagner and he will still back into the rotation. Right now, the Magic do not have enough minutes to satisfy everyone. Somebody has to sit.

That is Wagner right now. But his value is still evident for this team.

If Wagner can get back rolling how he was during the first part of the season the Magic should get back to their winning ways.