They forgot about Franz Wagner: Breakout game moves Wagner on his path to stardom

Franz Wagner has had a fairly quiet season despite averaging more than 20.0 points per game. He burst onto the scene to lift the Orlando Magic in their win over the Detroit Pistons and remind of his impact on this young team.
Franz Wagner had a big breakout moment against the Detroit Pistons, matching his career high and reminding everyone of his star potential.
Franz Wagner had a big breakout moment against the Detroit Pistons, matching his career high and reminding everyone of his star potential. / Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It is time for something of a mea culpa.

In all the commotion and attention given to Paolo Banchero and his trip to the All-Star Game and the upcoming NBA trade deadline and what that could mean for the team's future, we have lost sight of a critical storyline and player for this team.

Did you know we have not published an article with Franz Wagner in the title since he returned to the court on Jan. 21? There is not another article that mentioned him in the headline since the Dec. 31 loss to the Phoenix Suns -- and that was within the context of Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero's need for help.

It is easy to take Wagner for granted. He is a consistent player who is a constant drumbeat. The Magic know what they will get from him every night. And while he has plenty of highlights, he does the work without much other than some gaudy numbers.

The Orlando Magic have a fresh All-Star and a dominant offensive player, but he is boosted by a budding star in his own right. For as much history as Banchero has made, Wagner is right alongside him.

So apologies to Franz Wagner. It is not that we did not forget. It is that we may have taken you for granted.

There was no taking Wagner for granted in Sunday's 111-99 win over the Detroit Pistons. In many ways, he was the sole reason the team won and held off the Pistons on the road.

Wagner scored a career-high-tying 38 points, marking his fifth 30-point game this season. He made 17 of 25 shots and four of seven 3-pointers. He failed to take a free throw, making his scoring performance even more impressive.

Sixteen of those 25 shots came in the restricted area. He made 12 of those shots. Wagner was getting downhill and forcing action at the rim in a game where the Magic were sometimes caught stagnant and frustrated by their outside shooting.

Wagner was aggressive. And, this time, he was loud even if he remained modest about what he just did postgame.

"I was able to get into the paint off pick and rolls and drives and stuff," Wagner said after Sunday's game. "Making shots always really helps. I was just in a good rhythm and got into the paint and was able to make some plays."

Wagner got stronger as the game went on.

He scored nine points in the second quarter and doubled his point total with 11 as the Magic took over the game and took the lead. He scored 16 of the Magic's 33 fourth-quarter points to put the game away after the Pistons tied the game at 81 early in the fourth quarter.

This is Wagner at his absolute best. And it is the kind of rhythm Wagner has found more and more. Now that he has been back in the lineup for several weeks, he is returning closer to form.

For the season, Wagner is averaging 20.8 points per game and shooting 47.3 percent from the floor with 31.4 percent shooting. His shooting numbers are down, but every other number is up -- including his rebounding to 5.6 rebounds per game and 4.0 assists per game.

Since returning from his ankle injury on Jan. 21, Wagner is averaging 20.4 points per game, shooting 50.0 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from beyond the arc. That looks more like the numbers Wagner has put up in his first two seasons.

On top of all of this, Wagner averages 12.4 drives per game, according to data from Second Spectrum. He scores a team-high 8.3 points per game off these drives and shoots 48.3 percent from the floor.

Since his return, he has been averaging a team-high 12.1 drives per game, although he is scoring just 6.3 points per game. Getting to the basket and finishing as he did in Sunday's game is a sure sign that he is feeling much healthier and playing much better.

But that is the other part of Wagner's game and persona. He can be unassuming. And his game is typically very consistent. Since returning to the lineup, Wagner has had only one game with fewer than 17 points -- an 11-point showing in the win over the Phoenix Suns last week.

Just because Wagner flies under the radar so much does not mean he is not putting up historical numbers like Banchero. If he and Banchero stay on this track and each score 20 points per game, they will be the first Magic duo to do so in the same season since Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway in 1996.

It has been a long time.

But Wagner still works in anonymity. Even during a game, Wagner's plays are rarely loud. A simple drive and step-through, a flip shot and an open three. His value is his consistency, not the big games he can make.

We notice when he drops 30 points.

Wagner is usually more frustrated with the areas he can improve, like his inability to get to the foul line Sunday's game.

"I can't really control if I'm getting the call or not," Wagner said after Sunday's game. "I'm still working on how I can find more contact on my finishes and stuff. I think that just shows I still have some work to do on that end. There are a bunch of plays where I end up scoring where other players might have gotten an and-1. I'm saying I still need to work on that skill still."

This quote probably defines Wagner more than his 30-point games. He is still seeking ways to be better and more consistent. Never mind that he is still one of the most consistent offensive players on the Magic's roster.

Wagner has gotten better at getting to the foul line, too, by the way -- averaging a career-high 4.4 free throw attempts per game. But he is constantly striving to get better.

That is part of who Wagner is, too. And the results have been an ever-increasing improvement from the young forward, even if it goes unnoticed and sometimes taken for granted.

Wagner has stepped his game up in a significant way. Sunday was just a little extra proof of how far he has come.

So, I'm sorry for taking it all for granted. My bad for not appreciating how Wagner has improved and putting a light on it.

Perhaps finally, Wagner forced us all to see how vital he is and how good he can become as he aims to boost the team for the rest of this year and progress on his path to stardom.