By: Tim Jones
When the Orlando Magic selected Franz Wagner with the eighth overall pick in the 2021 Draft, I will admit I was one of those fans who was skeptical of the decision. Coming into the draft, I was pretty set on the team taking either Scottie Barnes or Jonathan Kuminga with the fifth pick, assuming Jalen Suggs would be off the board by then.
After Toronto chose to draft Barnes at No. 4. I thought Suggs was the clear and easy choice at No. 5. This made the Magic’s second lottery selection much more interesting. At the time, I wanted the Magic to take a swing on a guy that I thought had more “upside” than someone like Wagner. I saw Franz as more of a 3-&-D guy with solid playmaking potential down the line. I thought he projected to be a high-level role player sometime down the line, and for that, I am sorry for ever putting a ceiling on Franz Wagner.
I will be the first to say that I am more than happy to be wrong about the kid. I think it is fair to say that Franz is probably better right now than I could have ever predicted. Forget a role player, he looks like he could really become a star in this league in just a few years. While I had my doubts, I feel as if even the biggest Franz believers could not have imagined him to be this dynamic of a scorer this early on in his career. That was my biggest concern for him pre-draft. I wasn’t really confident in his shot-creating ability, which is why when I see him casually drain stepback three-pointers like the one below, it makes me scratch my head about why I was so low on him as a prospect.
If you ask me, Franz Wagner has been the most consistent rookie so far solely on the fact that he has been available, playing and starting in all of the Magic’s 41 games up to this point. With Cunningham, Green, Mobley, Barnes and even and even the Magic’s own Jalen Suggs missing time due to injury or COVID protocols, Wagner’s constant availability should not go unnoticed.
It also helps that he just seems to get better each and every night he steps on the court, oftentimes being the best player on the floor for the Magic.
Wagner was recently named December’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month and now has emerged as a legitimate contender for the Rookie of the Year award, leading all rookies in scoring at 15.7 points per game. He averaged 19.5 points and just over five assists in 14 games during the month of December.
In the midst of his Rookie of the Month campaign, the 20 year-old put up the most impressive performance by a rookie this season. Wagner torched the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks for 38 points in a loss. Franz basically got wherever and whatever he wanted that night against an elite Bucks defense that consists of a multiple time All-Defensive team member in Jrue Holiday and former Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Wagner seems to get to the rim at ease and consistently finishes with either hand. He’s typically always under control as a driver and has perfected the slow, 1-2 euro-step, like this crafty finish over Giannis:
With the majority of the team’s guards missing extended time this season, the Magic have relied on Wagner for much of their playmaking duties. Franz has been getting a ton of on-ball reps and opportunities to serve as the primary playmaker. This should prove to be beneficial for both Wagner and the Magic in the long run. Having a big wing who can initiate offense by creating for himself and others will take off pressure away from the backcourt and make things easier for everyone.
The passing and playmaking potential was something that I did buy into with Franz as a prospect. I thought his greatest strength was his unique feel for the game, especially for a player his size. He always seems to know what pass to make and how to get it there and rarely forces it if it's not there.
Below is a clip of Wagner patiently operating the pick-and-roll and hitting Wendell Carter Jr. for the score.
And here’s another clip of Wagner finding Carter Jr., this time with a drop-off bounce pass between two Celtic defenders.
My favorite thing about Franz’s games is his pace. He never gets sped up by the opposing defense and goes at his own speed. This level of patience is rare to see out of a 20-year-old, yet alone one that is 6-foot-10.
Franz’s special blend of size, handle, and shot-making, as well as his potential on the defensive end, give implications that he could develop into one of the elite wings in the NBA. The Magic will have some interesting decisions to make regarding their frontcourt with Jonathan Isaac returning and most likely a top pick in this year's draft, but one thing is for certain. The Magic have found themselves a potential franchise player in Franz Wagner.
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