Height - 6’8
Weight - 205 lbs
Franz Wagner comes from a basketball family and is the latest in a long line of Michigan players to be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft. Franz is the younger brother of Moe Wagner, the Orlando Magic center. Like his brother, Franz attended Michigan but that is where the similarities stop.
Franz is a savvy wing who prides himself on his defense rather than being a stretchy center. The other key difference is that Franz Wagner played a year of professional basketball before heading to Ann Arbor to learn under Coach Juwan Howard. Wagner is a native Berliner and played in the capital for Alba Berlin.
Alba Berlin is one of three powerhouses of German basketball. Alba Berlin is arguably the most prestigious club in the Bundesliga and it is not easy to earn minutes for such a team. Alba are always in the hunt for the Bundesliga title and they do not necessarily have minutes available for a young player.
Despite these challenges, Franz found his way into a regular rotation slot for his hometown team and performed well. At the conclusion of the season, Wagner was named BBL Best German Young Player in 2019.
Franz has been schooled in both disciplines of the game. Wagner has the skill and feel typically associated with European prospects and the creativity that is preached in the American game. That blend of skills and attitudes has meant that Wagner is an interesting prospect for teams looking to find solid, high-level role players.
I see Wagner as an elite glue guy given his ability to reliably knock down the long ball, pass the ball smartly and guard his assignment adeptly. At this point in time, Wagner’s game is all skill and feel. Although, there are concerns with his game.
Wagner cannot be relied upon to create going to the rim as a slasher; he simply does not have the handle to break a defense down. He will struggle to create his own shot until his ball-handling becomes tighter.
Wagner covers ground well and is agile but he lacks verticality. Wagner does not have that explosive pop needed to get above the rim and finish over the top of the defense. This in itself is not an issue, my concerns stem from Wagner avoiding taking contact at the hoop. Franz needs to embrace contact if he will primarily play below the basket.
This compilation encapsulates Wagner’s value in today’s NBA. Franz is a relentless, smart defensive player who rarely gets separated his assignment and disrupts the opposing team’s rhythm on offense.
Franz Wagner’s defense is his strongest skill. Wagner is capable of defending the point of attack, off the ball and he is pretty comfortable sliding down to the painted area to protect the rim. Wagner has good size for his position but it is his feel that separates him from the rest of the field.
Wagner’s eyes are constantly surveying the court when he is playing off the ball and you can almost see him working out where he can disrupt the opposing team’s offense. Wagner likes to step into the passing lanes and knock away cross-court passes. He is disruptive and accumulates deflections.
Moreover, Franz is a great team defender who makes excellent rotations. Coach Juan Howard often put Franz on the weak-side of the floor and Wagner came up with big plays on the defensive end. Wagner had innate timing for rotating middle and blocking shots at the rim.
Wagner does not stop at the first rotation; he has the situational awareness to make the second rotation back to the perimeter shooter. His intelligence on defense is impressive and should stand him in good stead in the NBA.
In terms of on-ball defense, Franz is decent but not elite at sticking with his assignment. Wagner controls the angle of attack well and is agile enough to stay in front of the player he is guarding but using him to lock down the opposing team’s wing is a poor use of his skill-set. Wagner is too good off the ball to have him dedicated to just one man.
He is a decent shooter with the potential to improve into being a good shooter. Wagner shot 34% from outside last season and was effective shooting off the catch. When Franz did not have to do anything other than shoot, he was reasonably effective.
However, the slowness of his shooting motion meant that Franz struggled to knock down pull-up shots. Given his lack of a reliable dribble, Wagner might need a pull-up jumper to open up the interior. Wagner was also rather imbalanced as a shooter which is a concern to me.
Franz shot 40% from outside on the left side of the floor and he shot 21% from deep on the right side of the floor. Wagner’s weakness on the right side gives the defense an easy outcome on every possession.
The key for Franz will be working out how to play ‘outside-in’. Danilo Gallinari and Nicolas Batum are effective going to the rim despite having a limited handle. Both players use the threat of the three-ball to attack closeouts and create opportunities in the painted area. I do not expect Wagner’s handle to come around so he will need to learn how to leverage his shooting ability to find shots inside.
Wagner would be a useful wing for the Thunder to have. A wing duo of Dort and Wagner would be potent defensively and should have just enough shooting to provide spacing for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. I think Franz’ ability to slash and cut to the rim would provide Coach Daigneault with more off the ball offensive wrinkles.
I have my concerns about Wagner’s lack of diversity in his offensive game but he can still be a valuable player if he learns how to use outside shooting to take a defense apart. Wagner’s swing skill will be his deep shooting, if he gets to 37% with a fast release Franz will be a valuable player in the NBA.