In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 33 picks.
Today’s installment evaluates former Michigan big man Moritz Wagner.
After a strong close to the 2016-2017 college basketball season, many believed Moritz Wagner could declare for the 2017 NBA Draft after just two seasons at Michigan. Much of that hype stemmed from a 26-point explosion against Louisville to aid in the Wolverines’ run to the Sweet 16 but, eventually, cooler heads prevailed (after going through the pre-draft process without an agent) and Wagner elected to spend a third season in Ann Arbor.
In short, that was a good decision.
It remains to be seen as to where Wagner will land when the 2018 NBA Draft commences in late June but, contrary to what might have happened in 2017, it would not be a full-fledged shock if Wagner were to slip out of the 60-player draft entirely and he could have considerable upside beyond that. While his skill set is not a perfect fit in the modern NBA on the defensive end, there are positives to what the 20-year-old from Germany can bring.
Offensively, Wagner is a fun and, in some ways, rare prospect. He stands at 6’11 and 230 pounds with the ability to effectively stretch defenses with a strong jump shot. Wagner converted 39.4 percent of his three-point attempts over the course of his final two college seasons and, while that may not be the reality from beyond the NBA three-point arc, his perimeter spacing is a weapon.
Moreover, Wagner developed his interior offensive game considerably last season, regularly taking over games with a varied array of post offerings. He likely won’t be a dominant post player in the NBA but his passing and vision improved and Wagner possesses the ability to face off and play off the dribble with some level of effectiveness.
Given that (brief) assessment of his offensive game, it would seem as if Wagner should be a first-round lock but, of course, the issues arrive on the other end of the floor. Despite the fact that he rebounded (much) better as a junior (24.8% defensive rebound rate, up from 15.3% as a sophomore), there are plenty of question marks here.
First, Wagner isn’t a great athlete by NBA standards and, while he has center size, he isn’t insanely long either. Moreover, it would be a surprise if Wagner developed into anything more than a passable, verticality-inducing rim protector and he would be exposed by a lot of perimeter-based attacks at the next level. There is nothing to say that he can’t improve on his quick-twitch athleticism but there is probably a cap to that given the baseline and teams drafting Wagner in 2018 likely realize that he profiles best in a reserve role or as an offense-first spark plug that must be paired with strong defensive support.
Because that defensive archetype can be challenging with the way the game is being played, it wouldn’t be a surprise (at all) if Wagner slipped to the second round. The overarching question will be whether he is able to outweigh his defensive issues with strong offensive play and, with that said, he must continue to knock down a (very) high percentage of his perimeter jumpers with the ability to take advantage of match-ups on the interior when given the opportunity.
There is a path to NBA playing time for Mo Wagner but, in short, his defense must improve (much in the way it did between his second and third college seasons) in order to give his offense a chance to shine. From an Atlanta Hawks perspective, the team’s final two selections (No. 30 and No. 33) seem high for Wagner at this stage but, given that Travis Schlenk does not appear averse to wheeling and dealing, the Hawks could acquire additional picks and/or move back via deals, paving the way for a potential marriage.