Peachtree Hoops draft coverage continues with a look at Franz Wagner out of Michigan.
Age: 19 (Aug. 27, 2001)
Height: 6’ 9”
Wingspan: 6’ 11”
Weight: 220 lbs.
The international game has changed drastically from where it was a decade ago, and the age old “wisdoms” of international players (European players in particular) being “soft” and unable to handle the pace and toughness of the NBA has largely been debunked. In kind, the play styles coming out of the international player pool have also become more varied, where the European sharpshooter or the slow-footed big man once were the expectation, we’re beginning to see certain players who break that mold.
At first look, Franz Wagner (brother of Orlando Magic big man, Mo Wagner) doesn’t really strike you as an athletic defensive stalwart, but when you look at his game what stands out are his defensive talents. Add to that his 6’ 9” frame (though recent rumors say he’s already grown to 6’ 10”) and his basketball IQ, the full picture begins to come into focus: Wagner has the potential to be an extremely effective two-way forward. The Michigan man who hails from Germany has played both professional ball in Europe, and college ball in the United States, and he’s only 19 years old. There’s plenty here to attract the eyes of some of the teams that are higher up in the draft on Thursday evening.
Wagner is an absolute conductor (see what I did there?) with the ball in his hands. He’s a very high IQ player who can see plays develop as they’re happening. He can make the right pass with the ball in his hands in the pick & roll, and he’s particularly good at catching the ball while on the move and finding seams in the defense to hit his teammates for easy buckets. More and more teams today are placing a premium on forwards / bigs who can keep the ball moving and find the open man, Wagner is more than equipped to do that. This portion of his game will certainly translate at the next level.
Wagner isn’t only a fantastic passer in the half-court, but he’s very comfortable taking the ball off the glass and starting the transition offense himself. While his handle isn’t perfect, he uses his size very effectively to shield the ball, and he allows his passing to do the rest. He’s also shown flashes of nifty footwork, including slowdowns and euros to get around defenders in transition. He will thrive on any team that spends a lot of time running up and down the floor.
Catch & Shoot / Offensive Versatility
Perhaps the part that coaches will love the most about Wagner is that he can impact the offense without needing the ball in his hands, and there are two key reasons why they love that. First, as a natural passer, he can create offense without having to take shots, and he’s not a guy who passes from dazzling handles, so he needs the ball even less. Second, he’s good enough on catch & shoot threes that defenses can’t ignore him entirely, meaning he can attack closeouts when he’s open in the corner and find teammates. Wagner has a pretty jumpshot that doesn’t need much to become much more consistent, it’s quite likely he develops into a plus shooter.
Wagner is not a very confident dribbler, which does make his playmaking skill that much more impressive but will be something he needs to overcome if he plans to be used as a “point forward” or even as a ballhandler in pick & roll actions at the next level. This part of his game won’t limit his ability to get minutes in the NBA, but it does limit his upside if he doesn’t solve it. The best version of Wagner is the one who can be your secondary ballhandler and play initiator, he doesn’t have the handle today to do that in the NBA.
While Wagner’s measurables are tantalizing, he doesn’t quite have the strength or burst of speed to be an above average finisher today. He’s an adept cutter and slasher because of his feel for the game, and can certainly finish when he gets there, but he won’t be blowing by people or finishing over and around them. He has a few crafty finishes and decent footwork, but he’s often below the rim in the half-court.
Pick & Roll Defense
While this doesn’t seem like a huge deal on the surface, believe me when I say that this is probably the most valuable part of Wagner’s game. He can defend both parts of a pick & roll because of his size and quickness. While he may not be the fastest with the ball in his hands, he’s plenty quick enough to stay in front of shifty guards defensively, and he’s long enough to bother taller players and get deflections. As he develops, Wagner will be a switching defense’s dream player.
Wagner is possibly the best off-ball defender in the class, both from the perimeter and as a rotator from the block. Last season at Michigan, he averaged 1.0 blocks per game and 1.3 steals per game. Most these came from his amazing defensive awareness, and very quick hands which he uses to poke away balls while digging down on big men from the perimeter and helping from the weak side on penetrators. He has the potential to be one of those players who is more effective off the ball than he is on, but he’s no slouch as a point-of-attack defender either.
Wagner is one of those players who could feasibly guard one through five on the defensive side of the ball, particularly if he truly does fill out and up to 6’ 10” or 6’ 11” over the next few years. He can switch pretty much everything, and his pick & roll defense is fantastic as described above. Given his overall IQ, a coach in the NBA will feel comfortable with him quickly if he truly can show that level of defensive consistency, and therefore could see a heavy minutes load early in his NBA career.
Strength / Roll Defense
While Wagner is equipped to defend both parts of the pick & roll effectively, against particularly strong and athletic roll men, he can get overpowered at times and get lost behind the roll. This often leads to bad fouls and “And-1’s.” On an NBA workout regimen there’s no reason to doubt that Wagner will gain weight, but will he be aggressive enough to take that contact and fight through when a Clint Capela or an Anthony Davis have a seal and rolling to the rim. That dynamic is the important question that remains to be seen.
Conclusion & Hawks Fit
Franz Wagner has been one of the most popular prospects in this draft class, as the brother of an NBA player he was bound to get a little buzz, but his play at Michigan did that for him as well. Wagner could be a top 10 pick if there is a team that is high on him (word on the street is that the Kings at #9 have taken an interest), and it’s safe to say that he will be picked in the lottery. Ultimately, he’s entirely too good to drop all the way to #20 where the Hawks will be picking.
That said, there’s not many teams in the NBA who couldn’t use a tall, defense-first forward who can knock down an open 3. The 3&D Wing has been the most coveted archetype since the Warriors dominated in 2015, and Wagner has all of the fixings to be that kind of prospect. It will be very interesting to see how things play out for him in Thursday’s draft.