Scouting Report & Film Review: Franz Wagner

Franz Wagner is one of the best connecting wings in this class. He won't be a primary option, but his high-level defense and offensive versatility make him crucial to a rotation.

Strengths: Feel for the game, scoring versatility, basketball IQ, defense

Weaknesses: Ball-handling, explosiveness, shooting consistency

Consensus Expected Draft Range: 10-20

Where I'd Draft Him: 7-17

Shades Of: Joe Ingles, Robert Covington

Best Team Fits: Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans

Franz Wagner went from a lanky wing with hopeful shooting upside to a muscle-bound multi-positional defender in the last year. In the 2021 NBA Draft, it would be pretty shocking if Wagner falls outside of the lottery. The 6'9" wing is a connector on both ends of the floor.

After a rough final March Madness game, Wagner received mountains of undue slander. Yes, he missed a shot and didn't have a stellar game, but it wasn't a significant deviation from the player he was all season. When I say that, there is zero disrespect thrown toward Wagner. Instead, my disdain is for the talking heads and savants who generate their entire opinion on a player after one game and looking at nothing besides the box score. Wagner won't be the deity of choice for the box score scavengers because what he is best at doesn't show up in the box score.

Wagner will have nights where his shot is falling, and his box score is impressive. However, most of what Wagner excels at is mastering the details and subtle aspects of the game that lead to winning basketball. Defensively, Wagner can guard multiple positions at a high level. He will struggle with the quicker guards and the stronger big men, but he can handle most wings. Offensively, Wagner has yet to fully find his shot, but his passing, driving, and feel for the game took a critical leap.

Wagner isn't a primary option. He isn't the lights-out white European shooter you think he is. Franz Wagner is an elite role player who moves the ball, plays excellent team defense, and will be a high-end starter on many outstanding teams.

Defense

One of the most critical improvements Wagner made this season was his perimeter footwork. Wagner isn't an explosive athlete, so he focused on his fundamentals to ensure he was a quality defender. If you've been reading me for a while, you know how much I appreciate excellent footwork. It is the foundation for everything a player does on the court, and without it, they're cooked. By improving his footwork, Wagner was able to negate his lack of footspeed. Instead of succeeding due to pure speed, Wagner succeeded based on fundamentals and attention to detail.

Before Wagner improved his footwork, he was a much more limited on-ball defender. He struggled to stay with ball-handlers and was a liability at times. He proved to be the opposite this season. Wagner is rarely off balance and has very flexible hips. He flips his stance with ease, allowing him to constantly cut off drives. When Wagner closes out, he is under control and on balance. Wagner's footwork alone makes him a competent defender. Once you combine it with his instincts, size, strength, and length, you get a potential All-NBA Defender.

While Wagner became an impressive on-ball defender this season, his off-ball defense also took a significant jump. Wagner plays some of the best gap and nail defense in the country with his ability to dig and recover. He is rarely out of position and times his rotations with precision.

Here, Wagner makes a crucial weakside rotation. As the play develops, Wagner communicates the switch to ensure neither he nor Isaiah Livers get caught up on the screen. As Iowa gets into their dribble handoff, Wagner preps to make the rotation by opening his body and taking a step towards the lane. Wagner makes sure not to commit too early, though, or else he'd be leaving a lethal shooter wide open. Since Wagner did the requisite prep work, he can make the rotation once the pass is made.

Wagner is also effective with instinctual off-ball disruptions. He reads the floor incredibly well from the weak side, as we just saw, but he also makes spur-of-the-moment reflex disruptions. Here, Iowa has a perfect mismatch in the post, and for some reason, Wagner's man cuts into the post up. This movie drags Wagner into the vicinity of the ball, which is usually something teams want to avoid. Iowa makes the entry pass that should set up Luka Garza for an easy score, but Wagner instinctually detaches from his man and deflects the pass out of bounds.

Despite being known as one of the country's best defenders, Wagner somehow didn't make the All-Big10 Defensive Team. I guess we can add it to the list of 73,468,790,342 other reasons why college media voting is atrocious. 

In the NBA, Wagner will be an excellent defender. He may never reap post-season accolades for his defense, but we're in an era where defense has never been better examined, discussed, and appreciated. Wagner does all the little things on defense that lead to winning. He moves his feet to cut off drives, so the rotation block isn't necessary. He pre-rotates to deter an entry or skip pass, further delaying the offensive action. He communicates screens and switches to ensure his team doesn't get hung up on anything. Wagner is an incredible defender who will help any rotation.

Scoring

Wagner still has a ton of room to grow offensively, but I'm hesitant to buy into him ever being a high-level scorer. Wagner certainly won't be a high-volume scorer, but he has proven to be a highly efficient one as he scored 1.039 points per possession (PPP) overall this season (88th percentile).

Coming into Michigan, the expectation was that Wagner was going to be a knockdown shooter. Unfortunately, he has failed to live up to that expectation. His form looks solid, and the confidence is there at times, but the results haven't been consistent enough. Wagner will likely spend most of his time on offense as an off-ball wing, so his 1.015 PPP (54th percentile) and 34.3 percent shooting off the catch is a bit concerning.

While Wagner only scored 0.909 PPP when shooting off the catch while spotting up (34th percentile), he was incredibly effective at attacking closeouts, where he scored 1.346 PPP (89th percentile). Whether attacking closeouts or slashing on the move, Wagner is excellent at finding ways to attack against the defense's momentum to get to the rim.

Wagner is also an excellent cutter. He scored 1.529 PPP on cuts last season (93rd percentile) because he is very active off-ball and has excellent timing. Wagner is highly aware of his defender's intentions and is happy to exploit them. Once Wagner receives the pass after cutting, he has the size and length to finish in various ways at the rim.

Unfortunately, Wagner struggles to create space for himself. If he doesn't have a screen or attacking a defender's momentum, he likely isn't getting to the rim or creating space for a shot. Wagner is a fine ball-handler, but he isn't at the level where he can create space for himself. He lacks the creativity and explosiveness to be a primary initiator. Thankfully, Wagner has excellent self-awareness and rarely forces shots. When he does, though, he frequently gets caught between moves, and it doesn't go well.

Wagner makes up for his flawed space creation, though, by simply using a screen. As the pick-and-roll ball-handler, Wagner scored 0.849 PPP (73rd percentile). The pick-and-roll is where over half of Wagner's pull-up jumpers came from. When Wagner shot off the dribble, he scored 0.969 PPP (82nd percentile) and 1.176 PPP when he shot off the dribble after dribbling off the screen (88th percentile). Wagner rarely forced his shot, but he eagerly stepped into a jumper in rhythm when defenders went under screens.

Passing

The final aspect of Wagner's game that is fascinating is his passing. Wagner isn't a primary wing creator, but he is an excellent ball mover and connector. Wagner frequently makes the extra pass to set up an even more open teammate. Wagner has also proven he can run an effective two-man game and pass out of cuts. He is a decisive, accurate, and intelligent passer.

Here we get a beautiful example of Wagner's awareness, passing instincts, and patience. After Wagner dribbles off the screen, he snakes through the lane before kicking it out. Once Wagner passes, he initially starts to relocate. However, he sees his teammate unable to get off a shot, so Wagner lingers at the elbow. This decision allows Wagner to initiate a gorgeous give-and-go for the reverse layup.

Wagner proved that he could run one of the country's best two-man games. When Wagner passed to the roller, Michigan scored 1.333 PPP (90th percentile). Wagner's accurate passing and his size make him difficult to deal with once he gets downhill.

Here, Wagner dribbles off the screen and immediately attacks the slow-footed drop defender. Even though Wagner is in attack mode, he has no intention of scoring himself. Instead, Wagner is waiting for Hunter Dickinson to clear the tag. Once Dickinson fights through the tag, Wagner uses his length to extend around Garza to execute the wrap-around assist.

Wagner doesn't have primary creator upside, but he is incredibly dangerous once he attacks off movement or off a screen. Wagner is patient, accurate, and intelligent with his passes. He makes the simple read and finds the open teammate. He does a great job of finding cutters and leading them to the rim. If Wagner goes to a team with good ball movement and off-ball movement, he will thrive.

Outlook

Franz Wagner is one of the best role players in this draft. He won't be a number one option offensively which is just fine. Instead, Wagner will constantly make the proper basketball play on both ends of the floor. He is an intelligent passer and timely off-ball mover. If his shot continues to develop and improve, he could be one of the most well-rounded players from this draft, especially since I fail to see him be anything other than a positive defender.

Wagner's trophy case likely won't be overflowing with personal accolades. He isn't that type of player who fills up a box score and takes over games. However, I expect Wagner to earn an abundance of playoff minutes. The brand of basketball that Franz Wagner plays is conducive to winning. Expect to hear his name called sooner rather than later in the 2021 NBA Draft.

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