Whether a music artist, athlete, or TV show, the dreaded sophomore slump exists in the back of the minds of everyone who seeks to follow up a stellar start. While many have slouched to a tough second season before, the Orlando Magic’s Franz Wagner looks like he may have smashed that situation.
Wagner had a shockingly successful season for the Magic last year, making the 2022 All-Rookie 1st team after starting 79 games for Orlando. He wasn’t expected to do much, but Wagner was the second leading scorer for the team in his rookie year, winning the December 2021 Rookie of the Month award.
With the team striking gold in the 2022 lottery and drafting first-year star Paolo Banchero, alongside the return of Markelle Fultz from ACL injury, there was some understandable skepticism around whether Wagner could keep up the same pace he set as a first-year player. Instead of sputtering, he’s continued his upwards ascent and scratched the surface of potential NBA stardom.
What has Franz Wagner improved on in his 2nd season?
Last year, Wagner did most of his damage despite only having the 5th highest usage rate on the team. He’s moved up to second behind Paolo Banchero, fitting in seamlessly as the second star on Paolo’s team.
Wagner has improved his scoring to 19 points a game, shooting better from the field, two-point range, and three-point range. That’s on increased attempts from all around the floor, a difficult tightrope to walk for many players. Franz has not only pirouetted upon that line but he’s shown some key developments in his scoring package to elicit further attention.
With the ability to hit threes off of the dribble and on catch-and-shoot attempts, Wagner’s a dangerous sniper who teams must respect from beyond the arc. He’s shown the propensity to hit timely shots as well, making a clutch impact for the Magic:
Franz has also been plugging away at the basket, leading the Magic in drives per game while ranking solidly in the greater hierarchy of the league in that department. Of all players who drive the ball at least 11 times a game in the NBA, Wagner ranks 19th, which may seem like a low figure, but he ranks above Darius Garland, Jimmy Butler, and Ja Morant in that category.
His mixture of crafty footwork, crisp ball handling, and stretchy arms has resulted in a rim onslaught that is on par with a number of other stars in the leagues:
In just his second season, Wagner has already established himself as a productive scorer, one who can bend defenses to his will with the lack of holes in his bag already.
What can Wagner still improve on for the Magic?
The places that Wagner can grow are less about what he does poorly as an NBA player and more about the above-average skills that he possesses now that he could stand to improve into star-level skills.
Wagner’s passing was one of his strong suits coming out of Michigan, but so far in the NBA, he’s only been a good, not great playmaker. His passing chops are there, certainly, but he hasn’t gotten a chance to flex his creative muscles as much as predicted.
That’s not to say there aren’t flashes; in fact, Wagner is one of the more cerebral transition passers in the league, whether it be dump-off passes or lobs to his co-star:
For as good as he is with the ball in his hands, it’s a bit surprising for Wagner to only average 3.5 assists a game. Some of it can be blamed on the Magic as a whole, as the team is only 22nd in three-point percentage as a collective. Some of it, however, falls at the feet of Wagner to improve in the future, given it could lift Orlando up to a competent offense at worst.
Wagner could also stand to take his defense from just good to great. He’s a quality team defender, positioning himself to cut off drives, rotating to fill holes, and using his length to inhibit initial actions for other teams. Watch the work he does here against the Sixers and you’ll see the potential:
It’s the individual defense that, if improved, could make Wagner a shoo-in All-Star. He flashed some of it this summer while dominating for Germany at the 2022 FIBA World Cup. Wagner’s ludicrous length should result in more plays like these in the NBA, even if they haven’t happened yet:
Again, a portion of this issue stems from Orlando’s own deficiencies. They are below league average in points in the paint and points in transition allowed, valleys that Wagner himself can’t bridge for the team. With some incremental improvements from him, however, he could be part of the change that comes for the Magic.
Where do Wagner and the Magic go from here?
Paolo Banchero has rightfully earned his spot as the alpha dog of the Orlando Magic, but every star player needs another star to help them get to the brightest stage of the NBA. While some speculated that would be Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, or even Jonathan Isaac, it appears to be Franz Wagner.
It’s a blessing in disguise that both he and Banchero play the same position, as it gives the Magic a distinct advantage on the wing in the same way that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown coexist for the league-leading Celtics.
In just a short time, Franz Wagner has not only elevated his position on the Magic to be the team’s second star, but he’s also put himself onto a developmental trajectory that he soon could go side-by-side with Paolo Banchero to a future All-Star weekend.