How Franz Wagner Has Gotten Better To Start The 2022-23 NBA Season

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In case you were wondering how things are going in Orlando, we recently saw them close a game against the Dallas Mavericks with this lineup.

“Chaos is a ladder built by 7 foot wingspans” – Littlefinger, Game of Thrones, abridged

Chuma Okeke/Franz Wagner/Paolo Banchero/Wendell Carter Jr./Bol Bol is, for my money, the wackiest, funkiest, and most unhinged lineup we’ve seen in a game this season without question. I loved every second of it — 151 seconds, to be exact — as they actually outscored the Mavs by one in their time on court. All five players are 6’6 or taller (Okeke is the shortest at 6′ 6) and has a plus wingspan. If you haven’t watched this game, I so strongly encourage you to do so.

This is Orlando’s ethos, a direct result of their past few years of scouting, draft philosophy, and willingness to experiment to be different. We’ll see how that actually plays out during the coming era of basketball in Orlando, but the results have been intriguing to track without question. Banchero, the top pick in the 2022 draft, has rightfully commandeered headlines and dazzled with highlights. Averaging 22.7 points on close to league average efficiency while being a plus playmaker across your first seven games as a rookie at 6’10, that’s pretty damn impressive!

The collective shooting of the Magic, currently just 27th in team three-point percentage, is slightly indicative of what their shooting talent is. It’s also a product of a slow start and due to their lack of guard play — Jalen Suggs has played two games and Cole Anthony just four. They’ve been forced into the wacky zone due to injury, which stinks, because injuries stink. On the other hand, it makes for some absurd 10:17 P.M. EST television.

Lost in the sauce this season has been Franz Wagner’s improvement. Now, you might look at Wagner’s box score and scoff, but that would be a mistake. Wagner has struggled from deep early. But his exploits inside the arc have been all the more impressive considering that and the overall shooting of the team at present.

His usage has increased, partially out of necessity. Cleaning the Glass has him listed as the point guard in lineups 8 percent of his total minutes this season; it seems like that should be significantly higher. He’s often running lineups even if he’s not the shortest or even close to shortest player on the court, something that isn’t easily parsed out by data, given how much diversification the Orlando offense has in handlers — every player seemingly has gotten opportunities to bring the ball up, which I love.

Franz has found an extra tinge of aggression, seeing red a little more often. What makes that so fascinating is how he finishes inside the arc. So often in watching Franz, I rarely think “that was an aggressive take,” but his finishing is an illusion, in that sense. He’s aggressive in getting to the rim, and will more than occasionally uncork a rim-rattling slam, but his finishing is often craft-based.

That’s not something I’d routinely attribute to a high-level forward driver. His patience and use of angles are reminiscent of watching a below the rim guard sneak their way into craft finishes through limbs in traffic. He’s still most comfortable finishing with his right, but has an adept ability to adjust mid-air to either hand to cushion himself against length and rim protection.

It’s the kind of thing that feels like bad process. You get that crafty finishing guard feel, right? If you’ve ever watched Jaden Hardy, you’ve seen attempts like this routinely. With Wagner’s deft touch, he somewhat bucks the bad process label for me. When you can pull off these funky floaters that have even more separation due to his size and length, by all means Franz, go to work!

Noah Vonleh is in such a bind here. Franz is one of the best at his size at driving through the nail. His strides are so long, he can hit that overhead swing through gather to keep the ball secure, and then a step later, he’s gliding into a floater/finger roll that can’t really be contested. He’s incredible at using his full length. It seems minute, but having the ability and consistent understanding to not just be big, but utilize your own size to the 100th percentile is a due part of what makes Franz so special.

I’m so interested to see how teams start to key in on Franz doing his inside hand finishes, but at the same time, it’s not easy to hone in on one thing he’ll do. He’s really strong at mixing up his finishing package. Wagner is very much a combo puncher. He revels in keeping his opponents guessing by throwing jabs, rangy hooks, and feints from every angle.

Evan Mobley, among other rim protectors who have been handed the same left to right scoop, looked like a batter expecting a fastball or curve, and wound up with a 74 mile per hour knuckle that painted the bottom right corner. You just kind of sit there stunned — “Oh, that was quick as hell and he went inside hand? Against me?” It’s an awesome off-speed pitch to have.

Wagner isn’t getting to the rim all that much more, and he’s only finishing slightly better than he did there last season (up two percent), but when factoring in the improving process, aggression, and what the offensive environment has been, this is intriguing stuff.

The interior passing between him, Paolo, and Wendell has enamored early. Yes, the spacing is weird and the shooting has been rough. I’d love to see the team add a vet or two who can really help ease some of that burden. There’s one player on this team older than 25, Terrence Ross (Gary Harris has yet to play due to injury rehab). Adding any shooting guard/small forward hybrid who can move themselves and move the ball while getting threes up on volume is something I’d love to see.

I remain more intrigued by this team than any other in the NBA from a pure amusement factor, scouting perspective, and overall basketball philosophy and understanding point of view. Franz Wagner is a substantial reason for that, and his continued growth into one of the premier young players in the league is something to keep on your radar.