LAS VEGAS - Until about six or seven years ago, the word “versatility” was rarely mentioned in NBA lingo. Not to suggest players before then weren’t skilled in multiple areas because some certainly were, but it was less transparent than it is in this present era.
The way the league is veering, it’s now almost essential for players to excel at more than one thing. If they don’t have different layers to their games, opponents can find ways to run them off the floor. We’ve been seeing that time and time again the last few years, especially in the playoffs when coaches have ample time to adjust.
It’s why Franz Wagner, the Orlando Magic’s eighth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, has a chance to make a big impact in this league. Dubbed a basketball unicorn by many, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder can be plugged into just about every role and keep opponents guessing.
That versatility was on display during the Magic’s 94-84 summer league loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Wagner did a little bit of everything during his 22 minutes of action that ended with him scoring 10 points, grabbing three rebounds, dishing out one assist and collecting one steal. Not once but twice, he snuck baseline with no defender in sight to finish at the hoop. He had a few open looks from 3-point land, one of which he knocked down, that stemmed from good spacing. A couple times he pushed the ball in transition, an underrated strength of his. On the other end of the floor, he did a terrific job guarding the 7-foot, 215-pound Evan Mobley, who was held to 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
Impressed with Wagner’s talent, work ethic and basketball IQ, teammates believe the future is bright for the Berlin, Germany native.
“He’s extremely versatile,” said fellow rookie Jalen Suggs, who recorded 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists in Wednesday’s contest, all team highs. “Even more than that, he’s a smart player. He’s got great IQ. He knows when to cut. He knows when to space. He’s a tough guy. You’re not going to bully ball him on the offensive or defensive end. He’s a great player. The more we get to playing. The more we practice together, our chemistry will get even better. I think he has a ton of potential.”
Largely because of Wagner’s contributions on both ends, the Magic held a six-point first-quarter lead before the Cavs seized momentum. Early on, he and Suggs, another versatile player, connected on the offensive side. Good things tend to happen when the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Suggs gets into the paint, which he’s done quite frequently over his first two games in Vegas.
The issue Orlando had, especially in the third quarter when they were outscored by 12, was finishing drives. They shot 39 percent overall, obviously a mark that’s not going to lead to many wins.
The Cavs feature two of the best defenders playing at this year’s summer league in Mobley and Isaac Okoro, last year’s fifth overall pick, and they did an excellent job challenging shots inside and jumping the passing lanes.
Speaking of Mobley, arguably the most versatile player chosen in the 2021 draft, Suggs has been impressed with what he’s seen from him and believes he will be a force in this league for many years.
“He was great tonight,” Suggs said of Cleveland’s No. 3 overall pick. “His athleticism. He’s so big in the paint. It makes it hard. I think he did a great job of stepping out and knocking down shots.”
“Defensively, he’s a monster,” he added. “That’s someone when you see in the paint, sometimes you think twice about going inside and laying it up. He’s so versatile. He’s a quiet guy, but not to let that fool you, on the court he gets down. Extremely proud of him. Can’t wait to see what he does this year.”
Okoro, who averaged 9.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists in his rookie campaign, led the Cavs on Wednesday with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while Trevon Bluiett scored 14 and Lamar Stevens chipped in with 13.
The one other Magic player besides Suggs and Wagner to score in double figures was D.J. Hogg, a member of the Lakeland Magic’s 2021 G League championship squad. The 24-year-old who hails from Columbus, Ohio and played collegiately at Texas A&M recorded 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
The Magic are back in action on Thursday when they take on the Boston Celtics at 7 p.m. ET. The Cavs next play on Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans at 6 p.m. ET.