A dynamic playmaker and versatile defender at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, Wagner is someone who impacts the game in a multitude of ways. With superb vision and instincts on offense and with the ability to guard the perimeter and paint equally well, expect him to serve as a secondary or tertiary playmaker while also being asked to guard top wing scorers.
Two former NBA players Wagner plays a lot like, particularly offensively, are Hedo Turkoglu and Mike Dunleavy Jr. As far as active players, there are shades of Joe Ingles, Deni Avdija, Kyle Anderson and Gordon Hayward in his game. On the defensive end, where he excels the most, Andrei Kirilenko is a fair comp for the Orlando Magic's new forward.
Wagner is listed as a small forward. But really he can play one through four, especially defensively. He’s quick enough laterally to stay in front of guards on the perimeter and in space. He has the length and IQ to drop back in pick-and-roll and protect the paint. He’s an exceptionally good help defender as well. Several of his blocks in college came when he slid over from the weak side or when he chased down opponents from behind.
This might be the first time in NBA history we are going to see this many 6-foot-8-or-taller playmaking hybrid forwards enter the league at the same time. Wagner, who is 6’9, Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Josh Giddey and Jalen Johnson all fall into that category. The Berlin, Germany native and younger brother of Moritz Wagner, who has been in the NBA since 2018 and played in 11 games with the Magic at the end of last season, has excellent court vision, awareness and accuracy on his passes, especially when he orchestrates out of pick-and-roll (similar to Turkoglu).
Three-point shooting is not really a strength of his at the moment, as he shot just 32.5 percent from beyond the arc in his two seasons combined at the University of Michigan. But, it’s improving. His shooting mechanics, although he does have a fairly slow release and a super high arc, are solid, and he’s not shy to let it fly. He attempted 234 threes in 55 games during his college career.
Wagner is on the slower side. It’s rare for him to beat a defender off the dribble, although he is crafty and sharp enough to occasionally create some space for a floater or find an angle to attack the hoop. The good news is that he makes quick decisions. He’s very swift on offense. If he doesn’t have anything, he will give the ball up. Not playing a physical brand of basketball, particularly offensively where he averaged just 2.4 free throw attempts with the Wolverines, is a bit of a concern.
The Magic have the pieces in place to transform into a stifling defensive team. That’s what they are built to be and adding Jalen Suggs and Wagner only solidifies that. Having Wagner, who turns 20 years old in August, also gives Orlando another dynamic playmaker who can take some of the pressure off the team’s guards. That especially applies to Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton, combo guards who have shown to be at their best when they are getting downhill. Opponents are going to have a hard time finding mismatches when they play the Magic considering forwards Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke and Wagner all excel at guarding opponents in isolation.
Key College Stats
In the Big Ten in 2020-21, Wagner ranked eighth in steals, 14th in blocks and 17th in assists. He also ranked first in the conference in defensive win shares, a complex calculation of a player’s defensive contributions using statistics such as individual defensive rating, minutes played, opponent’s possessions, opponent's points per possession and pace.
Most Memorable College Game
Michigan thoroughly outplayed Florida State in the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, thanks in part to Wagner’s all-around excellence. Not only did he fill up the stat sheet with 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but he didn’t commit a single turnover, impressive considering the ball was in his hands a ton.
Quote of the Night
“It’s a dream come true. You put so much time and work and effort into this. So, for a night to happen the way it did, I’m so grateful for everybody in my life that helped me get to this point. I’m super thankful that Orlando trusted me, and I can’t wait to get there.” – Wagner