Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner Perfect Fit for Head Coach Jamahl Mosley’s Vision for the Orlando Magic

Jeff Weltman, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Jamahl Mosley
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- Earlier this month, Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley revealed the core principles of his offensive and defensive coaching philosophies during his introductory press conference.

On offense, the Magic’s new commander expects his team to play with pace, space, and the pass. On defense, he’s looking for toughness, communication and to create a disruptive group that causes chaos for the opposition.

With two top eight picks in their arsenal, Orlando acquired a pair of players that fit those tenets to a T when they selected Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs fifth overall and Michigan’s Franz Wagner eighth in the 2021 NBA Draft.

“Their decision making, their versatility, I think that fits right in with us being able to play a faster game,” said Mosley of the two newest members of the Magic’s roster. “Them being able to make decisions to make others around them better, I think that’s where it fits because we keep talking about the competitiveness and (being winners). They know how to make the certain and right plays and we’ll continue to build on that and grow together with that.”

While there’s always necessary projection when forecasting how prospects will play in the pros, in this case it’s more than just conjecture. Both Suggs and Wagner have exemplified these qualities throughout their high-level collegiate careers, which in part made them such tantalizing candidates for Orlando.

Suggs, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound combo guard, has high-level athleticism and elite game management skills. As the first player to be named Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football at the high-school level in Minnesota state history, he demonstrated on a nightly basis his willingness to play a competitive and physical brand of hoops during a season which he led Gonzaga to a 31-1 record and a national championship game appearance.

“I think I fit (coach Mosley’s principles) extremely well,” said Suggs during his introductory press conference. “That’s what we did at Gonzaga, pushing the ball, throwing the ball ahead, (and) making the right basketball play. Not making any superhero plays or selfish plays.”

In his one-and-done season with the Bulldogs, Suggs averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game, while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor and 33.7 percent from 3-point range. Not afraid of the big moment, he’ll forever be etched into college basketball history after draining an iconic game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime against UCLA to send Gonzaga to the title game of the big dance. He’s now champing at the bit to bring those intangibles to Orlando.

“I think just the way I played my entire life,” Suggs explained. “It’s perfect for the fit in everything that coach wants to do. So, getting ready to work with him and being an extension of him on the court. When I get (set) here bring my leadership to the locker room are all things that I’m going to provide. Again, I keep saying it, but I’m overjoyed and just so excited to get working and get started.”

Three picks after selecting Suggs, the Magic added another piece that will help bring Mosley’s vision to reality. Wagner, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward, impacts the game in a multitude of ways. From his quick decision making to defensive versatility, Wagner brings elements to both ends of the floor.

“I totally agree (with what Jalen was saying),” said Wagner, who averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.25 steals and 1.04 blocks per game during his sophomore campaign with the Wolverines. “I think at Michigan we played a similar style too. Up-tempo, fast paced, also we had a lot of shooters at Michigan, so I’m hoping to bring that to the team. Defensively, I think I’m a good two-way player. Hopefully, I can guard multiple positions. And (I’m) good off the ball. I pride myself on being a good player on the court even if I don’t have the ball. So, with guys like R.J. (Hampton), Cole (Anthony) and Jalen now, I think I’ll fit in really well and maybe can help those guys make easier reads and easier decisions.”

Playmaking was one of the characteristics that Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman discussed a lot with his staff as they approached the draft. To have the chance to add not one, but two of those players in a single night was a rare opportunity for an NBA franchise.

“We wanted to add skill, IQ, passing, players that connect one another and both of these guys have all of those ingredients,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “They’re smart, they’re tough, they’re skilled, and they’re super competitive. They’re going to be hungry to learn (and) they’re going to be hungry to develop their games the way the team needs them to (in order) to win.”

Those two players will join seven others on the roster that are under the age of 24. Two of those players, Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, are coming back from significant knee injuries after playing a combined eight games last season and will be welcomed additions once they’re able to return.

“Getting out, running, pace, playing hard, being disruptive on defense, it fits the mold of the team that we have right now,” said Isaac, who missed all of last season. “Obviously, we’re a team that will grow into his philosophy and what he wants to do offensively and defensively. But I feel good. Anything defensively, you can call my name, and I’m continuing to get better and better on the offensive end.”

With two valuable draft selections added to a young nucleus of high-character players, it’s only a matter of time before Mosley’s vision for the team becomes a reality.

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