Franz Wagner: an “almost 6’11” Draft pick?

Why he may have moved up the boards

On the morning of the 2021 NBA Draft, three mock boards had Franz Wagner as the 7th pick going to the Golden State Warriors: Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress/ESPN, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer and Chad Ford, formerly of ESPN’s Top 100 college prospects in years past.

Let’s take a closer look at this prospect out of Michigan…

Basics

  • 19 years old, even though he’s a sophomore

  • Measurements: 6’9” officially, but he has said lately that he has grown to “almost 6’11.” [see clickable video below], 220lbs, last measured wingspan had him as +3 inches, which puts him around a 7’0” wingspan now.

  • College stats from last year: 12.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG.

  • Shooting splits: 47.7 FGP, 34.3 3PP, 83.5 FTP.

Strengths

Defense, especially team defense: One of, if not the best, team defender in the Draft. Wagner was put in a lot of different positions defensively this college season by Michigan head coach and former NBA standout Juwan Howard, and proved to have an elite understanding of team defense concepts. He also held up admirably in isolation against guards, wings, and bigs, which is perfect for modern switch-heavy NBA defenses. He has great help instincts and can even rim-protect from the weakside.

Versatility at size: Wagner’s versatility extends into the offensive side of the ball as well. Michigan empowered him to run the pick-and-roll, which he showed talent at doing, as well as put him in spot-up shooting roles or cutting out of the corners. Wagner can be moved around a lot on offense and his ability to pass, operating with screens, knowing when to cut, and hitting open shots at his height make him an easy fit into any offensive system.

Experience + youth: We’ve heard a lot about the Warriors impulses this offseason to not only improve next year’s roster, but also set up long term success as the core ages.

To many fans, this is a strict dichotomy with an inflection point at tonight’s Draft: Trade the picks or pick older guys equals “win now”, or drafting 19-year-olds means “win later”.

Wagner, however, represents somewhat of a middle path. He is a college sophomore but due to his birthdate, he is in fact a full year younger than fellow sophomore James Bouknight (profiled here) and even a few months younger than freshmen Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs.

On top of that, he has played in Eurocup competition for Germany; he is the rare 19-year-old who has a decent level of experience coming in. He won’t be the raw prospect Jonathan Kuminga (profiled here) is, but he also is young and can improve.

Weaknesses

Star upside: All the knocks against Wagner sum up to this: it seems unlikely that he can be a focal point of a team rather than a complementary player. While no one really knows what any of these guys will turn into in the NBA, of course, there are some markers here of a limited upside.

Wagner has solid athleticism, but not elite. He doesn’t profile as a go-to scorer, but more of an opportunistic creator and scorer. He has a good handle for his size, but he isn’t Lebron James. His shot looks good, but he wasn’t a flamethrower. Ergo, Wagner is very unlikely to be the best or second-best player on a good team. The question is, is a role player worth taking in the top 7?

Warriors Fit

A fit on both ends with the Warriors, Wagner’s defensive awareness would immediately make him playable in a switching defense, and he and Draymond Green could terrorize offenses as a 4-5 combo in small units.

Wagner’s secondary creating and shooting capabilities would make him an easy fit on offense too, as he can work with all the Warriors stars pretty seamlessly, spacing things out for Stephen Curry to create, and then punishing with 4-on-3s with a shot or good decision if the opponent traps. Wagner projects to be a very useful rotation player and perhaps even a long-term replacement for Green or Wiggins at the 3 or 4.

Final opinions

I really love Wagner as a prospect, and think he’s an incredible fit for the Warriors. I’m torn between the idea of a bigger swing for star upside like Kuminga versus picking Wagner or Moses Moody (profiled here) who both represent high-level role players such as Mikal Bridges, but are unlikely to be stars.