"The straw that stirs the drink": Q&A on Franz Wagner with Maize n Brew blogger Kellen Voss
Who better to ask about Franz Wagner than SB Nation's Michigan Wolverines blog?
Of all the Dub Nation HQ Draft Tournament matchups so far, none was more interesting to me than the second round pairing of Franz Wagner and Moses Moody.
Moody and Wagner were definitely two of my favorites from the first round. As a Michigan alum myself, I think I have a stronger opinion about Wagner than most of the other prospects who will be available in the Warriors’ #7-#14 draft range. As a lifelong basketball junky, Moody’s textbook footwork working the perimeter has me in awe. But after I went back and forth about Wagner a bit, I ended up digging for more.
I didn’t quite watch as much Michigan basketball — or any basketball, for that matter — this past year for numerous reasons, both personal and professional (nothing tragic! just busy!). So although I had thoughts about Wagner, they were largely based on my feelings from watching the game as a casual fan and not exactly watching as closely as I normally would for such a successful Wolverines team. So to deepen my grasp of Wagner as a prospect, I headed over to SB Nation’s Maize n Brew, which I used lurk on a bit back when this staff was with SBN.
Wagner’s fit with the Warriors, in theory, is pretty clear — as described by MnB contributor Daniel Dash shortly after the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery took place, “[Wagner] can immediately carve out a spot in the rotation based on his defense alone, and the playmaking he showed as a sophomore at Michigan should allow him to facilitate for Thompson and Stephen Curry.” I think everyone sees that. But as discussed in the comments of our draft tournament post, there are also some concerns.
So to help us think through Wagner’s fit with the team — or maybe just help me clarify some things about my more limited viewing of him this year — I contacted Kellen Voss (@KellenVoss52) of Maize n Brew and WMXI-TV in Grand Rapids for a little more insight about the long 6-foot-9 wing from Germany. He provided some insight about some of the questions I’ve had about Wagner below.
Franz Wagner Q&A
Nate: As I watched Wagner this season, one thing that stood out is that he sometimes seemed to disappear (offensively) and a lot of people have concerns about his lack of assertiveness. What insight might you add to that conversation that those looking at highlight packages might miss?
Kellen Voss: I think a lot of last season was focused on getting Hunter Dickinson the ball, with Livers being the go-to scoring guy until he got injured. I’m sure Warriors fans were concerned as to why Franz was not that guy, but he showed in spurts that he can be a reliable offensive option. There was also a lot of games where Chaundee Brown (who would make an excellent addition to any summer league roster) got hot off the bench, and Wagner often served as the guy who helped him get open a lot. Is he going to have a go-to guy mindset entering the league? Probably not, but not a lot of 19-year-olds have that. In an offense that can be as potent as the Warriors, I think he’ll do fine and maybe even surprise a few people.
Nate: Statistically, Wagner’s usage % (under 20%) is a source of discussion — some people are concerned about his relative lack of shot creation (similar to the previous question), others find all the other things he does well on the court more important. How would you describe Wagner’s growth as a scorer and potential for further growth?
KV: I think a lot of lazy, so-called basketball experts see that he’s a white guy who takes 3-5 threes a game and put him a box as a shooter who can heat up quickly off the bench. He’s much more than that. Similar to what we saw when Nik Stauskas came out (or with what Duncan Robinson has been doing with the Heat), Franz can get to the rim as a slasher and has the ability to beat guys off the dribble. I understand why Warriors fans would be concerned with his potential as a go-to scorer. But in an offense featuring Curry, Thompson (hopefully), Andrew Wiggins and breakout bucket getter Jordan Poole, he should be able to get a lot of easy buckets while covering big wings on the defensive end.
Nate: Passing is touted as one of Wagner’s strengths offensively. Impressively, Dean on Draft noted, “Franz had a higher assist rate than everybody but PG Mike Smith, and among frontcourt players only Isaiah Livers (11.6%) was in double digits.” Is there anything about Michigan’s offense or Wagner’s role in it that might help us understand those passing numbers better?
KV: To quote deanondraft who cited some pretty telling statistics, Wagner is certainly ‘dripping with goodness’ on the offensive end. He was definitely the straw that stirs the drink, helping Smith and Brown to get going offensively while also getting buckets on his own. Warriors fans should love that he was probably the best Wolverine outside of Smith at getting Dickinson the ball where he likes it in the post. If he can click with Wiseman in a similar way, that can certainly speed along both of their developments as pro players.
Nate: Obviously, people are most excited about Wagner’s defense and he’s a heady, long, versatile player who makes an impact on the ball and off. No disagreement about that. But is there anything about his defensive game that you think people are overstating or situations that he doesn’t excel in that might temper his NBA potential?
KV: As is the case with a lot of NBA rookies, I think he’ll initially struggle with how quick NBA offenses are. There were times this year where he was tasked with guarding small scorers like Marcus Carr where he used physicality to his advantage. I don’t think he’ll be able to do that as much in the NBA. Playing with a defensive mastermind like Draymond Green should help him. Watching the Finals right now, he could definitely belong on that floor as both a defender and a shot creator.
Nate: Wagner has been lauded for being a pretty well-rounded player, but what’s the first thing that you think he’ll have to work on to adjust to the next level?
There’s a few things I would love to see him improve upon at the NBA level. He needs to be more agile and improve his quickness laterally to be the great NBA defender that a few sites have touted him as. I’d like to see him tweak the release on his shot a little, as while it does go in, he releases the ball slowly and from below his chin. He settles for too many awkward mid-range floaters that Michigan fans wanted to see him finish at the cup. If he can improve upon all those things, the Warriors will have two reliable Wolverines in their top-8 rotation, which is something that I think would make Michigan fans stay up late for Pacific-Time tip offs.
Nate: Fun fact — Jordan Poole was just the second Wolverine drafted by the Warriors since 1977 (Rickey Greene) and the first to play more than one season ever. So it would feel weird to have two Michigan products on the squad. As the team looks to build for the future while maximizing Curry in the present, how well do you think Poole and Wagner would fit together in a lineup?
KV: In terms of his fit with Poole, I think him and Wagner can work well together as the second-unit back court. Wagner can make for the Poole defensive lapses that I'm sure you're painfully aware of, and I think the duo can develop a bit of a two-man game. I would love to see Wagner get more confidence from three the way that Poole is. I know a lot of readers for our site would certainly tune in for more Warriors games if Poole and Wagner both got significant minutes.