My lasting image of Moritz Wagner at Michigan was watching him abuse my Louisville Cardinals in the 2017 NCAA Sweet 16. Louisville coach Rick Pitino inexplicably stuck with a switching defensive scheme even as Wagner methodically blew by every smaller defender who tried to check him on the perimeter and finished at the rim over late help.
That was one example of how Wagner was more than just a “stretch” big for the Wolverines. He’s a skilled player with the ball in his hands with a pretty quick first step and good moves around the basket. Now the question is whether Wagner can do those things in the NBA.
If Wagner can score in diverse ways in the league it would help him offset his defensive deficiencies and provide good value as a big off the bench. After his workout with the Hawks on Saturday, Wagner said his goal in pre-draft sessions is to show NBA teams he can do more than just shoot.
“I’m trying to show I can pass a little bit and that I understand the game,” Wagner said. “That’s what I focus on most, to be honest with you. Because shooting, it doesn’t really matter. It is more about the type of player you are and that I can show I do things off the dribble as well.”
After not playing much as a freshman, Wagner was a productive and efficient scorer on high volume over his last two seasons at Michigan. He was an excellent spot-up shooter but also stood out as a roll man and was good in transition.
Over the past two seasons, Wagner made 108 of 274 3-point attempts (39.4 percent) and 384 of 709 2-point tries (54.2 percent). Per Synergy, Wagner made 128 of 212 shots (60.4 percent) around the basket over those seasons, excluding post-ups. Wagner combine to score 20.7 points per 40 minutes during his final two seasons.
Wagner’s shooting ability isn’t in doubt. But it could be challenging for him to finish against the NBA’s longer and more athletic bigs because of his modest length (7-foot wingspan) and lift. Wagner also didn’t producer much as a passer (1.1 assists per 40 minutes) over the past two seasons as he developed into a go-to scorer.
Wagner’s physical limitations also could hurt him on defense. He didn’t block many shots at Michigan and had poor efficiency as a post-up defender and when challenging shots around the basket, according to Synergy. Wagner’s lack of quickness could hurt him as a defender against power forwards on the perimeter and on switches (though notably he recorded solid times in agility drills at the combine).
One good sign for Wagner is that he drastically improved his rebounding production from his sophomore to junior season. His defensive rebounding percentage (24.9) ranked second in the Big Ten last season, according to kenpom.com. Wagner said that development came after feedback from NBA teams when he declared for the 2017 draft before returning to Michigan.
“My biggest thing was rebounding, just get better as a big,” Wagner said. “You’ve got to rebound regardless of what level.”
Wagner said he returned to Michigan last season in part because he wanted to “have fun and enjoy being a kid” before becoming a pro. He ended up being named to the Final Four all-tournament team after the Wolverines lost to Villanova in the title game. Wagner also probably helped his NBA draft stock by showing his shooting as a sophomore wasn’t a fluke and improving as a rebounder.
There don’t figure to be many quality bigs available in the draft after the first 20 or so picks. The Hawks don’t have any “stretch” among their current prospects. If they decide to add one Wagner could be a target with the 30th or 34th pick.
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