Franz Wagner and the NBA’s Greatest Experience

The Orlando Magic are one of the worst teams in the league and are already planning for the next big pick, right? Why one of the league’s most exciting experiments is taking place near Disney World and what role does Franz Wagner play in it?

At first glance, the Magic are now where they belong. Finished with a 2-9 record in the Eastern Conference. They are a very young team with a number of absentees as well, so not much can and should not be expected. Besides, the organization certainly doesn’t mind the next big pick, right?

Maybe, and yet that view doesn’t do young Magic much justice. Something is happening in Orlando. It’s starting to look less like an early-round rebuild where talent is simply stockpiled and gambled on without ambition. There is a plan and there are regular moments when you can look to the future.

Such moments, for example. When Franz Wagner finds his signature center Wendell Carter Jr. in a pick-and-roll, and this classic guard’s big play is run by the two tallest players on the court (both 2.08m), it becomes…

or when Bol Bol grabs a rebound with a 2.18m back and can fit a coast-to-coast layup in the opposing basket within five dribbles…

… or when there are formations on the court in which Terrence Ross, at 1.98m, is the shortest player on his team. Also born out of necessity, sure, but the Magic started three games with Ross, Wagner, Carter Jr., Ball and No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero, also 2.08m tall. This team is already the league leader in terms of limb length.

Orlando Magic. Position team

Orlando is slowly building a position-less team full of great players who can dribble, pass and shoot, who create mismatch nightmares on the assembly line … and who offer a glimpse of what NBA basketball could look like in the future :

Is it just a giant little ball? Or perhaps, as would have been more appropriate in recent years, a skill ball only with older players. In any case, it’s a very exciting experience, in which by no means everything works out yet, but which still encourages dreaming.

There is already a “good” version of such a bad team, the Toronto Raptors. A team where almost anyone can hit the ball forward and which dominates on the fast break, especially because so many crosses are created automatically. A team that on its best days is incredibly gritty on defense, has all kinds of coverages, coaches creatively and can (at the very least) be a stumbling block for any team.

Orlando. Work in progress

The Magic is far from there. Defensively, Orlando is at least mediocre on some days, in part because their sheer length somehow shrinks the court. Despite their size, many of their players are quite switchable, making it difficult to build an advantage against them at times.

Notice how little space Shai Gilges-Alexander has here and how small the windows are for transfers; that’s what happens when a long-winded guard like Jalen Suggs is the only “small” one on the court. If the players are also mobile, the opposing team must act very precisely…

So far, however, such scenes and phases have not been seen consistently, despite the Magic even having the eleventh-best defensive rating after the All-Star Break last season. They are currently ranked 23rd, also due to the fact that defenses often fall apart very quickly as soon as one or more starters leave the court. Consistency is, surprisingly, a pretty big deal.

A player could theoretically fix that, as the Magic have another one of those big, do-it-all forwards who was one of the best defenders in the league the last time he was really fit. After more than two years without an NBA game (and being thrown into conspiracy theory circles), it’s completely unclear whether Jonathan Isaac will ever reach this level again if he ever plays again. Isaac is a mystery.

Magic hype. Not only Banchero is important…

Offensively, Orlando feels further away from Raptors status with a current 21st “best” offensive rating. However, this can also be explained by a number of reasons, and does not necessarily remain so; Orlando absolutely has the potential to cause similar problems to Toronto. Just bigger and perhaps, at least in the midfield, with even more talented individual players.

Banchero is the main one in this regard, understandably. Not only does the rookie look like the tallest and strongest player in the NBA, he’s scoring with a terrific shot and putting up All-Star numbers in his first 11 games (more on Banchero in the upcoming Rookie Watch). Banchero could be the type Orlando has been waiting for since Dwight Howard.

And yet. Wagner is almost as interesting in the long run as it is rudimentary. And it is not least due to the fact that he is currently the one who has to somehow cover all the things that the young team really lacks.

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