With the 2018 NBA Draft around the corner and the Portland Trail Blazers holding the 24th selection in the first round, we’re looking at a number of prospects who might fall into that area. Among them stands Moritz Wagner, a stretch big out of Michigan, hailing from Germany originally. Moritz had a breakout season and earned All-NCAA tournament honors, but is his game going to translate to the next level?
Moritz Wagner - Junior, Michigan
- Height: 6’11”
- Weight: 235
- Wingspan: 7’0”
- Shoots: Right
- Position: PF
- Age: 21
- Projected draft range: Early second round
- PPG: 14.6 | Per 40: 21.2
- RPG: 7.1 | Per 40: 10.3
- APG: 0.8 | Per 40: 1.2
- STL: 1.0 | Per 40: 1.4
- BLK: 0.5 | Per 40: 0.7
- FT%: 69.4
- FG%: 52.8
- 3P%: 39.4 (63/160)
Mortiz Wagner started his career in Germany, where he led the German under-18 national team to gold in the FIBA U-18 championships. He later made the jump to the top team of Alba Berlin, one of German’s premier clubs. (Wagner’s brother Franz still plays there now.) Wagner signed with Michigan. After a promising sophomore year, became one of the most promising big men in college basketball. His Junior year did not disappoint. His signature game of the regular season came on the road against Michigan’s cross-town rivals, fourth-ranked Michigan State. The big German dropped a career high 27 points on 8-13 shooting, including 3-4 from three, to lead the Wolverines to an upset win.
Led by Wagner, Michigan finished the regular season with a 22-7 record. They managed four straight wins in the conference tournament and five5 more consecutive wins in the NCAA tournament. Wagner scored 24 points and added 15 rebounds in the Final Four round to earn Michigan a spot in the National championship game. Michigan’s streak ended there as they were overwhelmed by a superior Villanova squad. Wagner still finished on the All-Tournament team.
Wagner brings height and shooting. Standing 7’0 (almost) and shooting 40% from distance (almost) will generate interest in today’s NBA. But Wagner can offer more than just shooting. He has a solid post-up game, which will help if NBA teams try to counter his shooting with a smaller quicker player. Wagner prefers to go right, but he uses his pump fake to create lanes and can put the ball on the floor well for a guy of his size. He’s a strong finisher as well.
Wagner is a warrior out on the court. He’s intense and he’s competitive, which bucks the image of stereotypical tall, soft, European shooters. Wagner loves the fight and has no ‘soft’ in his game.
Although his body proved sufficient defensively for the college level, Wagner’s strength and athleticism are not ideal for the the pros. He’s not quick enough to guard a decent perimeter player and doesn’t have the size and strength to take on a big inside guy. His feisty nature will serve him well, but the defensive side of the floor remains a cause for concern. Also, for a 6’11 big willing to battle, Mortiz rebounded at a less-than-exceptional rate. The bigger and stronger opponents at the next level will only make things harder for him on the glass. Wagner also lacks a one-on-one game from the perimeter. He has solid bounce and control on a straight-line drive but little finesse or play-making ability.
Wagner is a tough prospect to peg. On one hand, his college statistics are only a hair below that of Lauri Markkanen during the latter’s lone year at Arizona. The Chicago Bulls drafted Markkanen 7th overall in a loaded draft last year and he finished on the NBA All-Rookie team. Lauri is an inch taller and a month younger than Wagner but the big German plays noticeably harder and had a greater impact on his college team. Comparing tall, foreign, big-man shooters seems obvious and lazy, but the likenesses and statistics are staggering. (See also: Markkanen vs Wagner)
On the other hand, Wagner isn't projected as a first round pick. His shot mechanics are not particularly smooth, leaving questions about his ability to knock down 3’s at an elite level from NBA range. Outside of spacing the floor, activity, and spirit, not much about him looks like a weapon. He’ll need to add an in-between game (a fade away or a quick pull up) if he’s going to score consistently. Perhaps he could grab some tips from his childhood idol, Dirk Nowitzki.
Portland needs a versatile big that can guard the perimeter and the paint. That’s not Wagner. Offensively, they need a big to stretch the floor. That’s in Wagner’s wheelhouse. Portland may not have ton of minutes for Wagner yet, and he might not make enough immediate impact to justify taking him with pick 24. I really like Wagner as an early second rounder, but Portland does not currently own a second-round pick. It’ll be hard to say with any certainty that he is the best future prospect available there either, although it wouldn't surprise me if he made me eat those words.
What do you think? Would you feel good with the Blazers taking Wagner at 24? Let us know in the comments section.