Michigan's Moritz Wagner discusses his NBA draft combine experience. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Chicago — Moritz Wagner is not a salesman.
He prefers the straight approach, relying more on what teams have seen from him in his two seasons at Michigan than on prepared answers in his interviews at the NBA draft combine or during individual workouts. It’s a different approach to get teams interested in using a first-round pick on him.
But that’s the rub — Wagner isn’t pressed to try to get drafted. Whether he stays at Michigan or declares for the NBA draft, he’s fine with either choice. He’d prefer to be a first-round pick, of course, but he’s projected to be picked between the end of the first and midway in the second round.
Where he’s projected to go — especially if it’s in the second round — will make the decision for him, somewhat.
“It’s a hard decision. You can’t say it’s a certain range. I just want to feel that I belong somewhere where people believe in me,” Wagner said Thursday afternoon at Quest Multisport Complex. “If I have that feeling that a team believes in me that much to draft me in the first round, I’d have to seriously consider that.
“As long as I don’t have that feeling, I won’t risk losing two years of eligibility at the University of Michigan.”
Wagner has a lot of upside, with a smooth outside stroke to complement his 6-foot-11 frame. He helped the Wolverines make the Sweet 16 last season and could return, as he hasn’t hired an agent. He has until May 24 to decide whether to stay in the draft, or return to Michigan for his junior season.
He isn’t close to deciding, as he continues workouts with NBA teams to get a better sense of where he might be picked. He said he’s had interviews with the Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic and already has had individual workouts with the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The next 12 days are packed with more interviews and workouts, but Wagner still seems to be on the fence about his decision.
“I don’t know what to tell you because when I say something, tomorrow it might be different and it changes everything, so I honestly don’t know,” he said.
There’s no set sales pitch from Wagner or Michigan coach John Beilein or hyperbole about how his skills translate so well to the NBA. Teams have done their due diligence to figure out Wagner’s strengths — outside shooting, dribbling and versatility — and his areas of improvement: defense and rebounding.
Michigan coach John Beilein talks about D.J. Wilson's injury, as well as expectations for Moritz Wagner and Derrick Walton, Jr. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Wagner readily accepts those criticisms, including the notion that his success is limited to a small sample size of mainly the end of the season. He’s just representing himself, good and bad, and wants NBA teams to see the real him.
“I’m not trying to sell anything; I’m just being myself. I’m trying to be polite and nice and putting aside the crazy side of myself,” he said. “If there’s an organization that wants me, I want them to want me because they like me and not someone who’s pretending to be a nice guy.”
One notion is that a team could draft Wagner and let him play overseas to develop before bringing him back to the NBA to play in a couple years.
Beilein, who was at the combine, dismissed that as an option.
“He could just have done that many times — it’s not a thing,” Beilein said. “He’s really interested if he can work his way into a favorable position in the first round, then he’s got a decision to make.”
Wagner said he doesn’t know when he’ll make a decision about his future, but with less than two weeks remaining before the deadline, he’s just looking to make the best impression possible and then see what his options are.
It’s a unique position for Wagner, 20, as he didn’t see this as a clear possibility two years ago, when he was in his native Germany. Now that it’s materializing, he’s still trying to convince himself that it’s real.
“Even though I always expect the most out of myself, I don’t tell myself in two years I have to be at the combine and going to workouts,” he said. “I thought this morning that I’m really out here. Three years ago, I was out here watching Andrew Wiggins and now I’m out here. It’s kind of crazy and I’m trying to enjoy it the best I can.”
And that’s no sales pitch.