ESPN experts: Wagner, Wilson should return to UM

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Three Michigan players will get their first real job interviews this week, at the NBA draft combine in Chicago.

It’s an opportunity for point guard Derrick Walton Jr. and big men D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner to gauge their draft stock in front of a slew of team executives and scouts after they complete strength and agility drills and play in 5-on-5 scrimmages.

Walton is a senior and will pursue his basketball future; Wilson finished his junior season and Wagner his sophomore year. Wilson and Wagner haven’t hired agents, and have until the May 24 deadline to decide whether they want to return to Michigan.

The trio helped Michigan reach the Sweet 16 in last season’s NCAA Tournament, but according to two experts, ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla and Jeff Goodman, the outlook is murky for all three in terms of being first-round picks. In Wilson’s case, though, there could be some reason for optimism.

“The NBA guys I talked to said, ‘Mo Wagner, come back,’ It’s great that he played well at the end of the year but it was a small sample size,” Goodman said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “He’s got good upside, so come back, become a better rebounder and better defender.”

Wagner, a 6-foot-11 center from Germany who shot 40 percent on 3-pointers last season, averaged 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds, but played more of a finesse game and didn’t make a big impression on Fraschilla, who doesn’t see either Wagner or Wilson as being prepared for the pounding they could take at the next level.

“Neither one of those guys is physically ready for the NBA,” Fraschilla said. “If you take away the 26 points versus Louisville and the good game against Minnesota late in the year, he did not play great the rest of the postseason.”

The projection on Wilson, a 6-foot-10 forward who posted 11 points and 5.3 rebounds, was a little brighter. He shot 37 percent from beyond the arc and his improved defense makes him a commodity in the draft, setting him apart, in Fraschilla’s assessment.

“D.J. is really interesting because he is the quintessential 3-and-D big guy right now. He shoots 3s and he’s got great length to defend. But even he got bullied inside,” he said. “D.J. could get drafted in the first round late, but he isn’t playing in an important NBA game for at least a couple years.”

In talking to NBA personnel, Goodman projects that Wilson could be a first-round pick, somewhere around the end of the first round, to midway in the second. That’s generally not good enough for an underclassman to want to leave school, without a guarantee on his rookie contract in the NBA.

“They felt like he could be a No. 24 to No. 40 type guy at the end of the day but almost everyone I talked to said both should come back (to Michigan),” Goodman said. “For Wagner, 1,000 percent (go back to Michigan) and Wilson, if he came back, he could play his way into the first round for sure next year.”

Walton, at 6-foot-1, doesn’t have ideal size, but his tough play throughout his senior season and in the NCAA Tournament opened some eyes. But that might not be enough to get him on an NBA roster. Fraschilla suggested that maybe Walton is better suited to the Development League and then try to parlay that into an NBA roster spot.

“Kudos to Derrick Walton. He had a monster season and he’s probably likely a D-League player,” he said. “He shoots the absolute cover off the basketball and when you look at all the guys who are point guards in this draft after the first five, I just watched him give (Oklahoma State’s) Jawun Evans fits.

“Some people think Jawun Evans is a first-rounder and he could not guard Walton.”