Taking risks isn’t foreign to Moritz Wagner.
Three years ago, Wagner made the difficult decision to pack his bags and travel thousands of miles from Berlin to Ann Arbor. He could’ve stayed and turned in pro in Germany, but he wanted a different experience and landed at Michigan, a move many of his peers thought was crazy.
Then following Michigan’s run to the national title game this past season, Wagner opted to forgo his final season of eligibility and pursue a professional career. He could’ve stayed to lead the Wolverines on another postseason run and possibly — maybe — improve his draft stock.
But for Wagner, the time has come for him to hopefully cash in on those gambles and reap his reward during Thursday’s NBA Draft at the Barclays Center in New York.
“It's definitely a big step for me in my life, but the last three years helped me a lot. Reflecting on that helped me allow to get to know myself and be prepared for this step,” Wagner told reporters back in April.
“I feel like with the support of my parents — and I came from Germany over here at 18 years old — I hope this is going to be a lot easier than what I've done back then.”
What might not be so easy, though, is pegging exactly where Wagner will be selected. NBA.com predicts the 6-foot-11, 240-pound big man will be picked at No. 21, while most major mock drafts have him going somewhere in the late first round or early second round, largely in the 25-40 range.
And that’s where ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks, ESPN scouting analyst Mike Schmitz and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas all expect Wagner to hear his name called.
“I think his range is all over the place,” Marks said this week. “He's been in Washington twice, working out for the 15th pick. He's kind of filled the board with workouts in that 25 to 30 range, also. I would be surprised if he goes to Washington at 15, but I think he is a fringe first-round pick.”
Schmitz said he anticipates Wagner being taken in the mid-30s, but wouldn't be shocked if he ended up being drafted in the late 20s — and giving Michigan a first-round draft pick for the third straight year.
"I think he's going to fit with most teams, unless they're a team that switches every ball screen and needs their big man to be that type of guy," Schmitz said. "But I do think with his experience — and he has an NBA skill — he's going to be able to play a role during his rookie season wherever he ends up."
That's because there's always room in the NBA for floor-stretching big men like Wagner, who shot a team-best 39.4 percent from 3-point range and had teams, like Purdue, center their entire defensive game plan around stopping him last season.
But the NBA is trending toward big men who can shoot 3s on offense all while protecting the rim, switching out on the perimeter and defending in space on defense, which Schmitz said is the biggest question for Wagner.
"I think he's going to be good in a situation where he has versatile defenders around him and a point guard who can put him in position to succeed," Schmitz said. "So having other guys who can kind of pick up the slack there I think is going to be important.
"Teams really like his competitiveness, his moxie. He's a guy who every time you see him working out in the gym he's drenched in sweat. He goes hard all the time. He has kind of a very magnetic personality to him, and he's near seven feet tall and he can shoot and he can actually put the ball down a little bit, as well. So I think teams like that aspect of him. It's just a matter of how many minutes is he going to be able to give you because he is a little bit limited on the defensive end."
Despite his perceived weaknesses, Bilas said he thinks Wagner will be a wanted commodity and will develop into a solid pro because of his size, offensive skill set and strides he has shown during his time at Michigan.
"He's a skilled big guy that can make a play. He's disciplined and does a good job of putting a body on somebody and boxing out. He's not a great rebounder, but he does do a great job of boxing out on every possession; and he's gotten better and better throughout the course of his young career," Bilas said. "He plays hard, and I think he's going to need to continue to improve on the defensive end. He's not really a shot blocker and he's not a high-volume rebounder, but in today's game he can play out on the perimeter and draw big guys away from the basket and he can make open shots.
"I don't think a player like him would be ill-suited for any team ... Anybody would be happy to have a player like him."
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY