Franz Wagner drafted by Orlando Magic, becomes Michigan's first top-10 pick since 2014

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Two years ago, Franz Wagner had a decision to make. Stay in Germany and play professional basketball with Alba Berlin or play college hoops at Michigan. He chose the latter.

Two months ago, Wagner had another decision to make. Return to Ann Arbor for his junior season or forgo his remaining collegiate eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. Once again, he chose the latter.

Those leaps of faith paid off as Wagner was selected by the Orlando Magic with the No. 8 overall pick on Thursday night, becoming the first Juwan Howard-coached Wolverine to be drafted.

Franz Wagner, right, poses for a photo with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected with the No. 8 pick in Thursday's draft.

Wagner is the 14th Wolverine to be taken in the top 10 and is the highest-draft Michigan player since Nik Stauskas, who went No. 8 overall in 2014. He’s also the program’s 29th first-round draft selection and ninth since 2013, joining a group that includes older brother Moritz, who was the No. 25 pick in 2018.

“It means a lot,” said Wagner, who was joined by his parents at the draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. “For them to come over from Germany was really cool for me. This is their second time around at the draft. I think we were all just as nervous as the first time, but I think we had a good time.”

He could potentially join Moritz, who is an unrestricted free agent, in Orlando as the two will become the 87th pair of brothers to play in the NBA. Moritz averaged 11 points in 11 games this past season with the Magic, who also had the No. 5 pick and selected Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs.

“We talked on the phone right after I got drafted. I couldn't really hear him, but he was super excited for me. I'm really excited, too,” Wagner said. “I would love to play with Moe. I think we'd have a good chemistry on and off the court and it would be cool just to be with my brother, but he's a free agent right now.”

Wagner was one of four Wolverines to declare for this year’s draft, along with Chandee Brown, Isaiah Livers and Mike Smith. Livers was selected by the Pistons in the second round with the No. 42 pick, while Brown and Smith went undrafted.

Wagner was viewed as the best prospect of the bunch due to his well-rounded game, size, versatility, and ability to defend all over the floor, making him an easy fit for any lineup.

“I’m someone that always wants to learn, always wants to get better, is never satisfied,” Wagner said. “I'm going to work my butt off in Orlando to become the best basketball player I can be and impact the team's game as much as possible.”

In his second year as a full-time starter, Wagner averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, three assists, 1.3 steals and one block per game, earned All-Big Ten second-team honors, and helped the Wolverines win the conference regular-season title and reach the Elite Eight.

Offensively, he was efficient from the field (47.7% shooting), upped his long-range shooting (34.3% on 3s), and showed improvement as a ball-handler and passer. Defensively, his length and instincts made him arguably the best defender on one of the top defensive teams in the nation.

Wagner, 19, said he still has room to grow his game and is still getting bigger and stronger.

“I think I can improve a lot in creating my shot and creating for other people when I don’t have an advantage yet,” said Wagner, who noted he grew a little bit and is now nearly 6-foot-11.

“I think that’s part of the most important thing for me going forward. Also showing I can shoot the ball consistently. I was up and down in college. I shot the ball really well for the most part of the season, but just didn’t for the first and last couple games.”

ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas called Wagner an excellent team defender who is “in the right spots all the time” and said he brings more value as a versatile defender. Bilas also echoed Wagner, saying he can be better than his career 32.5% 3-point shooting numbers indicate.

“He’s a good offensive player that is evolving into a really good offensive player,” Bilas said this week. “I think he should be a better shooter. … But he's such a good cutter.

“The way he cuts to the basket, and then he's able to actually become a driver off of his cuts, which is a little bit unusual, but I really like the way he plays and the way he moves without the ball. I think he can become a better corner shooter, a better floor spacer, but that's something he's going to have to continue to work on.”

Last year’s No. 8 overall pick, New York’s Obi Toppin, signed a two-year worth a guaranteed $9.96 million. According to Spotrac, Wagner is projected to at least receive a two-year deal worth an estimated $10.26 million.

“He’s the ultimate pro. He’s serious about his craft,” said Michigan assistant coach Saddi Washington, who accompanied Wagner at the draft. “And he’s a Wagner, so (he has) charisma, professionalism. All his brothers at Michigan, we’re proud of him and his family. This is an unbelievable night for Franz and the Michigan program.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins