Franz Wagner is the top-ranked prospect with European ties born in 2001 . He is one of those elite prospects who had the chance to experience diverse levels of basketball through his late teens.
Developed in Alba Berlin’s youth system, the six-foot-nine 3&D wing logged 871 minutes in 67 appearances as a pro in the 2018-2019 season; 58 games with the senior team in the German BBL, the Eurocup and the German Cup, mostly acting as low-level rotation player, and another nine with the B squad SSV lok Bernau in the German Pro B (second division), where he got to stretch his wings and log 27.6% usage rate.
In the summers, he accumulated 217 minutes of FIBA experience with the German youth squads, with appearances at the 2017 U16 European Championships and the 2019 U18 European Championships.
With his brother Moritz developing into a first-round pick after three years at Michigan, Franz followed the same path.
In his two years in Ann Arbor, the 19-year-old averaged 15.4 points per 40 minutes on 57.7% true shooting in 1,718 minutes across 55 appearances.
He is currently ranked 10th on ESPN’s top 100 on the account of his defense. Wagner proved to be a very good stopper during his time in college, showcasing versatility on the ball and in help defense.
He has prototypical measurements for a wing and the agility to stay in front of scoring threats looking to create separation to pull-up or finish via craft or quickness, displaying tremendous adeptness for using his length to block or contest shots effectively.
Away from the ball, Wagner elevated the level of the defense around him by creating events in volume – with his average of 2.9 (steals + blocks) per 40 minutes ranking as a top-third mark among all players on ESPN’s top 100 – and making an impact in the hidden areas of the game – averaging 31.7 minutes per game for a team that ranked fourth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency last season .
On the other end, the Berlin native can make an open three-pointer on spot-ups but has a low and a slow release at this point of his development, which resulted in an unimpressive 39.2% three-point rate for someone who used to be viewed as a floor-spacer before moving to Ann Arbor.
Michigan had him curling off pindown screens, attacking out of triple threat position on roll-and-replace and running side pick-and-roll within the flow of the offense but he is more likely to become a shoot it-or-move it type in the pros.
The appeal with Wagner is as a potential 3&D wing who can check scoring threats that look to create separation via craft or quickness and elevate the level of the defense around him in help. He is not physical enough to defend some of the power wings and crossmatch onto big men more regularly for now, but the hope is that he gets there eventually too.
Wagner is considered one of the very best weakside defenders in this class; not just reliable enough to execute the scheme, he is a difference maker flying around to create events and making an impact via interventions that don’t appear in the box score.
Though not always in a proper stance, he was consistently engaged away from the ball. While stunting in to clog driving lanes, Wagner is often seen trying to make plays from the side. His average of 1.6 steals per 40 minutes might not seem especially impressive, but Wagner got strips and deflections repeatedly as well.
His knack for making an impact in the hidden areas of the game really stands out, as he is adept at switching on the fly to make up for breakdowns against off-ball screening actions and scramming guards out of mismatches with big men.
His awareness is probably his biggest asset, as he’s a regular presence near the rim, on hard rotations off the weakside and stepping up to the front of the rim as the last line of defense when he’s the lowest man to the baseline.
Wagner is more likely to challenge a shot via verticality but can also block a shot on clear rotation, as well as make a play on the ball while guarding with his arms up near the rim. His average of 1.3 blocks per 40 minutes is a top five mark among players listed as small forwards on ESPN’s top 100.
Perhaps more impressively, Wagner has very good recognition skills making preventive rotations that denied the opposing ballhandler space towards driving all the way to the rim – playing a role in Michigan ranking 11th in the country in lowest percentage of shots allowed at the rim .
With the Wolverines consistently playing guards and combo forwards surrounding a single pure big man on the floor, Wagner was a major contributor to the rebounding process, not averse of joining scrums to boxout bigger players and surprising with his quickness reacting to the ball against the level of athleticism he went against in the Big Ten – securing 19.5% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.
His closeouts were a positive as well, as he shows good urgency and body control running at shooters; either able to contest effectively thanks to his reach or run them off the line. Wagner is prone to getting blown by on occasion but tends to remain balanced enough to defend off the bounce just as much, though he’s unable to apply physicality and contain dribble penetration through contact.
On the ball, Wagner is technically sound, bending his knees to get down in a proper stance, sliding to stay attached on straight-line drives and displaying the lateral quickness necessary to stay in front of similar-sized players side-to-side out in space – defending with his arms up within the lane and picking up the occasional block defending on the ball.
He plays with more of a reactive approach, rarely looking to heat up the opposing ballhandler, and gives up a little bit of a cushion to hedge against getting blown by on the first step. It’s also rare to see him applying physicality to chest up and contain dribble penetration through contact. More naturally inclined to defend with his feet and his arms rather than his hips and his chest, he is also only so-so at holding his ground against power wings at this point of his development. Despite being listed at 220 pounds, Wagner has more of a slender frame for someone his height.
But the hope is that he could bulk some more and become physical enough to check the most threatening wing ballhandlers in the pros, since the level of competitiveness is there, and he already has the length and the reaction quickness to matchup against types who try to create separation via craft and agility, as he is able to contest pull-up jumpers at the release point very effectively due to his reach, and even block a few here and there.
Against side pick-and-roll, Wagner ices ball-screens to use the sideline as a teammate and in middle pick-and-roll, he gets skinny over them at the point of attack fairly well for someone his size, hustles in pursuit and makes a meaningful impact contesting a shot from behind – also able to pick up a block here and there.
He was asked to pick up smaller players on switches from time-to-time and more than held his own thanks to his capability defending in pick-and-roll, agility staying attached out on an island, his level of competitiveness to hustle in pursuit when he did get beat, and his reach blocking or effectively contesting a shot from behind at the rim.
Wagner projects as someone capable of crossmatching onto bigger players more regularly in the future but hasn’t yet developed the physicality or the tenacity to be able to do so on a regular basis at this point of his physical development, even if he isn’t averse to bodying up these types on boxouts.
When he becomes more able of holding his own one-on-one against bigger players, Wagner could even become an asset in pick-and-roll defense, not just on pre-switches but even in conventional drop-back coverage, as he flashed the agility and the position awareness to prevent the ballhandler from turning the corner in a few instances where he was brought to the ball while acting as the screener’s defender.
His work hustling to navigate through multiple screens while chasing shooters around the floor stands out as well. He is not often able to beat the shooter to the spot at the catch but can make up for being a half-step late with his length and anticipating the time of his leap impressively well, often contesting at the release point, when he doesn’t get a piece of the ball altogether.
Wagner logged just 19.7% usage rate in his second year at Michigan but had some opportunities to operate on the ball. The team’s final possession of the season (in its loss to UCLA in the Elite Eight) was called for him to create separation out of side pick-and-roll.
He can play with some craft operating manipulating his defender around the ball-screen, not just on side pick-and-rolls but the occasional middle high pick-and-roll against a set defense late in the shot clock too; employing crossovers, a patient approach circling back to use the re-screen, snaking his way around traffic to try getting all the way to the goal and playing with some pace to wait for slower-developing passing lanes.
Wagner has not shown particularly impressive court vision on the move but proved himself a capable shot creator for others who has developed a little bit of versatility to his passing, not only able to hit the roll man over the top on pre-arranged reads but also hit him with well-timed pocket passes and the occasional wraparound pass – assisting on 17.3% of Michigan’s scores when he was on the floor last season, while turning it over on just 10.8% of his possessions. His average of 1.6 turnovers per 40 minutes is a top 10 mark among all players on ESPN’s top 100, and particularly impressive when you consider six of the eight players ranked above him posted three-point rates higher than 50%.
It’s uncommon to see him hitting the weak-side shooter off a live-dribble, though.
Wagner is also not a regular threat to score off the ball-screen or in isolation. He can hit the occasional one-dribble pull-up if the opponent goes completely under the pick, but lacks a quick first step, plays with more of a stiffer posture, doesn’t have any sort of speed turning the corner or getting downhill, doesn’t have any sort of side-to-side shiftiness to break his defender’s ankles while changing directions with suddenness, has only a basic handle and sometimes struggles to maintain his balance through contact.
He hit 37.7% of his 69 two-point makes away from the rim  but more on the account of his non-dunk finishes that didn’t qualifying as coming within the immediate basket area. For the most part, Wagner hasn’t yet shown much dexterity or particularly impressive touch on his runners (at times launching what seemed like a catapult floater) and struggles to create enough separation to launch high quality pull-up jumpers from mid-range because of his long, slow release.
He took over a third of his live-ball attempts at the rim by attacking the middle of the lane via curling off pindown screens and out of triple threat position on roll-and-replace.
Wagner shot 70.8% on 89 attempts at the rim, flashed some ability to convert the occasional off-balance attempt through contact and impressed with his touch on over-extended finger-roll finishes.
But a third of his makes near the goal were assisted, often coming in transition, and another handful were born out of putbacks.
For the most part in the halfcourt, he is not an explosive leaper off one foot in traffic (averaging just 0.5 dunks per 40 minutes ), generally acts as a rim level finisher and an up-and-down leaper without much flexibility to hang or adjust his body in the air, hasn’t yet developed much versatility to his finishing around rim protectors (other than the occasional step-through) and earned just 3.0 free throws per 40 minutes.
As is the case, Wagner projects as more of a shoot it-or-move it type in the pros.
He is a quick ball mover who makes the extra pass around the horn to keep the offense humming but doesn’t project as an above average spot-up shooter in the near future.
Wagner turned out to be at Michigan a much less natural shooter than I thought of him with Alba Berlin – nailing just 32.5% of his 234 three-point shots across two seasons, at a pace of 5.4 such attempts per 40 minutes.
He is a capable open shot shooter when able to go through his process unbothered but needs a pronounced dip for rhythm and has a low release out in front with little elevation off the ground (in what seems like a set shot at times).
Wagner hit 83.5% of his 133 free throws in two years, tends to miss long or short on most of his attempts and flashed the footwork for the occasional long-range bomb off sprinting to the ball for a dribble-handoff, but given how slow his release is on average, he is likely to be a hesitant shooter for the first year or two in the NBA.