In draft evaluation, they said deciding “who is good at what” is the easy part. Cade Cunningham is a good passer, Moses Moody is a good shooter, Evan Mobley is a good defender, the list goes on. At this point, simply stating a prospect and their skills isn’t enough. I like to believe that society has progressed past the need for scouting reports in the form of NBA2K ratings. You shouldn’t come here to learn what prospect x’s two best skills are, because what does that really tell you? Instead, we should be talking about what skills matter, and in the context of the current NBA. That brings us to the holy grail that is scouting philosophy. In the past, I’ve written a couple of pieces that gave insight into my personal philosophy. Most recently, highlighting processing speed and its importance. I’m constantly watching basketball, therefore my philosophy is subject to change. In the past year, the most drastic change in my philosophy has been my newfound resentment for heliocentric offenses. Instead, you need multiple players who can put pressure on the defense in a wide variety of ways. Now, it’s necessary to acknowledge the risk that comes with chasing a ball-handling heavy lineup. Typically, players who can be effective off the bounce are smaller, and sometimes force you to give up points on the defensive end. However, it’s more than possible to strike a balance. My last draft piece studied the value of second side creation, and that was just scratching the surface of where my head is currently at. The Utah Jazz have taken the NBA by storm. Their democratic offense that employs multiple handlers at once has been nightmarish for defenses. Of course, it helps when you have Rudy Gobert to clean up everything on the other end, but nonetheless, their offensive effectiveness stands. Instead of the PnR heavy offense that reeks of predictability, the Jazz win with movement and consistent attacks, always keeping the defense on edge. This isn’t to say that Utah doesn’t run any PnR, because that’s simply not true. But, the common action is a weapon in their arsenal instead of the entire arsenal, and there lies the difference. I’m also a very big advocate of three-guard lineups. Oklahoma City’s three headed monster of CP3, SGA and Schroder produced a very efficient offensive output while sharing the floor together last year. CP3’s otherworldly guard defense and SGA’s size enabled their versatility, but the principle of having multiple threats off the bounce proved to be effective. Deep into the playoffs, matchups become hunted and guards become more difficult to hide. Sure, three guard lineups probably aren’t the concrete long term solution, but how can we maintain the philosophy behind it? The answer is wings. Size and skill is the most valuable combination on the planet, it’s that simple. I’m normally against placing every prospect into archetypal categories, but wings with ball skills should never go overlooked. The evaluations usually aren’t clean cut, but anyone who has the potential to add juice off the dribble while maintaining floor spacing and defensive prowess won’t be taken for granted by my eyes. Now enter: Franz Wagner.
Decision Making and Intellect
Franz isn’t a freak athlete and his box score numbers don’t necessarily jump off the screen. With that being said, he seems like a prime candidate to wear the “high floor, low ceiling” hat during draft season. As you can probably infer by my infatuation with him, I personally don’t think that’s the case. I want to start off by establishing his foundation, which I also believe is his floor impact, and then gradually expand on the ceiling as we go on.
On top of being skilled, Franz is a very smart basketball player. When you combine his intellect and IQ with his size and movement skills, you’re looking at an impact player off the bat. He’s played on the wing for Michigan this year, which has given him versatile usage whenever he takes the court. Offensively, he weaves between different play types, winning on and off the ball in a handful of ways. Defensively, he spends time sliding with guards on the perimeter, shouldering low man responsibilities in help and even playing drop coverage in spurts. While he certainly impacts the game all over the court, by no means is he jack of all trades master of none. Franz’s unique frame, skillset and approach provides a niche, one that all 30 teams should love to have.
Playing on a balanced Michigan team has brought out the best in Franz. Some will point to his lack of growth in the box score, making rather marginal improvements in simplistic statistics. However, his impact looks entirely different on film. Franz has certainly showcased his on ball chops, and we’ll get to that later. For now, I want to speak on his ability to add value within a team context, on both sides. At the moment, he possesses a 19.6 USG%, which is pretty minimal for a lottery prospect. For context, both Tennessee guys have eclipsed 25%, and Bouknight, Cooper and others have even surpassed 30%. This isn’t a knock on Franz that he can’t handle, but rather to emphasize that he still makes a positive impact without needing the ball.These clips epitomize his floor impact on the offensive end. Neither of these plays require manipulative reads, but Franz’s decisiveness and skill on the ball allow him to frequently get paint touches. After getting those touches and drawing the defense, Franz’s crown jewel is put on display — decision making and feel for the game. I’m not pretending that he moved the defense with eyes or that there’s anything next level here, but consistently making correct decisions in a timely manner is a necessity for good role players. Trust me, there is an array of clips that I could pull in order to demonstrate his positive decision making.
Defensively, Franz is basically flawless. I’ll dive into the switchability and stocks later on, but for this paragraph, I want to highlight his reliable team defense. He always guards with his head on a swivel, and that’s one of the best compliments you can give. Maintaining routine help responsibilities is elementary for him, as he rarely misses any form of rotation. Despite being someone who consistently creates events, I’m always impressed with Franz’s discipline.Possessions like this are frequent. Although there won’t be anything in the box score to represent it, this is a winning play, and Franz makes them consistently. The shot clock is winding down, instead of mindlessly following his man on the clear-out, he sniffs out the action and stays home to deter the rim attempt. Even without the stocks, Franz is still a very impactful defender. He prioritizes his responsibilities within the team’s scheme first, and searches for event opportunities within those guidelines. He’ll rarely gamble for a steal or block at the expense of his typical help responsibilities, and in the grand scheme of things, that absolutely makes a significant difference. Think of this paragraph as the appetizer. The caesar salad before the porterhouse steak. The draw play to ease the backup quarterback into the game. Franz’s baseline skills are noteworthy, and the impact as a result of those skills is absolutely present. However, the sophomore swingman is much more than that. As we dive deeper into his two-way ceiling, remember these three things. Franz doesn’t turn 20 until after summer league. Franz is 6’9” with a clear plus wingspan. Franz has an incredibly high feel for the game. The age, size, skill and mobility combination is rare, let’s dive into it.
In the first paragraph, I talked about Franz’s ability to work without having “plays drawn up” for him. His comfort working on and off the ball is enticing, and he’s consistently looking to make an impact when he doesn’t have the rock. Whether it’s a cut, relocation or impromptu screen, Franz has a nose for making positive plays. But, he also has legit capability as a handler. Cornering him like EuroLeague Deni and denying him on-ball reps would be a crime to both him and the team. Instead of breaking up his offense into cookie cutter “on and off ball” categories, I wanted to take a different approach. By addressing his entire offensive package at once, I want to highlight the lineup versatility he brings to the table. Franz can initiate pick and rolls, attack closeouts and space the floor. His wide range of ways to impact the game enables his scalable offensive usage, which shouldn’t be taken for granted at 6’9.” You don’t have to worry about where he fits, but you do have to consciously put him in a position to balance his on and off ball diet.
Before we dive into the PnR handling, I want to hit on his effectiveness while attacking closeouts. Franz isn’t Joe Harris, but his volume and increasing percentages have been enough to garner closeouts from the defense. His game off the bounce has limitations, most notably in iso situations, where he struggles to create seperation. However, his handle is absolutely functional, and allows him to be a big time threat while attacking a defense that’s already scrambling. His composure on the ball is beyond noteworthy, especially with his size. Whenever Franz gets downhill towards the rim, he never seems sped up, always maintaining his signature pace.This clip is probably my favorite from him all year, as it truly epitomizes his value within an offense. After teammate Mike Smith draws multiple defenders, Franz relocates to create a better passing angle. On the catch, he shows the ball to draw a hard closeout, then puts his handle on display by hitting the help defender with an in-and-out, before finally using his long strides to get to the rim and finish the play with a beautiful wrap around. Not only did Franz show his skill, but he also made multiple sound decisions. Instead of settling before the first defender, he continues to attack and draws another opponent. Instead of forcing it at the rim, he reads the rim-protector and lays it down for an easy dunk. This drive is also representative of a Franz Wagner special. I mentioned earlier how he doesn’t get sped up, and his herky-jerky methodical style seems to really throw off defenders. He’s comfortable probing until the very last second and then letting his size bail him out, which throws rotating shot-blockers into a tizzy. As you’ll see with his PnR reps, Franz is very unpredictable around the rim, and his combination of size and touch allows him to be effective while remaining unorthodox. He also put on good weight after his freshman year, which has allowed him to take bumps en route to the rim, and occasionally, initiate contact. Another facet of his game inside the arc is his buttery touch. I’ll elaborate on how his size, length and touch is a unique recipe for finishing efficiency a little later, but for now, just enjoy these teardrops. The footwork and deceleration in the first clip is far from common among prospects, and that level of body control is a staple in his slashing bag. In the latter clip, the game clock forces Wagner to do his best Immanuel Quickley impression, and he succeeds by canning a floater from 15 feet! Franz’s entire arsenal is complete, yet everything still compliments each other, and that’s why it’s so valuable. The handling comfort, deceptiveness and smarts all go together. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because everything truly works in conjunction. Skeptics will say that he can’t get his own out of nothing, but why does it matter? There’s only a very short list of 6’9” wings who can reliably win in iso situations, and given everything else he brings to the table, I’m confident that Franz can return good value without joining that group.
Now brings us to the true separator, his PnR prowess. Franz isn’t necessarily running a heavy volume of pick and rolls, but he has absolutely made the most of the ones he does get. While operating as the handler in this action, Franz has been able to show his scoring and playmaking off the bounce, in which he excels in both areas. Piggybacking off of his unique driving style, I’ll start by examining how that enables his PnR scoring.In all of these clips, the composure and pace is extremely evident. Franz toys with the drop big, but in a different sense. Instead of manipulating him into one decision like we see other heady prospects do, Franz simply lulls him along. If the defender never commits, to either option, he knows he’ll have the advantage at the rim. Against Maryland, he slows up after coming around the screen, putting the drop defender in a very compromising position. Franz is eying down his roll man while probing, and leverages the pass until the last possible second when he decides to take the easy layup. He is capable of making manipulative plays, and we’ll touch on that during his playmaking segment, but I love how reactionary these decisions are. In the PnR, Franz simply takes what the defense gives him. Nothing is predetermined, which is just another indicator of his incredibly high feel. Making all the right reads is certainly great, but if you can’t finish the play, then it’s all for nothing. Franz’s finishing expertise has mainly been highlighted through PnR, where he regularly duels with backpedaling bigs. His finishing has a certain craft, aided by length, patience and touch. I mentioned how Franz often waits until the last possible second to punish the defense, and that’s only made possible by his tools.
For 99% of other PnR handlers, getting a look at the rim from this angle is mission impossible. Franz is comfortable enough to fully extend on the move, allowing him to get it over the shot blocker and onto the glass. As you saw in the clips above, this is a common finish from him, and anecdotally, it’s definitely efficient. Despite not having top tier athleticism, Franz is shooting 61.5% at the rim in the half court — which ranks in the 69th percentile nationally. I’ve written about the idea of compensation, and I think it’s safe to say that his touch and creativity as a finisher makes up for the fact that he probably won’t be invited to the dunk contest. Most of the clips I’ve embedded look eerily similar, and it’s important to note that Franz does have counters. After getting walled off in this PnR, he’s skilled enough to retreat, cross and attack. The inside hand floater on the run is not an easy finish, yet he’s able to make it look routine.
After shedding light on his scoring, it would be irresponsible to ignore the other side of the coin — which is arguably more impressive. Franz ranks in the 81st percentile as a PnR handler, and no, that isn’t among 6’9” combo forwards. One major culprit for that impressive output is his passing within the action. Franz’s functionally off the live dribble is very impressive and undoubtedly conducive to putting points on the board. On top of that, his flashes of manipulation also hint at an untapped playmaking ceiling.The handling comfort and playmaking capability work together in these clips, as he picks apart defenses like 2019 Joe Burrow in Baton Rouge. One might point out that all these passes “are the same,” but each rep requires a completely different read, and that’s the most noteworthy aspect. All three pocket passes were thrown at different times in the attack, and that’s not a coincidence. Similar to his finishing, Franz is always reading the defense, and these reads are layered. Instead of locking in on the drop big, and reacting based on his footwork and commitment, Wagner is reading the backside help and space around the rim. In the first clip, he recognizes the empty side action and nonexistent tag man, so he gets off the rock early and throws Hunter Dickinson into space, wasting no time to take advantage of the flat-footed big and schematic breakdown. You’ll probably notice that as the clips progress, Franz increases the amount of time he stays on the ball, and that’s intentional on my end. The final clip isn’t the defensive manipulation most are used to, but as Max and I talked about on the pod, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Instead of staring down a teammate to move the help like chess pieces, Franz consciously makes a certain move to get the defense to commit before exploiting them. The hard pound dribble, plant and extension typically screams layup, but Franz had his own plan. The drop big is loading up to contest him at the rim, and the trail defender is completely occupied by staring down this development, leaving the wrap-around pass wide open. Note how he again uses his length to create an angle — this time for playmaking. Unlike most non-primaries when they take on creation responsibilities, Franz is savvy while blending his playmaking and scoring. I know I sound like a broken record, but his intellect and IQ to genuinely read coverages, and then properly act on them, is truly at the foundation of every facet of his game. I briefly mentioned how he sometimes struggles in iso situations, but it’s hard for me to envision a scenario where Franz doesn’t provide some level of on-ball equity. Even if it’s simply attacking closeouts, he’ll add value. He can score, pass and most importantly, read the defense. His intersection of feel, pace and skills make for an intriguing on-ball projection at 6’9.”
It was fun getting lost in the weeds of Franz’s game off the dribble, but we still have to be realistic here. Barring an unexpected development, he probably isn’t going to be a big wing that carries a heavy offensive load. Instead, I’m pitching a scalable prospect who can comfortably intertwine between on and off ball actions, while consistently making an impact. I already noted that Franz has a knack for making positive plays, and that’s on full display while working off ball. His court mapping and understanding of defensive rotations are his biggest assets in this regard, as they allow him to stay one step ahead and put himself in advantageous positions.These are the subtleties that you have to appreciate with Franz. He knows that his man has tag responsibilities, and therefore has to split the difference between him and the roller. Instead of staying stationary — which leaves the door open for a successful tag and recovery — Franz makes a shake relocation, sliding up towards the wing. It’s a simple concept, but that shouldn’t demean its effectiveness in any way. This simple move stretches the distance of the help recovery, making it that much more difficult for his original matchup to closeout and contest. It also creates an easier passing window for the handler, and Eli Brooks hits him in stride and on time. Another avenue where Franz makes his money without the ball is cutting. In my processing speed piece, I harped on the fact that cutting is a genuine skill. It requires you to understand where space actually is, and when to correctly fill it. Take this clip for example. Franz sees the rim protector going to double Hunter in the post, and also sees that the defender who is supposed to be splitting the difference between him and Livers has his back turned. Rather than staying tucked in the corner, where he isn’t a huge threat, he sneaks into the open space like a mouse tip-toeing around a trap. Even though Dickinson isn’t able to hit him immediately, Livers eventually finds him for the easy bucket. Given his competence across multiple play types and actions, Wagner is a seamless fit in every NBA offense. There isn’t a lineup or group that Franz *can’t* play with, and that’s a big plus at the next level.
For any player who isn’t relied upon for heavy doses of creation, it’s extremely important to maintain floor spacing. If the defense doesn’t have to respect you from behind the arc, you’re not a neutral, you’re actually hindering overall offense. Now, there is also a tangible difference between being a passable shooter and demanding closeouts. Obviously, the latter is much more valuable, especially when you have the juice that Franz has off the bounce. After a slow freshman year, where he shot just 31% from behind the arc, Wagner has upped his efficiency. Despite being on moderately lower volume, his sophomore campaign has been a huge success in this regard. He’s now up to 37% from deep, and has shown flashes of versatility with some movement and pull-up attempts. Anecdotally, it was hard for me to ever doubt Franz as a shooter. While he does have a slightly lower release point, it hardly limits his functionality given his height. Mechanically, everything is balanced. He has a solid base that generates good power, and also avoids and overcompensation. His shooting arm does get a little chicken-wingy as opposed to the textbook 90 degree angle, but I don’t think it should really concern anyone long term. Finally, his follow through is very pronounced, as he thoroughly snaps that right wrist into place and occasionally holds it for the cameras. Franz is capable as a spot up shooter, but I want to specifically highlight his versatile makes, and why they could be beneficial from a functionality standpoint. Due to his strengths, Wagner would thrive in a movement-heavy democratic offense, similar to what I described in the introduction. I noted how it wouldn’t be ideal to pin him in the corner, but that also requires him to be capable of shooting on the move.This isn’t a JJ Redick movement attempt, but Franz finds his way into space after the rub screen. He calmly steps into it, times the 1-2 perfectly with his dip and drills it. I think using him as a big in PnR could be intriguing in the league. His relocation skills have been documented, where he could pop into space and stretch the defense. Of course, it’ll be in spurts, but I definitely think it should be on the table. Franz hasn’t been very efficient off the bounce, but there are some attempts where he shows real comfort, and given the rest of his sample, I could see that percentage increasing with reps. The first clip is the smoothest OTD jumper I’ve seen from him, he gets to his spot and fluidly rises up — actually raising his release point on this one. I love how decisive he was in the second clip. Maryland accidentally doubles Livers, and Franz sees his defender sprinting out of control. Instead of getting flustered, he calmly sidesteps, gets his feet under him and knocks down the three ball. At the moment, Wagner is competent or “slightly above average” across multiple shot types. He isn’t necessarily an expert in any particular facet, but I don’t think he needs to be to succeed. As long as he’s just good enough and maintains versatility — to the point where defenses can’t sag and wall him off as a driver — I think it’ll be smooth sailing. It’s also worth noting that Franz has been a very good free throw shooter throughout his college career, checking in at 84% on 111 attempts over the past two years. It passes the eye test, the deep ball percentages are trending up and the free throw sample is concrete. I would be optimistic.
Franz is one of the best defenders in the entire class, and I don’t really think it’s up for debate. His length and lateral mobility are overwhelming at the point of attack. His instincts and timing enable him to be an extremely impactful team defender. Personally, I’ve had trouble identifying a real weakness for him at this end. Wagner can occasionally get overpowered by bigger 4s, but that’s about it. If whoever drafts Franz is looking for instant impact, I think it’s safe say they’ll get it on the defensive end. He has instant processing speed, movement skills and length — you can’t ask for much more in the current NBA.
Wagner always impresses when matched up with smaller, quicker players at the POA (point of attack). He certainly gives up some speed, but he’s able to make up the ground with his mobility and strides.These two clips show his aptitude on the ball, but in different circumstances. In the first clip, he catches one of Nebraska’s guards on a switch. Franz navigates the DHO relatively well, and notice how he’s able to keep up with a fluid transition into a crossover run. He beats his man to the spot, and forces him into a tough floater with a heavy contest, all caused by his lateral mobility. In the second clip, we see Franz flashing his quick hips in tight quarters. After his poor initial closeout, he makes up for it by peeling to the corner, cutting off the handler and flipping his hips twice before picking the handler’s pocket. Mirroring opponents with that level of precision at 6’9” is a very advantageous skill. Pencilling him in to guard 1s is probably taking it too far, but I think Franz can legitimately guard 2-4 at the next level. I trust that he can contain initially, and when he does give up a step, his instincts and tools often shine through. Oftentimes, prospects who are team defense aces give up some value at the POA, but I seriously don’t think that applies to him.
In our most recent pod at Prep2Pro, we talked about defensive ground coverage. Specifically, we dove into what it takes to excel at this microskill. In the end, we walked away with a rare combination of smarts and tools, which fits Franz like a glove. He might not have run and jump athleticism — though he’s no slouch — but he has functional length and mobility.With these tools, Franz can practically be in two places at once. In semi transition, he stunts at the handler to discourage him from attacking or pulling up, and then somehow gets to the wing and blocks the three point attempt. In the games I watched, Franz blocked an abnormal amount of jumpshots, which is a calling card of elite ground coverage. Opponents will only rise up if they think they have the requisite time and space, and players like Franz have a tendency to exceed their expectations. His awareness also plays a role, as he always knows where his next move should be. Franz was conscious of the wing shooter, and is comfortable jumping off of one or two feet to get a hand on it.
Franz is a world-class event creator in help, especially as the lowman. Again, I really want to emphasize his discipline. He rarely takes ill-advised gambles and most of his stocks come within schematic rotations.These two blocks are absolutely off the charts. Against Northwestern, he doesn’t fall for the shot fake, slides in for his tag and thwarts the rim attempt. Look closely at his technique while rotating, he uses a hop to get across the lane and then loads off two feet, which contrasts the block we saw above. The willingness to jump out of multiple scenarios and load-ups is crucial for anyone with rim-protection aspirations, and Franz checks that box. Against Minnesota, he showcases the special. This isn’t even his rotation, but he makes up for his teammate’s poor backside positioning anyways. Based on purely recognition — simply reading the seal and the eyes of the passer — Franz starts moving before the ball is thrown. He utilizes the elite ground coverage that I just hit on, and pins the shot out of nowhere. I think he’s capable of playing the 3 at the next level, but his weak side rim-protection makes him very enticing at the 4. Of course, the reads and rotations will sometimes be there regardless, but Franz truly excels as the low man in help, and should have those responsibilities as often as possible. Omitting this clip would’ve been a bigger crime than the 2013 Grammy decisions (sorry not sorry, Macklemore). This is what the coaches preach, textbook help and recover. In Michigan’s zone, Hunter steps up to stop the drive, Franz helps the helper and tags the block. After taking away that option, he reacts instantly and uses length to jump the passing lane. I mean, seriously, it doesn’t get better than that. Wagner is an elite defender, by all accounts. The box score numbers back it up. The advanced numbers back it up. The film backs it up. We’re 5000 words in so I can only say it so many times, but he’s just an incredibly smart basketball player. The margin for error at the NBA level is razor thin, but Franz’s intersection of functional tools and wizardry instincts make him an easy bet for me on this end. At some point, there is such a thing as overthinking it, and I hope Franz doesn’t become a victim of that.
When push comes to shove, it all comes down to team-building. Some organizations and evaluators are hesitant to spend a high pick on a (likely) star role player. But, let me counter. How many organizations have wasted years of their re-build swinging for their superstar, while passing on positive infrastructure pieces in the process? Better yet, how many organizations actually got their guy, but weren’t able to realize his potential due to a lack of positive infrastructure already in place? Consecutively stockpiling good pieces, instead of constantly throwing hail marys for the next LeBron, should be less frowned upon in the team-building philosophical conversation. Spoiler alert: no team has ever gotten off the ground without good role players. Instead of getting your guy and building around him later, why not acquire impactful scalable players that will help insulate them from day one? Franz Wagner can play alongside anyone, and they’ll genuinely be better off for it. Whichever organization recognizes his realistic ceiling and the value comes with it, will be immensely rewarded. Personally, I just hope they’re within the top 10.