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Player Profile: Franz Wagner poised to take next step

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Michigan needs Wagner to make a jump.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As the Michigan Wolverines basketball season rapidly approaches, we continue our player profiles for each student-athlete that Juwan Howard will have in his arsenal in 2020-21. Today we will focus on a sophomore who comes into the year with rather lofty expectations upon him: Franz Wagner.

The Story So Far

Wagner finished his freshman season with a Big Ten All-Freshman Team nod after making an impression in Ann Arbor and the Big Ten. He worked his way into the starting rotation after missing the first few games with an injured wrist. It was somewhat of a rocky transition for the German wing, but eventually, he found his groove within Juwan Howard’s offense.

Several praised Wagner for his three-point shooting before making his first appearance with the maize and blue. Then, in his first nine games, Wagner shot just 29.4% from behind the arc and struggled to adjust to his new offense. He looked anything but confident, and was routinely making mistakes on the defensive side of the ball.

However, he overcame much of those issues and steadily improved throughout the course of the season in part because of the passion and effort he put on the court every play.

In the final nine games of the year and before COVID struck, Wagner emerged as the second most prolific scorer on the offense, averaging 13.8 points per contest while shooting 35.9% from three which was much more attuned to his expectations as a rookie.

Wagner’s most impressive game came against the Purdue Boilermakers where he dropped 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in the 71-63 Michigan win. That performances struck an impressive streak in Wagner’s freshman campaign where he scored 15 or more points in four of the final five games of the season.

That sort of growth garnered the attention of scouts at the next level, but Wagner quickly fended them off, and chose to return for another year of collegiate ball. He still has much to prove, but the 6-foot-9 wing now has NBA aspirations. Wagner will be the focus of many other top recruits to see how much a player can grow in the offseason of a Juwan Howard-led program and expectations will be as high as ever for the sophomore.

How He Fits in 2020-21

Wagner will be looked upon as the leader of the offensive unit. His size and offensive versatility allows him to range anywhere from running the point to even playing a four in a small-ball lineup. His positional variety will be put on display several times through the season as Howard will continually shift lineups to find out which works best as several prospective players could crack the starting lineup. Wagner will be a significant role player in whatever spot he fills.

The question surrounding the talented sophomore is whether or not he can put on NBA-level weight, show off enough athleticism and speed for the next level, and provide consistent enough shooting to play among the world’s best.

The fact of the matter is that Wagner was not stellar defensively for most of last season. Quicker guards zoomed past him, and bigger forwards bullied him down low and while driving to the basket.

Part of that will come down to putting a little meat on his bones as Wagner came into Michigan weighing just 190 lbs. Now, according to MGoBlue.com, he’s up to 220. A thirty-pound hike in weight in just one year may be a bit farfetched, but that sort of mass will make a difference on the court, if true.

In terms of shooting, he needs to be as consistent as he was later in the year, rather than what he portrayed early. NBA teams were certainly turned off by his 31.1% from deep on the year after his rough start.

All-in-all, Michigan will need Wagner to be one of their best players if they hope to be better than they were a year ago. There was lots of praise for Howard in his first year of coaching after winning the Battle of Atlantis and having some impressive performances in a strong Big Ten Conference with a roster that had injury problems. But, the reality is that the Wolverines finished ninth in the Big Ten standings a year ago. Steady play from Wagner is a key factor to changing that.