Considered the top prospect out of the Michigan basketball team’s four 2021 NBA Draft entrants, Franz Wagner is widely expected to hear his name called in the lottery on Thursday night.
In two years at Michigan, the 6-foot-9 wing averaged 12 points on 47% shooting and 6.1 rebounds. He took a major stride forward as a playmaker during his sophomore year, tripling his assists average. Now, he’ll look to follow in his brother Moe’s footsteps as a first-round draft pick.
These are the teams picking in the lottery that make the most sense as potential landing spots for Wagner.
Golden State Warriors (Nos. 7 and 14)
When healthy, Golden State is typically at the center of the NBA title conversation. But Klay Thompson’s season-ending injury in 2020 revealed flaws in the organization’s roster construction this past season, particularly on the wings.
The Warriors have one of the top backcourts in the league and bolstered their frontcourt in last year’s draft with No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman. But outside of an aging Draymond Green, there isn’t much to like at the forward positions.
Enter Wagner. He can immediately carve out a spot in the rotation based on his defense alone, and the playmaking he showed as a sophomore at Michigan should allow him to facilitate for Thompson and Stephen Curry. And if defenses overcommit to the Warriors’ star guards, Wagner can keep them honest with the ability to score at all three levels he flashed in college.
With picks No. 7 and No. 14 in the lottery, Golden State might be an ideal landing spot for Wagner to make an immediate impact on a contender while improving his outside shot.
Sacramento Kings (No. 9)
With De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton already in the fold, it would make sense for the Kings to use the No. 9 overall pick in this year’s draft on a versatile wing like Wagner. Given his height and length, Wagner can play both forward spots and take pressure off Sacramento’s star backcourt at both ends of the floor. He can also add a valuable playmaking dimension to a guard-heavy offense.
Just 19 years old, Wagner is one of the younger prospects in this year’s draft. His development is well-suited for the Kings’ contention timeline, as Sacramento still appears a few years away. By the time Fox, Wagner and Haliburton are all in their mid-20s, the Kings could emerge as a serious threat in the Western Conference.
New Orleans Pelicans (No. 10)
Picking at No. 10, the Pelicans already have a young NBA superstar in Zion Williamson. But more pertinent to Wagner, they already have a running mate for Williamson on the wing — Brandon Ingram. But that shouldn’t be a detriment to a team that needs to surround Williamson with as much talent as possible, especially on the defensive end.
New Orleans’ defense finished in the bottom half of the NBA, and Wagner could offer an immediate solution. His length and lateral quickness allow him to guard multiple positions on the perimeter and disrupt passing lanes. He created havoc in the halfcourt set against other Big Ten teams this past season at Michigan, and those instincts should translate well to the NBA.
But to be a roster fit with the Pelicans, Wagner will need to prove himself as a shooter given that Williamson eats much of the space inside the arc. A fractured right wrist kept him from shooting well as a freshman in Ann Arbor, while his sophomore season was up and down from beyond the arc.
“I think the jump shot will keep getting better and better, getting more consistent,” a Western Conference NBA scout told Maize n Brew recently. “That’s probably a big piece for him to stay in the league. He’s got a lot of tools athletically and skill-wise and I like his ability to defend multiple positions. He’s versatile and I think he’s going to be a player who can do a lot of things with and without the ball as he gets older.”