The German men’s national team retired Dirk Nowitzki’s No. 14 jersey last Thursday ahead of their EuroBasket 2022 opener.
It was only natural for Nowitzki to observe the future of German basketball up close.
Franz Wagner, who turned 21 days ago, hasn’t had the most consistent EuroBasket breakout. But his big games have been crucial for 3-1 Germany, which is currently tied for first place in Group B as of Wednesday morning in the United States.
After his 32-point performance against Lithuania, Nowitzki had this to say about the young forward:
Wagner showed off his creativity off the dribble in Germany’s thrilling 109-107 victory:
Wagner wants to attack Jonas Valanciunas in his drop coverage, but Rokas Giedraitis wants to push him to the left and away from the Daniel Theis screen. So Wagner gets him moving with a few dribbles, allowing Theis to flip his screen and exploit the coverage. Wagner gets to the open space, fakes a crossover, and finishes strong at the rim to put Valanciunas on his tail.
Wagner read Lithuania’s defensive coverages like a Magic Treehouse book throughout the competition. Wagner went 4-for-7 from long range, with three of those triples being impressive pull-ups that took advantage of Lithuania’s cautious approach.
Even when Valanciunas or Domantas Sabonis played closer to the level of Germany’s screens, they didn’t want to come all the way out to guard the perimeter players. Wagner took advantage of this by using high ball-screens; the screeners also slipped or attempted to wall off Wagner’s initial defender in order to put more pressure on the screening defender. After that, it was up to Wagner to find his shot against the mismatch. He did it with some assured threes.
According to Second Spectrum, Wagner shot 32.4% on pull-up three-pointers as a rookie.
At first glance, that appears to be a poor showing, but it ranked 64th out of 105 players who logged at least 75 such attempts last season — just below the league average. Wagner is 9-for-21 (42.9%) on pull-up threes in nine offseason games with Germany (EuroBasket, FIBA World Cup qualifiers, and friendlies). Obviously, that’s a small sample size on a different team, but it’s a start.
However, at-rim scoring growth is where Wagner can really make a difference. This was one of the strangest stats I’d seen all summer, and it placed a rookie among the league’s top driving threats:
According to Cleaning the Glass, Wagner made 60% of his total shots within four feet of the basket, ranking him in the 24th percentile at his position. The above-average 47% finishing rate indicates that he needs to improve significantly if he is to collapse defenses with the Orlando Magic.
So far, that hasn’t happened much in Germany’s nine summer games. Wagner has made 13 of 27 driving shot attempts, according to InStat. He’s still learning how to absorb and finish through contact, and he’s not a rim-rattling threat. Wagner can speed to the rim when he has a straight line drive towards a bruising center, but his balance and touch change more easily than one would hope.
He can compensate for his lack of strength with real creativity as a ball-handler and finisher.
What about a non-dominant-hand hook shot that spins off a pivot? That’s great. While most people dislike off-hand layup finishes, they are a creative way to use length and touch to get past contests.
The remaining EuroBasket games will be all about Wagner’s attacking consistency and ability to deal with contact as a driver. In these nine summer games, he’s had three 20-point games and three single-digit scoring performances. To be fair, Wagner isn’t the obvious catalyst for Germany; Dennis Schroder usually gets things started.
However, Wagner has presented fans in Europe and the United States with genuine threats to their dominance. If he continues to improve his court vision and functional strength as an initiator, he could be a dangerous three-level NBA scorer sooner than most expect.