Franz Wagner deserves serious Rookie of the Year honors

Franz Wagner deserves serious Rookie of the Year honors

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The main difference between his last season in the NCAA and this season for Wagner is that despite turning pro, he has a bigger role within Orlando’s NBA offense than he ever did playing for Michigan’s at the collegiate level.

Following a gut instinct, I took a look at the 314 players in the NBA who logged at least 100 minutes both before Dec. 1 and also since Dec. 1. Then using tracking data from provided by Second Spectrum, I examined how long each individual had the ball in their hands while on the floor during each of those two periods.

During the first 23 games of his professional career, Wagner averaged 2.70 seconds per touch. It ranked No. 13 among rookies (min: 100 minutes) during that stretch. But in games since then, he is averaging 3.98 seconds per touch, which ranks as the fourth-most among players drafted in 2021.

In fact, that increase (1.28 seconds) is the single biggest difference in seconds per touch — either positive or negative — among the 314 players who met the aforementioned criteria for playing time. If you watch the Magic, it’s fairly obvious that Wagner has the green light to initiate the offense whenever they have the ball.

It was never more clear than when Wagner scored 38 points when playing against the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 28:

Even in college, despite playing as a wing and forward, it was not uncommon for Wagner to have the ball in his hands. He finished 22.0 percent of his possessions as the ball handler in pick and roll sets during his sophomore campaign at Michigan, per Synergy. But as a rookie, he has increased that rate all the way up to 28.3 percent.

He has leveraged those pick and roll opportunities to an assist percentage that ranks in the 80th percentile among forwards, per Cleaning the Glass. His plus-playmaking ability speaks well to his staying power in the league.

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