Moe Wagner took a peek at the NBA last year but decided to return to Michigan for his junior year and polish his skills. There is no peeking this year for Wagner.
Wagner is expected to hear his name called at some point Thursday night when the two-round NBA draft is held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Berlin native brought a poster of Dirk Nowitzki, his basketball hero and fellow German, with him to Ann Arbor. Now he’s on the verge of playing in the same league as Nowitzki.
Draft analysts have projected Wagner to be chosen as high as No. 21 in the first round to having to wait until the second round. There is little doubt that Wagner will be picked. If he goes in the first round, it will be the third straight year a Michigan player goes in Round 1. Guard Caris Levert was taken at No. 20 by Brooklyn in 2016, while Milwaukee picked forward D.J. Wilson No. 17 last year.
Michigan hasn’t had first-round picks in three straight years since 1988-90.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) April 1, 2018
Wagner averaged 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds last season as he led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament National Championship Game. He was named the Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player after averaging 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in the Wolverines’ second consecutive four-game run to the tournament title.
Wagner declared for the draft last year but did not hire an agent. He went through the NBA evaluation process, found out what scouts thought were his strengths and weaknesses, then decided to return to Michigan.
He put what he learned to good use. Wagner concentrated on improving his inside game and upped his rebounding average by nearly three per game. He took more 3-point shots as a junior than he did as a sophomore (160 vs. 114) but maintained his percentage (39.4 percent compared to 39.5 the season before).
More was expected of Wagner at both ends of the court and he didn’t shy from that responsibility. He produced a double figures in scoring 31 times, including 10 games of 20 or more points. Wagner set a career-high with 27 points in a win at Michigan State and had a double-double with 24 points and 15 rebounds as the Wolverines rallied against Loyola-Chicago in the Final Four.
Here’s where some mock drafts project Wagner going:
Team: Golden State
Comments: The Warriors are way over the luxury tax and will want to find contributors on cheap rookie contracts.
Wagner brings floor spacing and a high-energy style of play. He was one of the breakout players of March, leading Michigan to a Big Ten title and a surprise run to the NCAA Championship Game.
Comments: The Wolverines’ junior played himself into first-round consideration with an excellent season and NCAA Tournament, leading Michigan to the National Championship Game. He’s a tailor-made modern-day big, who’s been a dynamic 3-point shooter the last two years (39 percent as a sophomore and a junior) while also being able to put the ball on the deck and get to the rim. Wagner stuck his nose inside as well for Michigan last season, leading the team in rebounding at 7.1 per game. Wagner would be a very different kind of big than Derrick Favors, but he’d be a solid insurance policy for Utah with Favors one of the few quality bigs available in free agency this summer.
Comments: Wagner is a determined big man with a lot of confidence in his abilities. The German import showed leadership skills over the past two years, helping lead Michigan on a nice tournament run. He has very good length and the ability to hit outside shots that fits in well with today’s spread the floor NBA game. While not the quickest or most athletic big, his skill level and attitude give him a chance to overachieve and stick in the league.
Why the Hawks take Moritz Wagner: With a team essentially being built from scratch, developing the right culture is vital. Wagner checks a lot of the boxes as far as being a strong influence and leader, aside from his basketball skills. Is he a team’s long-term answer as a starting center? Probably not, but he could potentially be a valuable addition for a young team like the Hawks.
Comments: Wagner is another player with an outside chance at the first round, but whose NBA outlook can be divisive depending on who you talk to. His size and ability to shoot the 3 give him a chance to stick as a role player, following in the footsteps of many similar defensive-challenged-but-offensively talented big men.