From Maize and Blue to Silver and Black
Moritz Wagner is the perfect future San Antonio Spurs draft pick.
In 35 games this season for the Michigan Wolverines he averaged 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game - good enough for ninth overall among Big Ten Conference forwards in both categories.
Make no mistake, those are not the numbers of a lottery prospect. Wagner is not an electrifying scorer like Trae Young or an athletic specimen like DeAndre Ayton.
But he doesn’t have to be to be a prospective all-star to be a perfect future Spur.
The Berlin native’s value goes beyond basic box score statistics. More than ever, modern NBA offenses are relying on three point shooting from all positions on the court.
For reference, when the 3-point line was introduced during the 1979-80 season the San Diego Clippers led the league in three point attempts with 6.6 per game. Wagner alone averaged 4 attempts per game for the Wolverines this year.
Not only is he shooting from beyond the arc at a high rate, he’s doing so efficiently as well. He shot 40% from long distance this season to go along with an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of .604 and a true shooting percentage (TS%) of .617.
If he were to post those numbers for the Spurs this season he would lead all forwards on the team in each of those categories.
Adding that kind of floor spacing immediately opens driving lanes for San Antonio’s three-point shooting averse guards and would be a spark for a 28th ranked offense that desperately needs one.
However there’s a reason Wagner is not slated to go in the lottery when he declares for the draft. At 6’11 and only 235 pounds he is undersized to play against NBA big men and he regularly looks out of place protecting the rim.
This season alone Wagner ranked 31st overall among Big Ten forwards in block percentage -- a stat that estimates the percentage of opponent field goal attempts blocked by a player when they’re on the floor -- at just 2.2%. For comparison, Michigan State’s Jarren Jackson Jr. led the Big Ten at 14.3%.
That’s not good, and for many NBA teams it would be reason to pump the brakes on picking Wagner. But the Spurs are different.
They are already the best defensive team in the league and have held their opposition to just 99 points per game this season - all without perennial defensive player of the year candidate Kawhi Leonard.
There are ways the Spurs can compensate for Wagner’s rim protection issue.
His quick feet could allow him to move up a position and play small forward instead where his elite rebounding -- he led all Big Ten forwards in defensive rebounding percentage at 25.2% this year -- would take the place of having to protect the rim.
Even if he ends up being a net negative on defence, his ability to slot into the offensive role the Spurs desperately need outweighs it.
In all likelihood San Antonio will pick somewhere in the early to mid twenties in this year’s draft and although it is possible to find hidden gems that late -- current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are a testament to that -- it is rare.
Generally that leaves teams with two options. They can opt for a high risk-high reward prospect, or go the safer route and pick a player who can reliably contribute and fill a needed role.
Wagner is the perfect safe route.