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Heading into this past season, the general impression seemed to be that all Moritz “Moe” Wagner could do was shoot. After leading Michigan all the way to NCAA Championship, I believe that impression has changed. In his three years at Michigan, the Wolverines made three straight trips to the NCAA Tourney, and won back-to-back Big Ten Titles (2017 and 2018), but it wasn’t until this season, when Wagner really started to blossom. As a junior, he had career-high averages for points (14.6), rebounds (7.1), assists (.9), steals (1.0), and blocks (.5) per game. In many of the overall metrics, including PER (23.8), win shares (5.8) and plus-minus (8.1), he not only set career highs but also finished among the nation’s leaders.
Wagner is a stretch four, who can also play at the five spot. He has a nice shooting stroke and can regularly knock down 3s. His 63 three-pointers this season were the most in college basketball among players who were 6-feet-11 and taller. He is also capable of making plays off the bounce and in the post, and he is a sneaky cutter without ball, getting his share of easy layups and dunks.
Wagner has great basketball instincts, and is extremely crafty. He is very effective at keeping defenders on their heels with all kinds of deception – pump fakes, jab steps, fake handoffs, pass fakes, and so on. He is an NBA-ready flopper, frustrating his opponents by drawing questionable fouls. He also provides an emotional spark when he is on the court. He is vocal, intense and demonstrative, but rarely in a way that negatively impacts on his team.
Wagner is not an elite athlete, but he has sneaky agility. He is solidly built, though he could use more muscle mass to compete at the pro level. He has a quick first step for a big man, and is able to put the ball on the floor and drive to the rim when the opportunity presents. He even uses some tricky dribble moves, such as going behind the back or using a Eurostep, on occasion.
Forty-five percent of Wagner’s shot attempts in the half court were jumpers this past season. On those shots, he averaged 1.15 points per possession, which put him at the 88th percentile. He has a smooth jumper and a fairly quick release. His mechanics are generally very economical, though he sometimes does dip down to start his shooting motion on deeper shots. He typically does not shoot jumpers off the bounce, but he does very well when catching and shooting, even when guarded. From beyond the arc, he made close to 40 percent of his shots over the past two seasons, and he made 57% of his midrange jumpers this season.
In 2017-18, no player was used more in the pick and roll (as a non-ball handler) than Wagner. Twenty-five percent of his possessions (a total of 128) came off the pick and roll, and he was effective in all facets – popping, rolling, and slipping. Some players just go through the motions when screening in the pick and roll, but Wagner turns the process into a work of art. He sets solid picks, and he has a keen sense of when and where to move as the play develops. He is also a master at feigning screens (slips). He typically moves out to jump-shooting position, as opposed to rolling to the basket, but he often ends up driving to the rim after pump faking his defender into the air. Better yet, once he is on the move, there is no guarantee that he won’t dish the ball to an open three-point shooter instead of going to the rim. In short, Wagner can cause all kinds of havoc when he is in the pick and roll. This past season, he was most effective when rolling, averaging 1.56 points possession (90th percentile), while overall, he averaged 1.1 points per possession (66th percentile).
Wagner is also dangerous when spotting up. He will shoot over smaller players, or drive past bigger players who struggle to defend in space. And no matter who is guarding him, the defender must have the discipline to not bite on Wagner’s fakes. If he has a weakness, it is that he predictably drives right, and is more effective going that direction. This past season in spot-up situations, he averaged an excellent 1.27 points per possession (95th percentile).
For a big man, Wagner doesn’t spend a lot of time in the post (15% of his possessions this season). He appears to have the potential to be a good post-up player, but he doesn’t have great success when he is there. This past season, he made just 40% of his post-up shots, averaging .75 points per possession (37th percentile). When he does post up, he can face up or play with his back to the basket, he can finish with either hand, and he is capable of using a variety of moves, including drop steps, up-and-unders, and fadeaway jumpers. Some of his more impressive moves include a Dirk-like hop shot and a left-hand hook off a quick reverse drop step. He also handles double-teams very well, and is a solid passer out of the post.
Given Wagner’s skill set and agility, his struggles in the post are a bit perplexing. When taking other shots around the basket (off cuts, drives, offensive rebounds) this season, he made 66% of his attempts and averaged 1.38 points per possession (89th percentile), and his overall field-goal percentage at the rim (79%) was very good. The difference comes down to Wagner not being comfortable working in tight spaces and against contact, and he is not yet consistent shooting off the bounce from any significant distance.
Wagner’s defensive numbers from this past season are somewhat conflicting, though I am comfortable saying that playing defense is his not his strength. According to Synergy, Wagner was well below average as a defender (allowing .93 points per possession); according to RealGM’s pace-adjusted defensive rating (96.2), he was well above average. When evaluating those numbers, you have to consider Michigan’s style of defense. This past season, the Wolverines played fantastic team defense, and the team’s scheme masked some individual weaknesses. RealGM’s defensive rating is influenced by how well your team plays as a unit, so that explains a lot of the difference. Even Synergy says that Wagner does a good job defending the pick and roll, but those stats do not take into account how Michigan played. In the pick and roll, Wagner often hedged strong and relied on the rotations behind him. Statistically, he wasn’t responsible for the roller, but in reality, he was often slow to recover back to the roller, who typically had a favorable matchup near the basket.
As a defender, there are some clear positives and negatives for Wagner. He is well schooled on how to stay connected and play as a unit. His averages for steals and defensive rebounds (7.1 per game) were solid this season. He has steadily improved his defensive footwork, and generally does a solid job of staying in front of fellow bigs in the post. He is not, however, much of a shot blocker, and in post-up situations this past season, he allowed his opponents to make 51 percent of their shots. His shot blocking numbers are not helped by the fact that he picks up a lot of fouls on both ends of the court (3.1 per game this season), so he is tentative as a weakside shot blocker. His biggest weakness is stopping quicker players off the dribble. He is not necessarily slow laterally, but he doesn’t change direction very quickly and is frequently a half step behind. He also doesn’t possess great closeout speed, which makes him even more vulnerable to being beat off the bounce.
Without taking a formal survey, I believe that I am higher on Wagner than most. The combination of his size, agility, shooting touch, ball skills, and high basketball IQ is fairly rare. I think that it is very clear that he is an offensive talent. He is capable of making jumpers from all over the floor, and he is also able to beat defenders off the bounce. Yes, Wagner can disappear as a scorer for long stretches during games, which is mainly due to his inability to consistently make use of his skills in the post and midrange areas. When his fadeaways and hooks are dropping to complement the rest of his game, he is a nightmare for the opposition, and I believe that with more muscle and more practice, he will develop into a fine post and midrange scorer. On the downside, he is not a great defender, and due to a lack of athleticism, this will likely be an issue for the rest of his career. Heading into the NBA Combine, Wagner is a borderline first-round pick, and he could be selected anywhere between 20th and 40th overall. In the long run, he is likely to be a solid role player, providing both an offensive and emotional spark for his team.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports and RealGM, and occasionally from Hoop-Math.com.