The moment that stood out for Moe Wagner in the 2023 season was not his finest. Not in any way.
Wagner has gained a reputation over the years for using players and being annoying. He talks a lot. And his game lasts on several levels. But he knows his place in the rotation. He won’t back down from anyone stepping up to his team — just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic over the years.
Then in a December game in Detroit, Moe Wagner took things a little too far with a hard foul on Killian Hayes. Hayes did not take kindly to it and the benches were cleared and the Magic would play the next two games with their players splitting suspensions to leave the bench.
Wagner has never done anything like this. But this was the edge the Magic desperately needed from him. They are a team of hard workers and good players, but not always the kind of players who will stand chest-to-chest with someone when the time calls for it.
Wagner is one of the few players with that kind of edge. And the will to act on it when the time calls for it.
Moe Wagner proved to be an important part of the Orlando Magic’s emotional core as someone willing to get into a groove. He also played well, but his limitations became apparent in 2023.
However, that is not all that Wagner does. He continued to prove himself as a solid offensive player who can score on the interior and at the rim. He’s flexible enough that the Magic can swoop in at a moment’s notice and get production from him.
Wagner arrived in Orlando hanging on to his career and trying to find his footing. He has stayed in Orlando because of his willingness to work hard and his ability to fit in anywhere.
But every year for Wagner seems to be another test for him. He has played on a year-to-year contract, it seems, for every season. And he’s back on another one. Playing well enough seems to secure a spot in the NBA — which he certainly has after a really good 2023 season — but not well enough to secure a clear role with the Magic.
Wagner will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. It’s not clear whether the Magic will work to retain him or let him go. It’s not clear if anyone else in the league would value Wagner enough to give him some serious money or the chance for a more consistent role.
Wagner has earned the right to have these questions and force the Magic or another team to answer them.
He had his best season with the Magic last year, averaging 10.5 points per game. game and 4.5 rebounds per match with shot splits of 50.0/31.3/84.1. He led the team in sacks with 17– over Jalen Suggs for the lead with eight.
Moe Wagner supplanted Mo Bamba in the backup center role after the Magic traded the latter and had a solid finish to the season averaging 9.2 points per game. game and 4.2 rebounds per match.
Wagner is an excellent screener. He is able to score around the basket and can step beyond the arc. He does all of these things adequately, but not well enough that it doesn’t seem interchangeable.
For all the good and all the intangibles Wagner brought to this magical team, there is still more left to be desired.
According to data from Second Spectrum, no center who played at least 50 games this season had a worse defensive field goal percentage at the rim than Wagner at 75.5 percent. Opponents shot 7.6 percentage points better than expected at the rim against Wagner, according to Basketball-Index.
By the end of the season, coach Jamahl Mosley was deciding seemingly every night whether to go with Goga Bitadze or Moe Wagner for the backup center role. It does not bode well for Wagner’s future.
When Wagner was rolling, he was an excellent low-post scorer with 3-point range. When he wasn’t rolling, he could at least set screens, but he became a difficult player to account for defensively.
Ultimately, Wagner played well enough to earn a role and be the best of the team’s available options. But he also feels like a clear spot where the team can and should seek an upgrade. if the Magic intend to bring Wagner back, it feels like a player they would bring back at the end of the offseason as the team’s third emergency center.
The Magic would likely want him back. But he’s simply not a priority for the team with other fish to fry this offseason.
Moe Wagner still had an outstanding individual season. He had a nice flash in the pan to close out the 2021 season and did well to establish himself as a solid backup center in the 2022 season. He confirmed everything he built with a good 2023 season.
Wagner is a skilled goalscorer and a good positional defender. Wagner benefits from knowing his role at all times — whether the team needs him to score, hang back and set screens or pick a tackle. The Magic desperately need a player with a little bit of edge to them. And Wagner makes sure of that.
Still, Wagner has his limitations, and the magic constantly bumped up against Wagner’s limitations.
He’s a player teams aren’t afraid to attack defensively, and if they can get him on the rim, he won’t put up much resistance. His shooting and scoring are far too inconsistent to be relied upon, especially for the amount of 3-pointers he typically ends up taking.
Wagner is good in small doses. And one of the problems the Magic ran into this past season was relying on him too much. This is the curse of the struggling team. They need to ask more from players than they are capable of giving.
It’s safe to say Orlando got the most out of Wagner than anyone probably could. The question is how much more can the team – or any team – squeeze out of him.
Wagner is probably best as the third center. That makes him a low priority for the Magic this offseason. They may ultimately choose to bring him back, but it shouldn’t be without also adding another center in free agency.
- Published on 25/06/2023 at 20:58
- Last updated 25/06/2023 at 20:58