Wagnerlando Is A Working Title: Five Thoughts After NBA Draft Night & Free Agency Day One
Featuring Isaiah Livers, Ultimate Michigander. Also: Tim Hardaway Jr. and Duncan Robinson get the big bags.
It’s been a hell of a week for Michigan men’s basketball. Four players from Juwan Howard’s Elite Eight squad earned NBA opportunities, including two draftees in Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers. Then two of John Beilein’s former charges, Duncan Robinson and Tim Hardaway Jr., signed huge free agent deals to stay with their current teams.
There’s a lot to process. Let’s do our best.
I Can and Will Get Used to This
Beilein and Howard have transformed draft night from an event I checked on to one I plan around.
Michigan produced two draft picks between 2000 (Jamal Crawford, whose M career lasted 17 games) and 2013 (Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.): Bernard Robinson Jr. in 2004 and Darius Morris in 2011, with both players going in the second round and not sticking in the league long past their first contract.
From 2013 to present, 12 Wolverines have been selected, including nine in the first round. The only comparable period in program history spanned from the oft-overlooked mid-1980s teams and the ‘89 title team through the late-’90s teams that marked the end of the Ed Martin era.
What this recent boom time has lacked compared to the previous one is the near-constant presence of at least one top-ten draft pick; Roy Tarpley (#7 overall) beget Glen Rice (#4) and Rumeal Robinson (#10), who were quickly followed by the Fab Five—headlined by #1 overall pick Chris Webber—which preceded Robert Traylor (#6). The more recent top-ten picks have gone ninth (Burke), eighth (Nik Stauskas), and eighth (Franz Wagner). Half of the Beilein-recruited first-rounders went in the 20s.
It’s reasonable to expect Juwan Howard to start producing top-ten picks at the rate Michigan put out when they boasted the likes of… Juwan Howard (#5 overall). Incoming freshman wing Caleb Houstan is projected there in early 2022 mocks by SBNation (#5), CBSSports (#7), The Athletic (#7), and NBADraftNet (#10).
Intriguingly, none of those mocks included the other incoming five-star, big man Moussa Diabate. He may need more development at the college level than Houstan, who won’t need to add as much strength before being viable at his position in the NBA, and he also has more competition for minutes this season. I’m sure Howard would be very happy to get a second year of Diabate.
The Media Loved the Wagner Pick
It’s difficult to find a post-draft grades or winners/losers post that doesn’t love Orlando’s haul. Yes, a big factor is getting Jalen Suggs with the fifth pick, but their selection of Wagner has also drawn consensus praise. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony named Wagner the lottery pick whose fit he immediately liked:
I love that Orlando took advantage of Jalen Suggs' surprising slide, but in getting Franz Wagner, the Magic have two of the best defenders in this draft. Wagner can make teammates better without needing the ball or requiring plays to be called for him. … With Wagner and Jonathan Isaac as the forwards, along with Suggs and Markelle Fultz in the backcourt, the Magic could have one of the better defensive units in the NBA.
The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie said Orlando got two “monsters” on defense and projects Wagner as their starting small forward; he ranked the Magic’s draft haul as fourth-best in the league. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor gave the Wagner pick an A-minus:
Wagner is an oversized playmaker who measured 6-foot-9 at Michigan but claims to have grown to nearly 6-foot-11 since college. That growth spurt only raises his potential. The Magic can utilize him in a variety of roles next to Suggs. Both are unselfish, high-IQ players who should fit together perfectly at the next level. Wagner can be utilized in a number of roles on offense, and is a good 3-point shooter, something the Magic have sorely lacked in recent years. But Wagner’s best trait might be his defense: He can defend wings and some guards, is excellent both on and off the ball, and will boost Orlando on both ends.
Wagner is in a great spot to show his talent right away. The Magic are in a position as a franchise to let their young talent develop by playing through the growing pains—in other words, they’re not a playoff team—and there are only two other wings they’re at all committed to playing.
Fits Like a Mitten
The first time I saw Isaiah Livers play basketball in person was March of 2017, when his Kalamazoo Central squad took on Xavier Tillman’s Grand Rapids Christian. While Livers struggled in an overtime loss, his talent was evident. I still can’t say I would’ve predicted an NBA future while sitting in the bleachers that day.
Livers outplayed his recruiting rankings at his home-state school. Now he’ll get the opportunity to outplay his draft slot for the home team after the Detroit Pistons chose him 42nd overall, about ten spots earlier than the Vegas projection.1
I’ve allowed my Pistons fandom to take a back seat in recent years. With #1 pick Cade Cunningham running the team and Livers possibly figuring into the rotation, I’m suddenly quite invested in YouTube TV and Sinclair/Bally Sports reaching an agreement to SHOW THE DANG LOCAL SPORTS TEAMS PLEASE AND THANK YOU before the season starts.
Get That Paper
Day one of free agency began yesterday with the usual deluge of we-definitely-respected-the-moratorium signing announcements. Let’s gooooo:
We’re living in a world where Duncan Robinson has the option to turn down around $20 million to re-enter free agency a year early. It’s also a world where Woj shouts out his podcast to get that scoop. Unreal.
Please Complete This, Orlando
Moe Wagner couldn’t spend draft night with his family for understandable reasons: he was busy helping Germany to the quarterfinals in the Olympics. So, like any good brother, he watched the draft from his room in Tokyo, Instagrammed his way through a lot of emotions, and got in a fraternal Facetime session.
Moe finished the 2020-21 season with Orlando. He’s currently a free agent. Don’t make me come down there, Magic. You know what to do.
Thank you for reading The Bucket Problem. The site is proudly sponsored by Homefield Apparel. Use promo code BUCKETPROBLEM for 15% off your first order.
I may have made some money taking the under on both Wagner’s and Livers’ draft position. Let’s not discuss my other draft prop bets.