Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky top Santa's 'nice' list

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

As we pause for a holiday break in the schedule, take some time to appreciate the progress a few key Badgers have made in the last year.

When you start naming things that are going well for the Wisconsin basketball team right now, your list gets long pretty quickly. Not too surprising considering the Badgers were ranked No. 20 in the AP's preseason poll and have shot straight up to No. 4 while racing out to a 12-0 record.

Basically every guy on the team is shooting well. Duje Dukan has found a role. Nigel Hayes has seized his opportunity. Josh Gasser has been healthy enough to make his usual handful of Josh Gasser-like plays. Sam Dekker is even starting to hit the defensive glass.

Yet Wisconsin's unblemished start would not be possible without the maturation of players at arguably the two most important positions on the court: point guard and center.

A year removed from replacing its top two guards, Wisconsin has finally found stability at point guard. Traevon Jackson was seriously flawed in that role as a sophomore, when he posted a 1.35-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while making some mind-bending decisions. But Jackson was always the team's best option when it came to facilitating and hitting big shots.

Jackson's timing is even better as a junior and he is showing more patience. He has raised his assist-to-turnover ratio to 2.4-to-1 this season and continues to show steady growth in almost all facets of his game ... to the point where I am typing nice things about him instead of throwing my hands up in the air 4-5 times each game (it's down to once or twice now). Even KenPom agrees ...

Traevon Jackson: Junior vs. Sophomore

Year Off. Rtg %Poss TS% DR% Asst Rate TO Rate FD/40 FT Rate 3-pt FG (%) G-WIT*
2013 110.7 23.2 52.9 17.1 28.7 16.8 5.8 67.0 11-28 (.393) 1
2012 90.4 19.4 46.8 8.7 20.6 25.2 3.1 30.1 22-75 (.293) 3

*Yes, I'll coin my own stat: G-WIT = Game-winning shots + game "icing" shots + game-tying shots

Good point guard play doesn't end with Jackson either. Freshman Bronson Koenig is coming on like a tidal wave, giving Bo Ryan another option at lead guard with a true pass-first player. Whether Jackson needs a breather, gets in foul trouble, or simply needs someone to help him shoulder the load handling the ball, Koenig has proved over the last 10 games that he is up to the task.

Jordan Taylor is the most apt comparison to make for Koenig when it comes to true freshmen point guards who contributed all season long. However, Koenig's shooting abilities surpass even the more seasoned George Marshall's stat line of last season. Though Boo Wade was a plus defender, his statistical profile even had a few surprising similarities to Koenig, who is certainly the more developed offensive threat. That speaks volumes about the similar opportunities in front of each player.

Bronson Koenig vs. UW freshman point guards

Player Year %Min ORtg PPG A:TO 2PT% 3PT% eFG% FT% %Poss %Shots ARate TORate Stl% FC/40 FD/40
Bronson Koenig 2013 37.1 120.7 3.5 2:1 70.6 33.3 60.9 0.0 12.8 13.5 14.9 19.1 1.4 3.8 1.4
George Marshall* 2012 38.9 102.2 4.1 1.9:1 32.6 36.8 48.2 62.5 15.3 18.1 12.9 13.9 0.8 3.4 2.0
Jordan Taylor 2008 32.6 80.9 1.6 2.2:1 29.8 19.2 29.5 58.8 13.7 13.3 17.2 19.1 1.5 6.1 2.2
Boo Wade 2002 50.5 105.0 3.3 1.8:1 54.4 37.9 55.2 57.1 12.1 9.9 16.4 25.8 2.6 2.8 1.9

*Redshirt freshman; Marshall was the only one to start games (6) for UW his first season

When you have great play from your lead guards, you want the ball in their hands more often. Therein lived one of the major challenges coming into the 2013-'14 season -- rebounding.

Collectively, despite the size disadvantage of it's starting five, Wisconsin is actually rebounding just as well as it did last year when it had a fully seasoned front court. In fact, UW is rebounding defensively at a better clip (74.3%) than last year (73%). Meanwhile, the team isn't quite as good on the offensive boards (29.6%) compared to last season (32.6%). Luckily the impact of that OR% is somewhat minimized by how few missed shots the Badgers are producing on offense.

A big part of the rebounding effort is based on the play of Frank Kaminsky in the middle. As I mentioned on the KKSE podcast this week, what I love most about watching Kaminsky is his footwork. Good footwork is helping the 7-footer have his way near the basket offensively, as well as put himself into good defensive position.

Kaminsky's defensive impact has certainly been a pleasant surprise. His rebounding rate on that end is almost exactly at the 18% goal I was hoping for prior to the season. He is ahead of Jared Berggren's record-setting blocked shot pace as well, totaling 23 swats in 12 games whereas Berggren had only 21 at this point last season. Perhaps more importantly, Kaminsky's key blocks in the final seconds against Florida and Green Bay helped preserve both of those early victories. Overall, Kaminsky is certainly ahead of schedule in replacing Berggren.

Frank Kaminsky vs. Jared Berggren

Player Year %Min Off. Rtg eFG% OR% DR% Asst. Rate Blk% 2-pt FG (%) 3-pt FG (%)
Kaminsky 2013 69.0 127.7 62.8 7.4 17.9 10.0 6.6 51-82 (.622) 15-35 (.429)
Berggren 2012 70.4 111.9 50.5 10.1 18.1 6.9 7.3 124-225 (.551) 21-83 (.253)
Berggren 2011 69.0 105.2 52.4 6.5 15.3 6.6 6.3 96-191 (.503) 45-121 (.372)

Give Berggren credit for picking up boards in a crowded front court and even picking up a few assists passing to the likes of Ryan Evans. However, it's clear that if Kaminsky holds up near his current level of play in the Big Ten season, he will be quite the improvement over his very good predecessor.

* * *

Before changing my mind, I had planned to add a column for how many players each big man had posterized with dunks. Even though I know Kaminsky hasn't piled on a bunch of nasty slams to his highlight reel like Berggren did last year, I'm still glad I went searching for video evidence. Because searching led me to a different version of Berggren's dunk on Trey Burke last season that I hadn't seen before. Enjoy the commentary.

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For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.

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