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Badgers most underrated player taking on bigger role in 2023

The Badgers could utilize one of their starting guards in a different role this season.

It didn’t take long for the Wisconsin Badgers to make a statement, as they scored a Kohl Center-record 105 points in the opener against Arkansas State, with 12 different players scoring and four in double digits.

Junior guard Chucky Hepburn led the way with 20 points and six assists, showcasing improved decision-making and comfortable both on and off the ball in his role.

However, another player who has been thrust into those playmaking situations is junior guard Max Klesmit, who has remained in the starting lineup, despite the addition of transfer forward A.J. Storr.

Klesmit, primarily an off-ball player in 2022, went a perfect 5/5 from the field, scoring 14 points, while adding an assist as well.

That comes after the guard recorded four assists in the exhibition match against UW-Stevens Point last week, with him and Hepburn serving as facilitators for the forwards.

While the one assist may not reflect the playmaking, the Badgers are utilizing Klesmit in more pick-and-roll situations, trusting the guard to make the the correct read.

What does head coach Greg Gard like about placing Klesmit in those situations?

“I like his decision making. That’s what I like,” Gard said ahead of Friday’s game against the No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers. “He’s done a really good job of being patient off ball screens, understanding when to pinch defenders off, when to go to the rim, knows where his teammates are around him and what we’re doing with spacing and like I said, just has a good pace about it.”

“Coming off ball screens is not always, in fact, most of the time, it’s not coming 100 miles an hour. It’s coming with some pace and you’re reading what’s going on and his ability to make the right decision has been really good.”

Embracing the increased role, Klesmit has looked to work on his game this offseason, specifically his handle, in order to better supplant Hepburn as a complementary on-ball guard.

“It’s just different looks, giving the defense different looks,” Klesmit said about him being in those pick-and-roll situations. “Chucky’s accustomed to coming off a lot of ball screens, getting downhill for us. So just giving the defense another option, another thing to look at, scout for.”

“But that’s one thing I’ve worked on this summer is just my handle. Being more of a playmaker for the squad this year and being careful and taking care of the rock. So just being in those situations, making the right reads, being patient and really just playing my game is what we’ve worked on.”

Now, seeing an increase in his role doesn’t mean a direct increase in scoring opportunities.

With the number of bucket-getters the Badgers have with the addition of Storr, Klesmit has understood that facilitating is equally as important, which he’s seen from Hepburn.

“If you need a bucket at times, you know, there’s a couple guys on your team you can go to that you can get a bucket from,” Klesmit said. “But it also just in the sense of playmaking for know, when Chucky’s getting downhill, getting at the rim, it makes it easier for everybody else to be able to make plays and hit open shots when he’s distributing for know, kind of like I said, just giving that defense another look where I got it or if Chucky got or has it that night. We’re running stuff off him. He’s playmaking for others. So it’s really just a feel thing off one another, I’d say.”

Klesmit is an intriguing player in 2023 for the Badgers, as he likely doesn’t command the level of attention of the rest of the starting lineup, but has proven to be a capable scoring threat, and now is adding the facilitating aspect to his arsenal.

His ability, both on and off-ball, will be an underrated asset for the Badgers this season, as the guard has shown an ability to make shots from the perimeter, off the dribble, and via moving off-ball.

In addition, if Klesmit can become a consistent playmaker for the Badgers, it allows them to be more versatile with their lineups and less dominant on one player, which plagued the team at times.

The Badgers are poised for a bounce-back season in 2023, just narrowly missing out on the preseason Top 25, and will look to continue their efforts at the Kohl Center on Friday, where they host the No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers at 8 P.M.