Point guard dilemma: Analyzing who should start for UW
The debate remains over who should start at point guard when Traevon Jackson returns from injury. Bronson Koenig has filled in spectacularly, but Jackson could regain his old job.Image By: Thomas Yonash (left)
Redshirt senior point guard Traevon Jackson said he is ready to play this Sunday against Michigan State after missing nearly two months with a broken foot. Jackson hasn’t yet been cleared by the medical staff, so it’s uncertain whether he will indeed play against the Spartans.
Regardless, his return to the lineup is coming soon, but whether he unseats his sophomore replacement Bronson Koenig remains to be seen. Here’s the case for each player to be the Badgers’ starting point guard down the stretch.
When Traevon Jackson went down against Rutgers Jan. 11, with Frank Kaminsky already on the sidelines, the wheels fell off for the Badgers, watching their 12-point halftime cushion turn into a five-point defeat. In the 10 games since, the Badgers have gone 10-0 with Bronson Koenig running the show at point guard. With Jackson slated to return Sunday against Michigan State, the team shouldn’t waste any time in putting him back into the starting lineup.
While Koenig has been phenomenal in Jackson’s absence, averaging 12.6 points and 2.5 assists against just 0.9 turnovers in that stretch, Jackson’s defense, senior leadership and ability to make things happen in late clock situations should make him the choice to run the point for the rest of the season.
Jackson, a career 33.3 percent 3-point shooter, is not nearly as lethal as Koenig from the outside, and this season, he was shooting just 28.6 percent before going down with a broken foot. Nevertheless, Jackson can shoot well enough to keep defenses honest, and his ability to drive to the basket is unparalleled by any guard on the team.
Furthermore, in something that is harder to quantify, Jackson is arguably the second best perimeter defender on the team behind Josh Gasser. Jackson’s ability to harass guards along the outside while only committing 1.5 fouls per contest is integral checking some of the elite point guards such as D’Angelo Russell and Travis Trice. This is an area where Koenig is still developing.
Jackson’s late-clock abilities have been discussed ad nauseam by commentators of nearly every Wisconsin game since he took over for George Marshall early in his sophomore season. While it can be a bit maddening at times as everyone in the building knows who is taking the shot, time and again, Jackson has shown an ability to draw fouls or hit tough shots with the game or shot clock winding down.
One other reason why Jackson should be starting in favor of Koenig is actually a bit of a knock against him. Koenig’s shooting ability and creativity can still provide points without Kaminsky or Sam Dekker in the lineup alongside. Jackson needs others to be on the court with him in order to thrive. With that in mind, Koenig’s ability to come in off the bench and provide a spark with the second unit while giving Jackson or Gasser a breather would be a huge offensive upgrade from Zak Showalter.
Koenig has shown over the past 10 games that he is ready, willing and able to start, but if Jackson is back to 100 percent or close to it, when the starting lineups are announced, it should be the man from Westerville, Ohio who hears his name called with Koenig ready off the bench shortly thereafter.
The Rutgers game, while miserable, did do one thing for the Badgers season: it made things interesting. Now, we have a legitimate #controversy where a seasoned senior may no longer be the best man for a starting spot, which is a genuine shock when it comes to a Bo Ryan team.
I’ve always been a fan of Traevon Jackson’s play, or at least more accepting of his role on the team than what seems to be 90 percent of the Wisconsin fanbase.
For all the flak Jackson gets over being a “score-first” point guard, his 20.9 percent assist rate is actually better than Koenig’s 16.4. However, that’s just one side of passing the ball. The other, turnover rate, is not so favorable. Koenig’s 10.0 percent is vastly better than Jackson’s 18.7, and therein lies the central reason why Koenig is the best man to lead Wisconsin into the Big Ten Tournament and March Madness.
The Badger offense is ridiculously stacked. Frank Kaminsky is one of two frontrunners for National Player of the Year, Sam Dekker could be an NBA lottery pick and Nigel Hayes has drastically improved from his freshman year, when he won Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year. Together, they are the most offensively proficient frontcourt in the country.
What’s the absolute worst thing you can do when you have a unit like that? Lose the ball when trying to feed them. Jackson does that almost double the amount of Koenig.
Under Koenig, Wisconsin’s offense has straight-up lit Big Ten teams on fire and he has personally thrived, registering nine of his 15 career double-digit scoring games since the Rutgers fiasco. In that same span, Wisconsin is averaging 1.20 points per possession. Under Jackson this season, it averaged 1.17 points per possession. That sounds like a marginal difference, but keep in mind that all of Koenig’s games have come against Big Ten opponents whereas Jackson’s opponents included Northern Kentucky, Chattanooga and Nicholls State. Koenig offenses have been better against better opponents.
How can you bench that? For a marginal improvement on defense? Jackson is a stronger defender, but Josh Gasser’s presence means that the point guard will likely defend an opponent’s less offensively threatening guard. The Badgers have had some questionable defensive performances with Koenig as the starter, but they haven’t allowed more than a point per possession in their last five games.
Koenig keeps improving, and, oh yeah, he hasn’t had more than two turnovers in a single game he’s started, despite receiving almost no rest due to having no real back-up. Koenig is a future Wisconsin star arriving early and, on paper, it’s foolish to cede the possibility of a historically great offense to respect for seniority.
—Jack BaerSubscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter