Should Greg Gard Bring Max Klesmit off the Bench in 2024-25?

Klesmit has broadcasted his willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Could that mean vacating his starting spot?
Marquette v Wisconsin
Marquette v Wisconsin / John Fisher/GettyImages

"[I] just try to play my role and do whatever's asked of me."

A veteran player expressing a team-first focus isn't abnormal in the Wisconsin men's basketball program. But, to credit teammates and the offensive system for putting him in place to succeed just minutes after scoring 20 straight points in the second half against a conference rival?

That's what makes Max Klesmit one of a kind.

The Neenah, WI native has started in all 69 of his games since transferring from Wofford, but on a roster with plenty of offensive question marks, an undersized second unit and a budding star at the guard spot, Greg Gard should at least consider bringing Klesmit off the bench.

Roster Turnover Drives Need for Offensive Consistency

On its own, losing the top scorer (Storr) and top facilitator (Hepburn) from last season's lineup creates a myriad holes to fill on the offensive end in 2024-25. Factor in that two of the transfers Gard brought in to fill these holes missed most, or all, of the 2023-24 campaign with injuries, and there's legitimate reason for concern.

At times, Klesmit was a go-to option last season, scoring at least 15 points nine times -- a total that trailed only Storr and Steven Crowl -- but he also failed to surpass five points on 12 occasions. With transfers Hunter, Amos and Tonje all but guaranteed a starting role, keeping Klesmit at the two-spot could add even more offensive volatility.

Klesmit's unpredictable output was largely tied to his reliance on the three-ball, with 61.3 percent of his field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc a season ago. While he did knock three-pointers at a 39.8 percent clip, the rising senior went through plenty of ups and downs.

When Klesmit was hot, he was an unstoppable force. In a four-game stretch during January, Klesmit scored more than 15 points in a half three times and shot 14-for-20 from beyond the arc in total. But before that stretch, Klesmit was 4-for-18 across six games, and he started the year 6-for-23 from distance.

The reality is, we don't know what Hunter, Tonje and Amos will give Gard on a game-to-game basis, making it critical for the starting two-guard to be a steady source of points.

Guard-heavy bench requires versatile SG

The 2023-24 roster's greatest strength was its guard depth. In fact, there was so much competition in the backcourt that it pushed Connor Essegian -- who was one of the Big 10's most promising freshman in 2022-23 -- out of the rotation and into the transfer portal this offseason.

Even with Hepburn and Essegian out of the program, Wisconsin still has a plethora of ball-handlers. B1G All-Freshman teamer John Blackwell, and Kamari McGee join Klesmit as returning options -- each of which played prominent roles a season ago. Add incoming freshman Daniel Frietag -- the highest ranked point guard recruit in Badger history -- and Hunter to the mix and there's five mouths to feed.

Because of the backcourt depth, one of the five guards will have to fill the backup small forward slot. As the two tallest players of the group, Klesmit (6-foot-4) and Blackwell (6-foot-4) make the most sense to play the three, a role Blackwell held last season.

However, with both Freitag and McGee categorized as point guards, having a three-and-D player who doesn't need the ball to score and can defend larger opponents makes tons of sense in the second unit.

In 2023-24, Klesmit was tasked with guarding players such as D'Onta Scott (6'8", 230 lbs) and Marcus Domask (6'6, 215 lbs) despite having a significant size disadvantage. The Wofford transfer was a strong fit between the ball-dominant Hepburn and Storr, providing value as an off-ball guard and catch-and-shoot threat.

Although Hunter and Tonje will be significant pieces of the offense, it's difficult to envision them taking on the vacated usage, leaving more shot-creating and ball-handling duties for the two-guard -- a role that fits the skillset of Blackwell better.

Why John Blackwell Is the Answer

Even the most optimistic Badger fans didn't expect as much production as Blackwell provided during his freshman campaign, averaging eight points and three rebounds on 44/45/82 shooting splits as Gard's de facto sixth man.

The Highland Park, Michigan native received ample praise for his high IQ, aggressive playstyle and never-ending motor. He found plenty of success on off-ball cuts and dribble-drives, willing his way to the basket and oftentimes, the free throw line.

In 18.5 minutes per game, Blackwell attempted the third most free throws on the team and was a spark plug during the regular season.

But he didn't just shine in spurts, Blackwell excelled when given extended looks.

He played 19 or more minutes in 14 regular-season games , scoring in double figures in all but three of those contests and averaging 12.1 points and 4.3 rebounds. While the true freshman scored four or fewer points in all but one of the Badgers five postseason games, Blackwell's upside is massive, and he's only going to get better.

And, who's to say that Blackwell doesn't take a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2 with a full offseason under his belt and grows into a player that is too good to come off the bench?

With an embarrassment of riches in the backcourt, there is no wrong answer for Greg Gard at the starting shooting guard spot.

Realistically, it's Klesmit's job to lose, but regardless of who rounds out the first unit, Badger faithful will be seeing a lot of Klesmit and Blackwell in 2024-25.