Describing Frank Kaminsky’s role for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team is not a simple task with a singular answer. He is not the energizing sixth man, nor a critical scorer or a lockdown defender.
Kaminsky is seeing an average of just 10.5 minutes and 4.6 points per game this season, the type of player expected to sink the occasional three-pointer and use his 6-foot-11 frame to take advantage of mismatches inside. But the Badgers have learned in his two-game absence — after Kaminsky suffered an eye injury in the first half against Indiana — just how critical a part he was of Bo Ryan’s rotation.
Jared Berggren — Wisconsin’s primary option in the paint who Kaminsky often backed up — denied the notion that the big man’s absence placed an extra burden on him following a 49-47 loss to Michigan State Tuesday night.
“Didn’t really think about it, to be honest,” Berggren said. “Once you’re in the flow of the game and playing, you’re never thinking about when your next break’s coming or anything like that. You’re just playing your hardest every possession and it wasn’t really a factor, I don’t think.”
Senior forward Mike Bruesewitz clocked a season-high 35 minutes against the Spartans but also refused to draw parallels between the team’s performance and Kaminsky’s injury.
Yet his absence seems to place a sizable dent in Wisconsin’s offense, not so much for the baskets he provided but rather for being an athletic, capable big man who could keep defenders on their toes while Berggren caught his breath.
As a replacement, former transfer Zach Bohannon saw five minutes of play against Iowa — the Badgers’ first game without Kaminsky — and sunk only one of his three shots.
Inexperienced sophomore Evan Anderson saw the floor for just two minutes in Kaminsky’s place against Michigan State, his lone stat a turnover during that brief appearance. Neither Anderson nor Bohannon can match the injured sophomore’s size or skill with the ball in his hands, making his absence all the more taxing on teammates.
And there’s another dimension to playing without Kaminsky: It stretches an already thin bench even thinner. Never was this more apparent than when freshman standout Sam Dekker picked up two quick fouls within the first seven minutes of the first half.
Relegated to the bench for much of that half, he saw just 13 minutes of play, unable to provide his usual spark off the bench. In such a situation, Kaminsky might be the secondary option to ignite Wisconsin’s offense, as he did by sinking two quick threes against the Hoosiers.
“Picked a bad year to have these kind of things, but, hey, there’s some other guys ready to jump in, and hopefully we can just string enough together to … stay competitive and give ourselves a chance,” Ryan said at his Monday press conference.
“I’ve seen other teams that (these injuries) happen to them, they didn’t fare so well. We don’t want to be in that category. We’re still going to try to get things done this year that we wanted to accomplish.”
While much of Kaminsky’s game is built on his versatility to hit an outside shot (40.9 percent from three-point range), he can also be an efficient scorer inside. Among players with at least 25 shots this year, he ranks second on the team behind Berggren with a 50 percent clip from the field. That number is inflated by the fact that he ranks eighth on the team in total shots (56) but nonetheless speaks to his importance as a viable offensive contributer.
Ryan still has not made it clear how long Kaminsky will be limited to the bench. One of two Wisconsin players, along with Berggren, who see regular playing time and stand over 6-foot-7, a team already vulnerable to talented big men has only grown weaker in the paint.
It was something Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo picked up on after watching film of Kaminsky against Indiana and did not feel his team took full advantage of in the single-possession victory.
“I thought we did a decent job of getting some help for our bigs in there, and that’s disappointing when Berggren did go out, we didn’t take advantage of it enough going inside,” Izzo said. “But Kaminsky will definitely help them.”
Just how sizable of a factor is Kaminsky’s health to the Badgers returning to the level that earned them seven consecutive wins? The answer is as multi-faceted as the sophomore’s game itself.
But his presence may help cure what players agreed was the biggest issue against the Spartans: forcing up too many low-percentage shots.
“We might have settled for too many outside looks,” Berggren said. “They were doing a pretty good job of contesting them so I think there was more opportunities for a shot-fake, drive, get the ball inside a little bit more.”