Wisconsin is in a bit of a strange position heading into this new season. They have a lot of players that fit into very defined roles, and as such they lack "tweeners" or "slashers" or "wing players." They have two guys that play point guard and shooting guard respectively, they have a center, and they have a power forward who, while improving his outside game to the point that he may attempt a three pointer this year, isn't exactly what I would call a wing player.
That leaves us with only one option, starting small forward Sam Dekker. There is not much depth out on the wings for the Badgers, and honestly that probably doesn't matter very much due to the talent elsewhere, but let's take a look at how Dekker, and one potential reserve, will look this season.
As mentioned, there aren't many options for the Badgers on the wing. Dekker will be a one man show out there and the Badgers will either go small, with Josh Gasser sliding over to the three and Bronson Koenig joining Traevon Jackson in the backcourt, or big, with 6'10" Duje Dukan coming in to play as a stretch four and Nigel Hayes sliding down to the small forward position.
Dekker has been on Wisconsin basketball fan's radars for many years. He grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and was one of the best prep players the state has ever seen. He was a hero on the Kohl Center floor before he even suited up for the Badgers, hitting a buzzer beating three to win a state championship in 2012. Needless to say, expectations were high for the home state kid when he chose to play his college ball at UW. Since he is so talented, there has also been much talk amongst Badgers fans on whether or not Dekker will leave early for the pros. Some of that talk subsided last season, as Dekker took on more of a complimentary role in the offense due to Frank Kaminsky's emergence as a dominant low post threat, but the flashes of greatness remained. Then this summer happened.
Dekker had a dominant summer on the "camp circuit" and also grew two inches! He reported back to Madison looking like a changed man (I mean look at the picture under Reason 1 for optimism here) and earned rave reviews from coaches and scouts over the summer. If Dekker rediscovered his killer instinct over the summer, preseason B1G Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky might see his stiffest competition for the award every day in practice.
Look, I know Dekker has been a good player for Wisconsin the last two years, I know this. But it always seems like there was something more that he hadn't tapped into yet to be a great player. From all the reports this offseason, it looks like Dekker has found that "something more" and after talking to him at B1G Media Day I believe it. He was quietly confident and not at all flustered by the media horde surrounding him.
The stats for Dekker are trending upwards for the most part. His rebounding percentage went up last year, his turnover percentage went down, and his win shares went up. His usage percentage only went up slightly and his points per 40 minutes and true shooting percentage were down, but he did take on a more complimentary role as the season progressed. He averaged 12.4 ppg and 6.1 rpg and will be relied on to improve both of those averages this year.
6'5" redshirt freshman Riley Dearring could be a potential backup wing this year, but it all depends on how preseason practices play out. Right now, Dearring is behind Dukan, Koenig, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown, and possibly Jordan Smith/Jordan Hill. He was a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Basketball in 2013 and has the ability to play multiple positions. Another option on the wing, depending on if he redshirts or not, is true freshman Ethan Happ. At 6'9" and 230 pounds, the youngster out of Illinois has already shown a willingness to bang bodies down low in practice. His senior year of high school he averaged 33 ppg and 15 rpg, so he clearly knows how to score the basketball as well.
Overall Grade: A-
The Badgers are a team that has high hopes this year. If Dekker is as improved as his offseason plaudits claim he is, they should have no trouble accomplishing their goals.