UCLA Post-MortemPosted by AMurawa on April 15th, 2013
Now that we are officially in the offseason, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate each team’s 2012-13 performance. Next on our list: UCLA.
What Went Right
All things considered, a lot of things went right for the Bruins this year. Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson were cleared of their eligibility concerns early and both played (mostly) a full season. Ben Howland made the decision to play to his team’s strengths and emphasized an up-tempo offense-first style. Larry Drew II made the most of his lone season in Westwood and ended his college career on a very positive note. And freshman Jordan Adams was far far better than anyone outside of his immediate family had a reasonable right to expect. Still, the season ended with Howland getting fired after a Round of 64 loss in the NCAA Tournament, so that tells you that not everything went well.
What Went Wrong
Well, where to begin? Let’s start with the continued trend of halfway-talented players departing from Howland’s program, leaving the team with just eight scholarship players on the roster at the end of the season. Then, for all the good things Muhammad showed in his ability to do offensively, he didn’t show much of a desire to do anything else (32 games, 27 assists, four blocked shots, 8.5% defensive rebounding percentage, abhorrent body language and sportsmanship). For the rest of the team, things just never congealed on the defensive end, resulting in the third-worst defensive performance out of a UCLA team in Howland’s career in Westwood. Throw in a little bad luck in the form of Adams’ freak foot injury on the final play of a big win in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals and despite high hopes at the start of the year, it turned into a disappointing result.
It is hard to argue with what Adams did in his freshman campaign (team-high offensive efficiency rating and true shooting percentage, along with being the team’s best defender), but this award goes to Larry Drew II by a landslide. First and foremost, on a team dominated by freshman, Drew was the grown-up on the team, the leader in the locker room and on the floor. Aside from giving the team a mature personality, he was really really good too, leading the conference in assists (by a full two assists per game) and picking up his offensive production down the stretch, making 19 of his last 33 three-point attempts on the year.
Drew’s long, strange college career comes to an end, while Muhammad’s short, strange trip will also conclude, just in a different way. Drew has a degree in his pocket and has expired his college eligibility, while Muhammad will bolt for the NBA, where he is expected to be a lottery pick in June (at this point, Muhammad has yet to officially declare for the draft, but it would be a huge surprise if he did not). Expectations are that Anderson will return for his sophomore season after briefly considering floating his name in NBA circles. Then there’s Tony Parker, the freshman center who never fully earned Howland’s trust and more than once tweeted indications that he was unhappy in Westwood. Despite constant speculation that he would be transferring, Parker has decided to remain committed to UCLA.
Players Coming In
With Howland on his way out and Steve Alford on his way in, there was some concern about whether the three incoming freshman who had committed to Howland would remain with the program under Alford. But in almost no time, all three of them – Zach LaVine, Allerik Freeman and Noah Allen –reaffirmed their commitments to UCLA. Alford himself will be bringing along another youngster – his son, Bryce Alford – who broke the New Mexico high school single-season scoring record last season and can stroke it much like his dad did. It remains to be seen if he’ll be an impact player at a high-major school. As for the other three frosh, none of them fill the biggest hole for UCLA, the one along the front line. Still, LaVine is a highly-regarded point guard who can score, while Freeman is a versatile and athletic wing. Both of them have serious futures in Westwood.
Reason for Hope
This was a program that needed a fresh start and got one. Sure, the Alford/Los Angeles media honeymoon didn’t last all that long, but there’s talent already there and there’s more to be had should the new head coach be prepared to mine all the recruits who could be interested in a collegiate career in the big city spotlight. In the short term, Anderson has the potential to become a terrific point guard and he’s going to be surrounded by plenty of talented scorers. Building off of last season’s up-tempo success, the Bruins have the opportunity to establish a name as a fun and exciting offensive ball club.
Reason For Concern
Aside from that lack of frontcourt depth, the players who are still in Westwood provide plenty of question marks. The Wear twins have developed into nice pieces on the offensive end, but neither has made a physical move in his life and both are adept at getting only one hand on a rebound before fumbling it away. And Parker – he’s definitely got the ability to become a physical presence up front, but he’s still has a ways to go from a skills perspective. And then there are those defensive problems that plagued this year’s team. Don’t expect those to go away soon, in part because no one still has any idea exactly what position Anderson should be defending. Then there are the long-term concerns, such as the question about whether Alford is in fact the right guy to lead this program into the future.
B-. With all the hubbub over the Muhammad/Anderson recruiting class, expectations were significant this season. But in the end, UCLA wound up with an opening round exit from the NCAAs and a fired head coach. The fact that such a season still earns the Bruins a passing grade is entirely attributable to the fact that this was a fun team to watch and, well, you know, they did win a Pac-12 regular season title (for as much as that means to anyone in Westwood).