Now with two conference wins under their belt, it might be time to take a closer look at the UCLA Bruins rotation. The team has begun to take shape, so who should be getting the minutes?
It’s clear that when UCLA is at its best, the team gets contributions from a wide variety of players, not just 25-plus from one. If the Bruins are going to keep defenses guessing and win close games, they’ll need to have a lot of players in rhythm and ready to strike offensively.
Ben Howland’s bench runs nine players deep, with temporary injuries to Travis Wear and Joshua Smith allotting more minutes to Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane. Unfortunately, Stover and Lane represent a significant frontcourt drop-off, leaving Howland thin at talent when his big men get hurt.
To be fair to Howland, a complete overhaul of each player’s minutes is unnecessary. However, they could use some minor tweaking, based on recent performances. To be clear, when I suggest that a player’s minutes have to be reduced, it won’t always be because of poor performance. More minutes for other players have to come from somewhere.
With that in mind, here are six Bruins who should see their minutes either go up or down.
Current Conference MPG: 20.3
Suggested Conference MPG: 23.5
The Bruins’ freshman phenomenon continues to wow all who behold him, but Norman Powell has struggled to find his game against conference opponents. However, the young man can only get better with more time on the court, time that Ben Howland should grant him.
After a marvelous 19-point game against UC Irvine, Powell has managed only 17 in the five games since. His minutes have slightly dropped, but that has more to do with his inflated minutes against bad teams than his stagnant numbers.
Powell looked his best in weeks against Arizona State, with nine points in 21 minutes. Currently, the freshman guard is averaging 20.3 minutes in conference play, so it was right around his average, but Powell should be getting more time to shine.
His three-pointers are still inconsistent, but Powell’s upside is bigger than any Bruin this year. To get him battle-tested in conference would be a huge asset for his sophomore campaign. Plus, it builds a better relationship between player and coach when Powell considers the draft after his second year.
Powell has the ability to be a star in Westwood, and Howland should give him more minutes to improve and correct the mistakes in his game.
Current Conference MPG: 35.8
Suggested Conference MPG: 31.5
It’s not that Lazeric Jones is playing particularly poorly; he’s just logging too many minutes. Ben Howland should consider resting the team’s leading scorer a bit more, if only so that he becomes more effective on the court.
Jones has completely emerged from his early season slump to lead this UCLA side in scoring and assists. Due to his breakout scoring talent, Howland has tried playing him at the 2 to give him more chances to score, but so far it hasn’t quite panned out. Jones is unfamiliar playing off the ball, and should stay at the point
Since conference play began, Jones has played 145 out of a possible 160 minutes. He has yet to score over 15 points in any Pac-12 game, failing to break double figures against Cal and Arizona State.
If Howland continues to play Zeke heavily, the senior is going to wear down and lose the production that got UCLA back above .500. More rest might be the solution.
Current Conference MPG: 29.8
Suggested Conference MPG: 33.5
Tyler Lamb had a poor home stand against the Arizona schools, with foul trouble limiting his effectiveness and his minutes. He should be granted more time on the floor than his 30.8-minute average, but not by much.
Since getting his hip drained, Lamb has emerged as a scoring force behind Lazeric Jones. He set a career high against Cal with 26 points, but couldn’t translate that form back to Southern California.
What Lamb needs is time on the floor, but that’s as much his responsibility as it is Ben Howland’s. Lamb is only a sophomore with a lot of learning still to do, so to get him more time this year helps build for the future.
If Howland decides to go to a bigger lineup, with the Wear twins and Joshua Smith filling the forward slots, Lamb is the right choice for starting shoot guard. Once he gets going from beyond the arc, only the bench can cool him down.
Current Conference MPG: 32
Suggested Conference MPG: 27.5
Perhaps the most disappointing Bruin to start conference play, Jerime Anderson has been mostly inconsequential to the UCLA effort. While his defense still ranks among the best on the team, his offensive woes should cost him minutes.
Averaging exactly 32 minutes in Pac-12 play, Anderson has produced only 4.8 points in those conference games. He went without a field goal against Cal, and has yet to break double figures. The senior had a great start to the Arizona State game, but balanced that with an invisible second half.
Anderson’s minutes should go to Norman Powell and Tyler Lamb, but the problem is that after Lazeric Jones, UCLA doesn’t have a tested point guard to execute the offense. Part of the reason Jones plays so much is that Anderson has been such a historically woeful point guard, leaving Howland no choice but to play both men big minutes.
If Howland could, I’m sure he would put Anderson on the bench for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have that luxury. Now, with relative assurance that he won’t be benched, Anderson has little motivation to get better. The team will suffer for it.
Current Conference MPG: 20.3
Suggested Conference MPG: 25.5
UCLA’s force of nature inside has continued to get into better shape, and should see more time on the court because of it.
After recovering from a mild concussion suffered in practice, Joshua Smith came back in full against Arizona State, skewering the Sun Devils to the tune of 18 points in 21 minutes. A depleted ASU side had literally no answer for Big Josh, with willowy Ruslan Pateev fouling out with over 10 minutes to go in the second half.
Smith showed the quality Bruin fans had been expecting to see since day one this year, and should be rewarded. The sophomore center possesses solid post moves, a soft touch and excellent hands. Howland should be playing him as much as possible, especially with a zone defense implemented to protect Smith from high ball screens.
His production has only gone up, and the fact that he’s doing it mostly off the bench is incredible. More minutes will do wonders for Smith, and if he stays fit, UCLA will have the frontcourt advantage they’ve always craved.
Current Conference MPG: 22.3
Suggested Conference MPG: 19.5
If we’re going to give Joshua Smith more minutes, we’ll have to subtract some from one of the Wear twins. So far, David Wear has shown versatility and rebounding acumen that his brother has lacked, so Travis Wear should see less time out on the floor.
Again, it’s not that Travis has played poorly. Smith should see more time at the 5, a position that Travis usually plays at. While he does average fewer minutes that David, Travis would be a valuable bench scorer when Smith needs to come out.
Smith isn’t immediately going to log north of 25 minutes in the immediate future, so for now, Travis should keep similar minutes. But when Smith and Howland are ready to step up, expect Travis to bear the negative of the move.