Things at the moment are good, but not great, for UCLA basketball. The reasons for that are complicated. If you got a room full of UCLA people together they would probably break into three or four schools of thought to explain the primary causes for this.
One thing is for certain: On a team that is young where it is not very young, there are improvements to be made both individually and as a group.
The slides that follow highlight one essential area or skill every contributing player should improve upon if the Bruins are going to make a meaningful run through March.
Shabazz loves the left hand
I am not at all convinced Shabazz Muhammad is a Real McCoy, one-and-done player.
There is actually more to work for Muhammad to do than a casual Bruins' fan might expect to hear.
I don't doubt that an NBA team would select him near the top of the draft and make him a millionaire, but I do not think that heading into the professional wilderness—at this point—is in his best interest as a player.
Shabazz Muhammad needs to continue diversifying his skill set, so he can operate better within the team's offense. For example, he needs a stronger right-hand attack platform and more consistent performances on the offensive window.
Muhammad is—by all reports—a hard worker with a mind-set to improve every day, so there is little doubt he is going to get into the drilling that needs to be done to improve his game.
But for the purposes of this Bruins' team, Muhammad needs to be a more dedicated defender and defensive rebounder. He has a proclivity toward leaking out early on fast breaks and leaving a mediocre rebounding team exposed.
Muhammad has the size and energy level to defend elite opponents at the guard or small forward spot and do some window work while he is at it.
His teammates will need that from him if this group of young players is going to have a chance to compete tourney scenarios.
Need this defense from JA
Jordan Adams needs to increase his concentration level on the defensive end. His effort there, especially during the 10-game winning streak, was strong, but he was not locked in at either end of the court in the loss to Oregon.
Adams' offense will always be there. He is a natural scorer who has put a lot of work into his offensive game, but what this team needs is for him to put that offensive concentration onto the defensive end, using the reward of getting stops to propel him into scoring more points.
If Adams plays a sharp, dedicated game on the defensive side, making the perimeter a difficult barrier to break through, the Bruins will become a significantly more difficult team to beat.
Kyle Anderson needs to continue developing physical strength and improving his rebounding technique.
He has a body with length at 6'8'', and arms with reach at more than 7'2''.
He is built to hoop.
Anderson has demonstrated with his highly productive all-around numbers that he will be an indispensable piece for this Bruins' team moving forward.
However, there are still times at both ends of the floor when he is bodied out of position and left to either foul or allow a play to happen right in front of him.
Anderson is a unique player who could end up being one of the best, or at least one of the most interesting, players that UCLA has had since the John Wooden era. But physical strength and improved technique, to bang around with big swing players and power forwards on the blocks in the rebounding game, are going to be crucial developments for him.
He also needs to continue developing a jump shot, but that is for another slide show.
Drew Two needs to keep playing offensively and developing confidence in his shot.
This team needs Drew to be a credible scoring threat to prevent defenses from sagging off of him and clogging pathways for other attack players.
Unfortunately the trips between Chapel Hill, where he was benched, then excoriated and sent packing by UNC's angry fan base, and Westwood, where he was seen as a cast-off before Howland revealed he had wanted Two all along, has damaged his confidence some.
Two can definitely shake people. He has an exceptional handle on the ball and has shown flashes of extreme quickness. However, he sometimes hesitates to release shots in the mid-range or on the run, and when he has let them fly many have hit hard in all the wrong places.
But Two can make shots, and he can get into open space.
If he can develop a trustworthy catch-and-shoot off ball reversals, as Darren Collison did during his time, and start putting touch on some of those open looks he gets in the mid-range, he will increase the angle of trajectory for this UCLA team.
Travis Wear needs to man up defensively in the post. This team needs him to drop some of the finesse to his game and start rebounding.
Wear has been a beautiful offensive piece for UCLA, and that should continue. But he is another player who has not found the nasty, heart-driven mindset at the defensive side, where you just have to be meaner than your opponent to succeed consistently.
This Bruins' team needs Wear to start grabbing rebounds on the defensive glass, or they are simply going to surrender too many extra possessions and second and third chance points to make a run in March.
David Wear, who plays about nine minutes less per game than his brother Travis, also needs to improve his rebounding with better technique or more toughness going at the glass.
Wear grabs about four rebounds in 22 minutes a night. The Bruins, depending on the breaks of the game, probably need that number around six for Wear to be considered a key contributor.
D. Wear does not score the ball like T. Wear, but is the same kind of finesse player. David needs to commit to being a tougher player, willing to do dirty work for this team if his minutes are going to be considered significant and not just an opportunity for others to rest.
Tony Parker needs to work overtime in practice to prove to Coach Howland that he can perform in games because this team is in serious need of a big body down low willing to defend within the system and rebound.
Parker is athletic enough to do that and could be good if he can concentrate hard enough to learn to play within the system.
Parker's confidence seems hurt by his lack of minutes, but this is not the level to whine about things like that.
He must earn confidence in practice to get time in the game.
The thought of Parker working his way into the lineup and giving UCLA some defensive toughness, rebounding and occasional scoring at the offensive end is one that finishes with the Bruins playing through the first weekend of March Madness.
Norman Powell needs to continue making the most of his 24 minutes a game.
If his ego can live without being the team's big scorer, he will have a chance to contribute this year—sometimes intangibly—in ways that will make him invaluable.
He is an explosive athlete and a big play man. Powell needs to continue using his spot off the bench to create momentum with his blocks, dunks and timely three-point shots.
Powell threw down a big one handed slam off a two dribble slash to to the rim against Oregon that set Pauley Pavilion on fire. He needs to continue keeping a stiff upper lip about playing fewer minutes than he would like to and continue maximizing his chances.
Powell is an excellent athlete and an improving player and Bruins' fans are seeing that and taking notice.
But if Powell starts to sulk, he could bring a lot of the team down with him.