UCLA Basketball: Strengths and Weaknesses of Bruins' 2013 Recruiting Class
Assuming Shabazz Muhammad goes—though he should stay—and assuming Kyle Anderson stays—as he definitely should not go—UCLA still brings back a puissant squadron of scorers and one fantastic facilitator in Anderson.
If Anderson stays—which he should given all he needs to improve with his jump shot, both in the mid-range and outside—and plays a point forward, which is his natural position, then the Bruins are better set at the distribution spot than it may seem with point guard Larry Drew II graduating.
The Bruins have a nice set of perimeter players with Anderson a stretch three, Jordan Adams a strong shooter and natural scorer and Norman Powell as an energy reserve and explosive option off the bench. But they will likely have to replace Muhammad's 18.5 points per game on the wing if he leaves for the NBA as most analysts expect him to.
UCLA could use a true point guard, and the team would like a big body ready to go on the inside to put a poultice on the rebounding wounds the Bruins have been collecting for most of the season.
Tony Parker must have a spring and summer full of achievement and improvement, training his feet and getting his feel for the big-time college game, or UCLA could be soft in the middle with the Wear twins coming back as the main force around the rim if another big is not tracked down in recruiting. But Parker very well could become a key contributor in his second season.
With those needs in mind an evaluation of UCLA's 2013 recruiting class follows.
Allerik Freeman, Grade: A
Allerik Freeman is from Charlotte, N.C., but is playing out his senior season at Findlay Prep—a powerhouse school that runs a national schedule against the top high schools in America—out of Henderson, Nev.
Freeman is listed as a combination guard, but he looks like a very quick and strong point guard with an excellent handle and explosive athleticism at 6'3'' and 205 pounds.
He is listed at Rivals as the 55th-best player, at Scout as a 4-star recruit and the 15th-best shooting guard at ESPN. Freeman was offered scholarships by the cream-of-the-crop schools of college basketball, including Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Georgetown and Villanova, but settled on the True Blue and Gold at UCLA.
Freeman likes to shoot—he shoots it well with a good touch from all over the floor—and has a step-back jump shot that probably looks like Trey Burke's deadly drop back looked three years ago. He also has what seems to be the intermediate stages of a mid-range offensive game, which is a rarity with extra-athletic kids right out of high school.
With his strong handle and feathery shooting touch, playing alongside Kyle Anderson as a second-year point forward, Freeman has the potential to make a forceful impact as an apprentice point guard and playmaker in the Pac-12 as a true freshman.
Zach Lavine, Grade: A
Zach Lavine, an explosive athlete and a fairly advanced overall player out of Bothell, Wash., was the first recruit to commit to UCLA's 2013 class.
It is a shame to have to compare one individual athlete working on his own identity to another who has already established his, but Lavine—as a 6'3'', 170-pound combination guard who just explodes off the floor—looks like the kind of player Russell Westbrook was coming out of Leuzinger High School back in 2006.
"I bring everything and anything, man," LaVine told CBS sports online. "Scoring, athleticism, defense. Everything."
College scouts like Lavine's jump shot, though it looks like there is a slight hitch to it and the ball comes out from the chest a bit as opposed to up top—but it is effective nonetheless.
Lavine dominates the ball on his high school team, where the offense consists of Lavine working around ball screens and probing the defense looking to score. Lavine will dish to an open teammate if he cannot beat the opponent on his own.
This is not a criticism of Lavine, because he looks to be just a superior specimen in most of his highlight reels. His scoring and rebounding numbers are overbearing, but it is hard to tell if that is just because he is so much more long and athletic than the competition.
He finishes at or around the rim or pulls up from deep to shoot that jump shot. His range appears to be unlimited for all practical purposes—though the shot certainly needs work—and there is no mid-range game to speak of on his reels.
Lavine's assist numbers are moderate, and he appears mentally more suited to scoring than running the point. If Lavine can get on the wing with Kyle Anderson facilitating from the point-forward, his highlight-reel plays and scoring numbers could be stellar in his freshman season if he is ready to go mentally and defensively.
Lavine turned down offers from Washington, Gonzaga, Louisville and Memphis—to name a few—in order to play college basketball in Westwood.
Noah Allen, Grade: B+
Noah Allen is a 6'6'', long-limbed, slashing small forward out of Palmas High School in Salinas, Calif.—Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck's hometown.
Allen is sort of exciting in that he is a throwback Ben Howland recruit, a 3-star prospect with a good head and what seems to be a high-end work ethic.
"Being overlooked isn't a bad thing," said Allen over Twitter, "it makes you wanna be successful that much more."
And when he committed to UCLA, Allen tweeted:
“Committed to be a UCLA Bruin! Can't wait to get down to Westwood and put in this work. #Blessed #Thankful"
Allen played four years on the varsity at Palmas, and is a smart kid who was recruited by Yale, Penn and Northwestern; and in California by San Diego State and Saint Mary's.
ESPN has him ranked 45th at his position, 17th-best in California, and 32nd in the region. Allen may very well be a foundation-block player who stays three or even four years developing in coach Howland's system and leading the super high-end high school players in practice through his work ethic and intelligence.
Allen is almost guaranteed at least one year to challenge Kyle Anderson in practice and sharpen his game against Anderson's over the course of a full season, something like Darren Collison and Jordan Farmar did while wearing the practice mesh in the second year of Coach Ben Howland's tenure.
Allen has a nice crossover and good range on a jump shot that has a slight hitch to it, but which he manages to get off fairly quickly. As a player he looks like a quick hopping slasher with a good vertical jump and a mentality that gets him to the rim as the final destination on most drives.
Class Grade to This Point: B +
Even without a big man signed, this class constitutes a solid reload for UCLA offensively, and, with the right attitude, defensively.
The Bruins are still looking at Gavin Schilling, a strong, 6'9'', 235-pound 3-star power forward playing out of Findlay Prep with Allerik Freeman. Schilling is considered one of the best remaining players in America at his position, but seems smitten with Michigan State's program at the moment.
But for those Bruins fans worried Tony Parker is going to transfer in the offseason and leave the Bruins bereft inside, it does not appear to be an imminent danger.
Parker tweeted this out on Feb. 15 after the Bruins' 76-63 loss to Cal in which he played seven minutes.
The team seems, from the outside, to love one another and to be playing for one another.
Kyle Anderson re-tweeted it several minutes later.
If Parker puts in his work over the offseason and can get himself onto the floor, UCLA may have enough inside rebounding for what is going to be another high-scoring, elite offensive team.