UCLA Basketball: 5 Conclusions About Bruins' 2013 Class
UCLA's three-player 2013 recruiting class has not had a seal put on it, and the Bruins may still be in the running for another post to fill out the roster, but the players who have committed are bringing specific skill sets with them to Westwood.
From those attributes, certain conclusions can be drawn as to what the typical fan and follower of the team might expect to see from the baby Bruins next season.
Larry Drew II will graduate out of the point guard position, and Shabazz Muhammad is essentially locked into the NBA Draft, but the rest of the roster can reasonably be expected to return.
This is an evaluation of where the new players, Allerik Freeman, Zach Lavine and Noah Allen will fit into the roster and rotation, and how they might be projected to contribute to the 2013-2014 season.
UCLA Will Have Players to Replace Shabazz Muhammad
There are easier things to do than replace a freshman who came out of the box ready to score 18 points a night in Division I basketball, but UCLA will have to do that when Shabazz Muhammad inevitably makes himself eligible for the 2013 NBA Draft.
But Coach Ben Howland's 2013 recruiting class should be able to platoon with the returning players to produce the kind of scoring the team got from Muhammad by himself.
Allerik Freeman looks like a nasty, strong combination guard with excellent size at 6'3'' and 205 pounds. He plays an all courts game, including a middle-range arsenal and an effective step-back jump shot. He should rotate well as a freshman ball handler and scorer—though predicting his minutes is impossible—with Norman Powell, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams on the perimeter.
Zach Lavine is a big-time rangy scorer from outside and at the rim in both the half-court and transition games. Depending on how physically strong he is and how well he performs in the team defensive concept, Lavine should be ready to score right away.
Noah Allen is a long slasher from the small forward spot, but his immediate roll will probably be to push his freshmen classmates in practice while sharpening his own game against Anderson's. With both Wear twins, Tony Parker and Anderson in the front court, Allen may have to wait to see his minutes.
Allen is a hungry young player who likes to work, is motivated by being overlooked, and is appreciative of the opportunity to play at UCLA. He is a throwback Howland recruit in that he is an accomplished high school player who came in under the radar and wants to prove he belongs.
UCLA Has a Strong Second Year Group to Bring Them in
The 2013-2014 season is starting to shape up like Ben Howland's first five years at UCLA, when a nucleus of seasoned players who built the team up from a foundation in which they learned on the job, took their licks like men and progressed, and then returned salty to incorporate the freshly arrived kids into their system.
The Wear twins, who will both be redshirt seniors and playing with that frantic urgency of players who can see the end of the line; Norman Powell, a junior; and the three sophomores, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker—along with the entire practice roster, should be back.
There will be a pecking order, expectations and standards for the freshmen to live up to if they want to please their teammates. Parker should serve as a tremendous example of what steady improvement in Coach Howland's system looks like after a year of hard work.
The balance seems to be coming back into the system after the major disruptions following the 2009-2010 season. With that comes a regular cycle of under and upperclassmen with the varying skill sets, personalities and attitudes that make a team a team.
Given those conditions, the freshmen can expect a quick assimilation and regular trials in practice, being forced to prove they belong and learning a system from players who have a year under their belts. If that happens, Allerick Freeman, Zach Lavine and Noah Allen can be expected to contribute to the productivity of the system almost immediately.
Like This Year's Team, There Will Be No Shyness or Coyness on the Offensive End
All three of the recruits who have signed with UCLA are serious athletes and scorers.
Without watching them play defensively over the course of a season, it's hard say with any accuracy what their attitudes are at that end of the floor. As is this case with any great athlete when you are talking about basketball, the defensive performance is a mindset.
But offensively, each of Allerik Freeman, Zach Lavine and Noah Allen are ready and able scorers. Each has a hard core, rim-finish slashing component to their game, each can flick off shots from the outside, and Freeman scores in all courts.
When this new group gets their chance on the floor, there will be no hesitation to send the ball sailing on an arching trajectory toward the hoop.
UCLA Will Get Better Assist Production from More of Their Guards
Larry Drew II is great at nearly seven assists per game, and Kyle Anderson is good at nearly four; but Shabazz Muhammad has not even registered as a distributor with less than one full assist per game at .96, and 1.75 turnovers.
Next season, with Drew II gone and Anderson handling the ball and distributing off that panoramic floor vision, along with Norman Powell—who is not averse to passing—and Allerik Freeman and Zach Lavine, the Bruins should produce equal if not better overall assist numbers than this season, when they average 17 a game.
With Drew II lost to graduation, the Bruins assist-to-turnover ratio will almost certainly regress from the 1.502 figure it sits at now, which is fourth-best in America. But the overall level of distribution from the back court positions should improve with young, athletic players who will force defenses to collapse and are willing to pass out of the distortions to get their teammates buckets.
If the Freshman Are Willing to Work on the Defensive End, the Team Could Be Good
One constant as steady as the weather in Los Angeles has been Ben Howland's 10-year refusal to give big minutes to players who cannot play their roles in a team defensive concept.
Noah Allen, of the freshman, may lead this class in practice and push them along with the older players to work hard at both ends of the floor. Allen is an intelligent high schooler who was recruited by Yale, Penn and Northwestern, and believes he was overlooked and underrated by some of the bigger programs.
The athleticism and physical presence to play defense and rebound is definitely there in Allerik Freeman, and may be there immediately in Zach Lavine, though it is hard to evaluate his true physical strength from his high school film. If the freshman are ready to ball at both ends, then the Bruins, with a good corps of experience returning, could be ready to compete again for a Pac-12 championship and make a deep run into the tournament.
But that is all depending on how hard they are willing to work.