UCLA Basketball: Early Takeaways from Start of Bruins' 2013-14 Season
It's very early in UCLA basketball's 2013-14 season, but even as the Bruins shake off the cobwebs and rub their eyes, they are demonstrating what kind of season this will be.
The Bruins have only two nonconference games under their belt, both of which were played against mediocre opponents. However, the consensus on the UCLA team is that it has more potential than originally conceived.
With Steve Alford now at the helm, the Bruins' sophomores Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker have already proven capable in the new roles they've taken on, and Jordan Adams is back in business after a rough end to his freshman season.
With a pair of games in the books, here are some early takeaways from the start of UCLA's season.
1. Jordan Adams Wasn't Fazed by Injury
When Jordan Adams went down and grabbed his foot in the final stages of UCLA's semifinal matchup against Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament, there was consensus that the Bruins didn't stand a chance at neither winning the final nor making it far in NCAA Tournament.
What was uncertain about him breaking his metatarsal was if Adams could bounce back in his sophomore season, or whether the injury could hamper his success.
To the reassurance of Westwood, Adams hasn't been fazed by the injury in the slightest so far this season.
Not only is 6'5" guard back up to speed, but he's also back to knocking down three-pointers and wreaking havoc on the defensive end.
This is a very positive sign for UCLA, whose success isn't possible without their best all-around player in Adams.
2. Tony Parker Can Be a Difference-Maker
Although there's still plenty of ground to cover, Tony Parker has finally begun to make progress in his development.
The powerful 6'9" forward had a breakout performance against Oakland, in which he proved that he can be a very valuable asset for the Bruins this season—unlike his freshman season.
For the first time in his UCLA tenure, Parker was the best player on the court in the Bruins' blowout defeat of Oakland, which is a huge leap for the sophomore center.
If he can stay in the game and avoid foul trouble, as he did against Oakland when he played 34 minutes and only picked up three fouls (nothing short of miraculous for him), he'll be the vital inside presence for UCLA that's long been devoid in its frontcourt.
3. Bruins Still Need to Work on Defensive Play
Although UCLA has some top defenders—namely, Adams and Norman Powell—they still have plenty of room for improvement in their team defense.
While the new-and-improved Parker provides some support for the Bruins' interior defense, they are generally weak in the frontcourt—particularly when David Wear is tasked with defending oversized forwards.
This, in combination with poor defensive rotations, makes it difficult for UCLA to play man-to-man defense—a defensive tactic that's often effective in stymying passes.
Nevertheless, it's still too early to fully assess the Bruins' defense, as not only should they improve as they continue to garner more experience as a unit, but they also have yet to play any decent opponents.
Regardless, the efficiency of UCLA's defense will play a key role in their ability to win games.
4. Norman Powell Isn't Just a Fancy Dunker
Norman Powell's role on UCLA was limited in his first two seasons on the team.
Although he threw down some emphatic dunks that pumped up the crowd and made the highlight reels last season, he was more of a defensive specialist who gave guards Larry Drew II, Adams and Shabazz Muhammad a second to catch a breather.
Powell has made it clear in the early stages of the 2013-14 season that his junior season is going to be different than his first two in Westwood.
Under Coach Alford, the 6'4" guard has taken on a bigger role in the Bruins' offense and has become a more aggressive scorer.
Adding another scorer in UCLA's arsenal on top of Adams and Kyle Anderson is a big plus for the team as they continue to solidify their identity in nonconference play.
5. Anderson Running the Point Can Work
Although he'd be better utilized in a different role given his particular skill set, Kyle Anderson can work as UCLA's starting point guard.
At 6'9" and carrying the well-suited nickname "Slow-Mo" with him, Anderson wasn't exactly made for the position, but his uncanny court vision and passing ability will help him thrive at the position.
In the Bruins' first two nonconference games, Anderson dished out 13 dimes, simultaneously proving his unique versatility by also corralling an impressive 21 rebounds.
Anderson's biggest area of improvement concerns three-point shooting.
He's faced with an important decision: Improve his three-point shot (21% in his freshman season) or make the conscious decision to leave the three-point shooting up to more prolific downtown shooters like Adams and Powell.