The Magic Man Himself
If you get to thinking about it, there are any number of super specialized lineups a basketball coach could devise for any situation he might encounter in a game.
To get obsessed with such things in the way Tony LaRussa or Jim Tracy used to in baseball would get the coach branded a micromanager, a dubious title with derisive overtones, even when the coaching style worked.
But there are certain pairings, at least on the coach's white board, that would seem to offer certain tactical advantages in specific situations created by game pressure.
That is not at all to say that something that appears poor on paper would not by some mysterious alchemy become spun gold on the floor. Much of the powerful allure of organized sports is wrapped up in the unsolvable mystery known by the title of "team chemistry."
These slides propose to offer white board lineup cards for UCLA's basketball team, giving the coach, or in this case the armchair coach, the most venomous mixture of five players the team could put on the floor the moment certain production values are required to win a game.
Today UCLA is seventh nationally in scoring offense at 88.4 points per game. Getting baskets with this team of multiple proficient offensive players has not yet been a problem and likely won't be unless under extreme circumstances.
This is the Bruins' lineup that has been the most offensively productive.
1. Kyle Anderson
In a scoring lineup Anderson must be on the floor playing a versatile point-forward. He averages close to a triple-double every night, posting per game numbers of 13.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists.
Anderson is also the cliched straw that stirs UCLA's offensive drink—he cannot be replicated or replaced.
2. Jordan Adams
This wing player is UCLA's deadliest all-around player. Averaging 29 minutes per night, he is getting almost 22 points per game to go with five rebounds and three assists.
But Adams' efficency on offense results from his prowess on the defensive end. His intelligence and instincts combined with a nonstop motor make him a disruptive force, especially when it comes to creating turnovers.
Adams averages more than three steals a game and fires the starting gun on the Bruins' fast-break, which is what UCLA does best offensively.
3. Zach LaVine
The freshman star, who is scoring 14.2 points a game straight out of his "Made In Bothell, Washington" box.
His super-athletic and confident shooting presence alone allows to LaVine break down and change an opponents' defensive approach.
No one wants to get slashed and burned on a big dunk or suffer an and-one finish around the rim; but what makes LaVine especially difficult to defend is a tremendous shooting range that's becoming more consistent by the week.
A one-man floor-spreader, LaVine's presence on the court opens up a lot of space for UCLA's offense.
4. Norman Powell
I called him an X-Factor at the beginning of the season, and he has been exactly that.
Powell—one of the most experienced players on the roster—is fitting his role. He scores 12 points a night and can ignite the team with a scintillating slam, long-range shot or spectacular, energizing defensive play.
Powell is a great all-around contributor because, like Anderson and LaVine, he is good for around three rebounds and a steal per night, and his play often jump-starts UCLA's transition offense.
5. David Wear/Travis Wear
This spot has been filled by David Wear most of the season. His twin brother, Travis, sat out the first month recovering from an appendectomy and has not yet looked like his old self.
Last year, Travis was the more reliable, dynamic and polished player. He displayed a more consistent jump shot than David, and he appeared to be the more advanced player.
Neither Wear is ideal. Both seniors still shoot regularly with their heels set against the three-point line—the absolute worst shot in basketball. Both are liabilities on defense and do not pull their weight rebounding at either end (though Travis is slightly better on the offensive glass while David seems to work harder on the defensive side).
This spot is UCLA's weakness, and if there were other more capable post players they would be on the floor. But the Wears are what UCLA will dance with this year. Next year already looks much better.
1. Bryce Alford
He generally comes into the game with LaVine but doesn't remain in as long. He can be substituted for one of the guards but must focus first on distributing the ball and shooting only when he gets an open look within the flow of the offense.
Alford gets trigger happy, as does any player who considers himself a true scorer, but he is also an intelligent guard who understands the concepts of the motion offense.
Alford's role is to discipline himself to the proper execution of it, and if he can do that, he will without doubt boost the team's scoring output.
The Bruins sport a solid assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 2-to-1 this season, which has them ranked sixth nationally. Alford is second on team in assists at three per game.
Alford clearly has the ability to fill up the basket from three-point range, and if he happens to be shooting the ball well he can put up points in a hurry. His long-range daggers also extend the defense, which may open up more pockets inside for UCLA's mostly soft frontline to operate.
2. Tony Parker
Parker can enter the game for a Wear if he shows signs that day of being present. When he has shown up to play, he has demonstrated a soft touch, an ability to rebound forcefully and the occasional smooth scoring move on the low block.
Last year, UCLA coach Ben Howland was skewered for not playing Parker more minutes. Parker's entire development seemed to be done in darkness, and his scant playing time raised a lot of questions about how he was being handled.
"Why isn't Tony Parker playing?" asked everyone following the team.
In the bright light of day we have seen why. Parker was not ready and does not appear to be ready now.
He gets seven points a game in 21 minutes while leading the team in flailing and ineffective hacking. He also leads the squad in on-bench giggling.
Parker seems confused and frustrated when he is pulled from games, but he collects fouls so quickly that coaches do not have a chance to let him settle in.
It may be best just to let him play a few until he fouls himself out. It's tough to say what will make him comprehend as he has only five fouls a game to work with.
1. Kyle Anderson
He will be in every lineup and at the top because he is the team's keystone.
Anderson is not as potent a force as Jordan Adams, who is a flat-out game-changer at this level, but he is the one constantly adjusting the levers and setting the speed on the rotating five-man ensemble.
It is not fun to even think about what this team would be like without him. Coaches are paid to work through those waking nightmares while fans benefit from blissfully and naively projecting out the season.
Defensively, Anderson is long-armed and disruptive. He doesn't possess elite speed, and he can be beaten off the dribble by more agile players, but he hustles to the bitter end and is the best rebounder on the team—which for this team is both amazing and awful at the same time.
Anderson collects nearly nine rebounds a game, three better than Tony Parker, the Bruins' biggest post player.
2. Jordan Adams
The best defender on the basketball team and a solid rebounding 2-guard at almost five boards per game.
Adams is not a pure defender like Aaron Afflalo, who was a lockdown, shadow-your-man player.
But Adams is as effective as anyone on the UCLA roster because he is both disruptive and intelligent when it comes to forcing turnovers.
At 3.33 steals per game, Adams currently ranks third nationally. He is the most incendiary and effective defender that UCLA has at its disposal and must be in the game if stops are needed.
3. Norman Powell
A good defensive player, Powell has gotten better each season.
He is a superb athlete with enough strength and agility to shut down most guards he will face. He averages 1.67 steals (roughly the same as Anderson) and collects almost three rebounds per game.
Powell coming off the bench and sparking his team from defense to offense will be critical to UCLA's success this season.
In transition, Powell can set a gym on fire with monstrous dunks from either wing or going right down the center of the floor. Or when following a missed shot. He is a vital defensive piece for the Bruins.
4. Tony Parker
Let him attack the man he is guarding until he fouls out, but hope always that he finds a way to avoid the disqualification.
Parker can play good defense and, when he moves his feet, keeps his energy up and his mind focused, he can do so without fouling.
He possesses the size and strength to dominate the block against most college low-post defenders. Parker is still learning how he fits into UCLA's system; still, much of the responsibility for protecting the rim and rebounding on this team will fall to him by default.
The Wear twins are the definition of finesse players. Both are battered and shoved out of the post nightly.
Parker is averaging six rebounds per game—respectable given that his minutes have been limited by foul trouble. He must improve upon this production if UCLA is going to hold serve in the conference season.
5. Wanaah Bail
Bail still is a mystery. Given that he's still recovering from offseason knee surgery, it may be unfair to expect him to produce at a high level. But by the time the calender turns over, he hopefully will be in shape and in a comfortable rhythm within the program.
His reputation coming into Westwood, at 6'9'' and 220 lbs, was as a raw, high-energy player with plenty of upside.
It may seem out of line to put a developmental player into the defensive lineup, but the alternative is the Wear brothers, which is a "break glass in case of emergency" option. Between them, David and Travis Wear collect seven rebounds—two fewer than Kyle Anderson by himself—and average nearly six fouls. They cannot start in a hypothetical "best defensive rotation," while, for now, Bail can.
6. Zach LaVine
LaVine can come in for any guard—and even a big depending on the opponent—to play passing lanes and rebound.
At this stage, playing exclusively on the perimeter, LaVine averages almost three rebounds and one steal per game.
Because of his athleticism and obvious athletic pride—which, combined with technique, is the foundation of solid defense—he can be counted on for maximum effort to defend UCLA's basket.
7. Wear Twins
Coach Alford—it is strange still to type that name in connection with UCLA Basketball—will find himself breaking the emergency glass and pulling both Wear twins off the bench when Wanaah Bail and Parker inevitably get into foul trouble.
The Wears have, in the past—at least once or twice in three years—put together solid defensive possessions, but there is no consistency to their performances. If either does contribute to a stop or collect a rebound, there is the up-side of their ability to run the floor with pace and skill to finish.
But the Wears can be thought of only as depth—and questionable depth at that—to be used in mostly defensive scenarios.
He doesn't think he fouled anybody.
1. Kyle Anderson
Anderson easily is the best rebounder on the team at almost nine pulls per game.
In several ways he carries an ideal body type for playing basketball.
While not in the least an explosive athlete—the appearance of his game captured perfectly in the nickname "Slo-Mo"–Anderson is instead tall and lean with exceptionally long arms that seem to stretch like rubber when he goes up for a ball or sets his feet to hoist a shot.
While his attributes are not at all traditional or even with an obvious precedent, what he does is magnificently effective in all courts.
Accompanying the rightly proportioned body, Anderson possesses that mysterious instinct to correctly position himself for the collection of rebounds. In that way he is a much more slender version of Kevin Love, one of UCLA's greatest ever rebounders—now a mega-force accomplishing the same feats in the NBA.
2. Jordan Adams
Adams is UCLA's co-superstar running alongside Anderson. He is their single most potent scoring weapon while also being a sort of Swiss Army Knife of versatility.
As a rebounder he collects almost five a game, making him the team's fourth-best behind Anderson, Parker and David Wear.
After the rebound Adams ability to convert a possession into points needs no further explanation.
There should never be a time in regular conditions when Adams is counted on to secure a majority of the team's rebounds. But in a lineup meant to collect the ball off the offensive and defensive glass, his overall versatility provides the operation a reliable and smoothly functioning component.
3. Norman Powell
Powell is physically stronger than freshman Zach LaVine and, as a true junior, understands his role on the team.
I like Powell for a lot of reasons, but in a rebounding lineup I think his urgency, athleticism and willingness to do what is required to satisfy the system and, more importantly, help his teammates win will make him effective.
On the offensive end Powell can finish softly in close around the cylinder after a miss, while defensively he can lead a break out, snapping off a pass to Anderson that he will undoubtedly get back at the other end on a flat-out rim-run.
4. David or Travis Wear—both if the foul situation dictates it.
Neither Wear brother is a great rebounder, but both stand 6'10'' tall and have built moderate strength over their five years at college.
It is actually difficult to include the Wears at all, just thinking of all the times they have been literally knocked out of the blocks by more aggressive, though not necessarily bigger, players—and had rebounds taken away from them.
But UCLA is thin over the front line, and the Wears will have to be deployed.
With one or both on the floor it could force a bad matchup in which the Wears carry enough size advantage that not rebounding is next to impossible.
If the Bruins are getting pounded on the window—a reality that cost them games last year—there are few options beyond the Wears.
UCLA sits now at the 93rd-worst rebounding margin in the country at plus-4 a game.
5. Tony Parker or Wanaah Bail—interchangeably as fouls start piling up
At this stage, Bail has played about seven minutes in each of he four games he has appeared in as a Bruin.
It is essentially impossible to know much about him other than he is tall at 6'9''—athletic—and skinny at around 220 pounds.
But because UCLA is so terrifyingly thin on the front line he absolutely must be included in a rebounding line-up. Coming out of high school his reputation said he was a high-motor player. High-motor players can rebound on effort alone, and with height and athleticism it is possible to do so quite effectively.
Bail must stay out of foul trouble, but in a pure rebounding line-up against a powerful front court, his services will be a necessity.
The same holds true for Parker, who at almost exactly the same height is a much thicker player at 255 pounds.
Parker will be so elemental to UCLA's opportunities this season by the way he plays in the post that a rebounding lineup cannot even be considered without him.
Over the course of the season, Parker should be chasing several goals.
One is to improve every day, because he has a long road to travel. Another should be to stop pouting and showing so much negative emotion on the floor—what John Wooden used to call keeping your composure. The third should be to play intelligently enough to stay out of foul trouble.
If Parker does these things the rebounding will come steadily at both ends as naturally as lightning strikes at the highest object.
1. Zach Lavine
He is a skywalker, a three-point bomber and an electrifying playmaker. It is not a fire-up lineup without a guy who can either bring a building to its feet or silence an opposing fanbase when a scoring run is needed.
2. Jordan Adams
A potent scorer inside, outside and in the middle range, Adams is also a savvy passer and a solid rebounder.
He provides energy with three point shots and three point plays in transition. Adams is the most natural and talented scorer UCLA has.
3. Kyle Anderson
The do-everything facilitator. He is just a dynamo generator all over the floor and will trigger many scoring runs for UCLA.
4. Bryce Alford
Alford has the ability to go white hot shooting the ball from the outside, especially being fed in rhythm. But despite the effectiveness of the three-point shot and demolishing deficits, Alford is also a willing and accurate distributor.
Already this season Alford has shown a proclivity for throwing lob passes to LaVine. He will throw them to Tony Parker and Wanaah Bail and anyone else willing to make a rim run.
Alford can extend defenses and open things up in the half-court and transition for a team trying to make a lightning run with a lot of points raining down.
5. Tony Parker
For such a big player he runs the floor quite well and has good endurance.
Like everything with Parker it will depend on his personal foul safety and if he can stay on the floor.
But in a quick-strike scenario, a big man who can keep up with the pace is essential, especially on the return trips to the defensive side following a fast break.
Wanaah Bail or Norman Powell if conditions are right.
While he hasn't it done it yet, Bail has every appearance of a big, rangy forward who can run and finish at the rim. In the fire-up scenario he may be useful at the defensive rim for either a rebound or a big block to trigger a break.
Powell is the X Factor. He has a proclivity for finding creases in defenses that end for him at the rim in a wicked slam. He can run in transition and can be opportunistic in finding turnovers.
Powell has shown also a streaky shooting touch. If his hand is hot he is more than capable of banging home multiple three-point balls when UCLA is in need of points.