UCLA Basketball: 5 Things We've Learned About the Bruins in 2013-2014
It's gotten to be that time of year again—middle February, ugly and cold with that occasional warm day that sends meltwater down roofs and the sides of buildings to hit the ground like falling rain.
That is the sound of coming spring—and spring is tournament season.
These are the days when you know, mostly, what to expect from your basketball team. You know how they will pass the ball through their offense and who will shoot it. You know the ways in which they will win and lose.
The important thing to evaluate now is how well and how consistently they are doing the things they know how to do—and how effectively they are covering up and protecting their flaws.
Of all the things we know about the 2013-2014 UCLA Bruins, these slides represent five of the first that come to mind. They are strengths and weaknesses and what we have come to know at this moment in the season.
1. This Group Has Plenty of Offensive Firepower
If this team played 48 minutes with a 24 second professional shot clock it would score more than 100 points a game like an NBA team from the '80s.
The Bruins offensive efficiency rating of 116.1 points per 100 possessions is 16th best. Their 41 points in the first half is second and their 42 in the second half is 12th. It averages to 83.1 nightly, which is the ninth most prolific offense in college basketball.
Four players—Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Norman Powell and Zach LaVine—score double-digit points every game. Three more players—Bryce Alford, David Wear and Tony Parker—are within a three-point basket of 10 points a game.
UCLA's two home games last week stand as easy microcosms for the season.
The lead from the ESPN recap of the Utah game sums it up: "Jordan Adams scored 24 points and UCLA opened the second half with 14-0 run on the way to an 80-66 victory over Utah on Saturday."
The Bruins led a close game at the half, 33-31. In the second half, they torched the nets, outscoring the Utes 47-35 and nearly matching their season average of plus-13 points a game.
In the win over Colorado, the AP story opened like this:
"Kyle Anderson had 22 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists, freshman Bryce Alford scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half on four 3-pointers, and UCLA rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit for a 92-74 victory."
Colorado led at the half 40-36. UCLA unleashed a blitzkrieg in the second, stampeding over the Buffaloes 56-34. The skins had been field-dressed and loaded on the wagons before the Bruins left the floor.
This team can score the basketball, that is not their problem.
2. This Team Can Be Taken Apart from the Inside out
In an ideal lineup, your center is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Russell and your power forward is the meanest 6'9'', 250-pound super-athlete you can convince to wear your uniform.
Abdul-Jabbar's college teams—he was called Lew Alcindor in those days—won three national championships and Russell's at San Francisco won two in 1955 and 1956.
You want those bigs protecting your defensive rim like some Golden Idol in a Peruvian Temple, blocking and altering as many shots as they can. Equal to blocking shots, you want them to dominate opponents rebounding the basketball.
UCLA does not have that grade of post player and their bigs do not carry out those tasks with any special efficiency.
The Wear twins—David and Travis– UCLA's two tallest players at 6'10'', are the fourth- and fifth-ranked rebounders on the team with four and three per game, respectively. They are more than doubled up by team leader Kyle Anderson, the pterodactyl-winged point guard, at nearly nine per game.
Tony Parker, whose body type is assembly-line power forward, is third on the team in rebounds at just under five per game.
The team numbers bear out the individual weaknesses. UCLA ranks 169th in offensive rebounding percentage at 29.8 percent, though part of that is attributable to the team's high shooting percentage.
They have gotten better on the defensive window, taking down 74.2 percent of available misses, which has earned them a place at No. 34 in the country. But they are still vulnerable in the interior when they need to battle opponents off of the attack.
Travis Wear and Tony Parker are second and third in blocks at .77 and .72 a game, trailing Anderson who gets .84. David Wear is fifth on the team at .24 a game. Neither Parker or Travis get more than one.
3. The Frontcourt Has Unusual Strengths
The Wear twins are 6'10'' finesse players who look like European-trained bigs despite playing all their lives in the United States.
Travis has changed his shot selection this season more than his brother David.
Travis has shot only 12 three-point shots, but made six for a clean 50 percent. Like a good twin, David also shoots 50 percent from three-point range but has hoisted a bin-load more at 16-of-32 on the year.
While you would like your bigs living more in the paint than outside of it, stepping out to knock down 50 percent of your three-point shots is exceptional productivity from that position.
Both brothers are right around 50 percent from the floor, too. David shoots 51 percent on 69-of-135 for the year, and Travis is at 49.6, with 59 makes on 119 attempts.
The shots are not coming from the low blocks off polished post moves, but the twins' versatility causes unusual problems for opponents who have to move big rim-range players around the perimeter to cover them. This has a secondary effect of revealing creases for the Bruins' slashing guards to work through.
Sophomore Tony Parker has been a mysteriously inconsistent player.
He is big at 6'9'', 250 pounds and athletic, but his problem is with his focus. Parker is limited to 18 minutes a game, less than a half, because he is prone to confusion in the team defensive concept, which leads to fouls.
He can rebound when he plays, though, especially on the offensive glass where UCLA is weakest. Parker is tied with Jordan Adams for the team lead on the offensive window at 1.88 per game.
Parker makes 60 percent of his shots at 75-of-124 on the season. This is largely because he takes good shots, either off rebounds near the rim or receiving passes that lead him to the bucket.
When Parker is on the floor, particularly with the hybrid Wears, UCLA's frontcourt is a strange but effective tribe.
4. Their Backcourt Is Elite
This is a special group of guards. If Kyle Anderson stays to play a third season of college basketball, its dynamic productivity is good enough to reach a Final Four.
All three starters—Anderson, Adams and Powell—play more than 25 minutes a game and contribute 44 points, more than half of the team's 83-point average.
They collect 15 of the team's 36 rebounds and assist on nine of the 17.5 assists per game, which is fourth most in college basketball.
As a group of primary ball handlers, they do an excellent job protecting the basketball, making UCLA the fifth best in assists-to-turnover ratio at 1.619-to-1.
Their bench players, Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford, make for solid if not spectacular reinforcement at both ends. The pair is good for 18 points, three rebounds and two steals a game.
Both of them have separate tools to change the energy of a game.
With LaVine, it is the high-flying condor slam and the high-arcing three-point shot. With Alford, it is the soft loft for the alleyoop or the rhythm jump shooting that contains the elements to go white hot.
UCLA's backcourt is an elite group, and if it stays together another season, it could be one of the more memorable groups of the last few years. If it does not, then the urgency to make something great happen becomes immediate, which it might as well be anyway.
5. Bryce Alford Is Not a Legacy Player: He Can Shift for Himself
This was a contentious scholarship because Bryce Alford is the coach's son and dominated high school basketball in New Mexico, which was considered not a respectable enough accomplishment to merit a chance at UCLA.
The most unintentionally comic UCLA fan site said predictably baseless and reactionary things about him, overstating a sense of humiliation that no decent person felt in a way intended to make it seem universal.
The site's tone and content is bathos, but it functions well as tangible evidence of the kind of spectral scavengers picking at the program that John Wooden tried to prepare his successors for.
Alford has been a nice, productive freshman player for this team all season, with only a small struggle with his shot and no demonstrative drop-off in quality even in the tough months of conference play.
The AP headline after UCLA beat Colorado in Los Angeles read: "Anderson, Alford lead UCLA past Colorado 92-74."
He was mentioned again in the lead when the writer noted he had scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. That was the half the Bruins crushed and made the game look like a route after trailing by 12 at halftime.
Alford made up the deficit on his own, daggering four three-point shots, three of them on an 18-5 run around the 10-minute mark that put the Bruins ahead by 10.
He is a skilled, unselfish passer, though the way the offense is run, he often finds himself with an open look he is obliged to take. Alford assists three times a game on average, which is second-best on the team behind Anderson.
Alford's effective field-goal percentage is 52.1 percent, and his true shooting percentage is 56.2—both superb numbers for a guard. He makes 19 percent of the teams three-point shots on only 18 percent of its attempts.
More than his statistics though, it is his demeanor that is impressive. Like his father, who played under immense pressure all of his life, Alford acts like himself in every situation, doing what he knows he can do to the best of his ability.
Some people do not like Alford, but for UCLA, he is the right kind of player.