UCLA Basketball: Grading Each Player on Bruins Roster for His Play This Season
With 2011 slowly fading into the rear-view mirror, it’s a good time to stop and take stock of what has been an unimpressive start to UCLA’s 2011-12 season.
Picked in the preseason as favorites to win the Pac-12, the Bruins stumbled to a 2-5 start, displaying subpar skill and work ethic in almost every aspect of the game. Their defense was slow; their offense labored. UCLA dropped two straight games to open the season against mid-major opposition, and then were shamed on national television during the Maui Invitational.
The dismissal of troubled forward Reeves Nelson combined with a soft set of incoming games proved to be the catalyst for what was once a stagnant Bruin squad. Suddenly, the team was galvanized into action, displaying active defense—man or zone—and an offense with an outside threat.
Now winners of five in a row, UCLA begins conference against the class of the Pac-12 in Stanford and California. That they do it on the road should make little difference, with no true home games on the schedule this year.
If the Bruins should take two from the Bay Area schools, consider them back. If not, prepare for a long winter.
However, before we look to the future, let’s reminisce about the past. Here are the UCLA player grades through 12 games of the 2011-12 campaign.
Lazeric Jones, G: B
31.2 Min, 13.3 PPG, 3.8 APG. 2.1 SPL
Few players in recent memory have been able to completely turn their game around in such a short time like senior guard Lazeric Jones has.
Once unable to contribute anything offensively, Jones has emerged as the Bruins’ leading scorer. The work he put in with NBA stars over the summer has finally begun to pay off. Jones looks more comfortable with his shot, and is finally letting the game come to him rather than chasing after it.
The addition of a three-point shot has proven invaluable for the former junior college transfer. After shooting 3-of-18 behind the arc through the first five games, Jones went 11-of-19 in the next five. Since returning from Maui, Jones has yet to be held under double figures, and has recorded for or more assists five times during that stretch.
Zeke started every game at the point, and there’s no sign he’ll be giving up that role anytime soon. With the emergence of other Bruin scoring threats, Jones won’t have to put up 20 points per game, but it’s nice to know that he can.
Jones’ grade is only lowered by the shockingly terrible way he began the year. Hopefully that form will remain only a memory.
Jerime Anderson, G: C+
32 Min, 9.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.1 SPG
After a tumultuous offseason in which he was arrested for stealing a MacBook Pro, Jerime Anderson has settled in as the Bruins’ starting shooting guard with mixed results.
Anderson has always displayed an eagerness to shoot rather than create, so perhaps the 2 is where he should stay. Unfortunately, his production has been inconsistent, with the senior showing ability in one moment before disappearing the next.
The only remnant from a ballyhooed recruiting class that once featured Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, Drew Gordon and J’mison Morgan, Anderson hasn’t proven to be the best of them, but neither is he the worst. He was UCLA’s main standout at the Maui Invitational, and is still capable of scoring off the dribble.
While his outside game shone in Hawaii, Anderson hasn’t found the same time of success on the mainland. That’s the main area of concern going forward, but with Lazeric Jones, Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell all finding their strokes from deep, that problem isn’t as pressing as it once was.
Defensively, Anderson isn’t the Bruins’ best on-ball defender, but after for years in Ben Howland’s system, he knows what the coach expects and tries to execute it.
It’s been a slightly above average start from Anderson, but there’s some indication that he could make his last year a memorable one. His leadership and experience during Pac-12 road trips will be invaluable on a team of young stars.
Tyler Lamb, G: C+
31.1 Min, 8.8 PPG, 2.8 APG, 3.7 RPG
Like his backcourt partner Lazeric Jones, Tyler Lamb has finally showcased a shooting touch, but not on a consistent basis.
Lamb could be brilliant one night, and forgettable the next. His 15 points against Kansas in Maui were followed by only three against Michigan. Lamb dropped a career-high 17 on UC Irvine, but then could only manage three during the Richmond game three days later.
Having the fluid drained from his hip has made Lamb look like a new player, and he’s slowly becoming the Bruins’ top on-ball defender. At 6’5’’, the sophomore swing man has shown versatility, speed and solid defensive footwork, must haves for any stopper.
If Lamb can find more consistency offensively while maintain his excellent defensive form, he should prove a positive force for the Bruins in 2012 and beyond. Much is expected of Lamb, and so far he hasn’t completely disappointed.
David and Travis Wear, F: B-
David: 27.3 Min, 8.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG
Travis: 25.8 Min, 10.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG
It took a few contests for David and Travis Wear to fully adjust to the college game, but once they did, it became clear that they would be critical to UCLA’s success. Ben Howland gambled on their emergence when he removed Reeves Nelson from the team, and so far the twins have repaid his confidence.
While both have missed time due to injury, when healthy the Wears are a force on the court. Both 6’10’’, the twins can play the 3, 4, or 5, with decent footwork, speed, and jump shooting.
David is more effective than his brother from the perimeter, yet he also out rebounds Travis by a full board per game. Travis is often asked to play the 5 when Smith is out, and routinely demonstrates scoring efficiency close to the basket.
The Wears have clearly committed to Howland’s defense-first philosophy, with the effort they put in on the defensive end palpable to anyone who watches the games. On the fast break, they run better than any other UCLA big and often times beat the guards down the court.
As they acquire more experience, the Wears will undoubtedly improve, hopefully across the board. They’re the type of players who should average a double double, but their rebounds aren’t quite there. Their grade suffers because of it.
Joshua Smith, C: C+
17.8 Min, 9.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG
A straight D candidate through most of this young season, Joshua Smith has begun to play himself into shape and in doing so has shown flashes of the skilled center he was just a year ago.
Whether it was something Ben Howland said or simply the dismissal of his friend Reeves Nelson I couldn’t say, but something has gotten to Smith. Once a lackadaisical lump in the middle, Smith has scored in double figures four out of his last five games, notching an impressive 18 and 10 performance against UC Davis. The effort which was noticeably lacking from Smith during the season’s first seven games now seems to be there in spades.
Few players in the nation will be able to single cover Smith, with his side and width to imposing of a proposition for most. However, while Smith has certainly displayed improved effort, his basketball I.Q. has not followed suit. He doesn’t play as big or as strong as he actually is, often settling for tricky reverse layups rather than making a strong move and dunking over a small defender.
I have yet to witness one game in which Smith does not find himself unfathomably on the floor after trying to make an easy drop step layup more difficult than it needs to be.
If Smith continues to improve his fitness without falling into the Michael Fey syndrome of not playing up to his size, UCLA will finally have that dominate frontcourt many predicted them to own.
Norman Powell, G: B-
16.9 Min, 5.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.1 APG
Possessing the greatest upside and athleticism of all the UCLA players, Norman Powell has impressed everyone who has laid eyes on his play this year. Still a freshman, Powell represents the salivating, bright future of Bruin basketball in the dearly present.
With a penchant for athletic defense, smooth treys and fantastic dunks, Powell has earned himself solid playing time and has become a significant weapon for UCLA off the bench. His career-high 10 boards as a 6-3 freshman guard against UC Davis was only eclipsed in greatness by his career-high 19 points against UC Irvine the following game. Even against the Anteaters, you had the feeling he could have scored more in 22 minutes on the floor.
Powell has shown skill from three, and his offense is surely a positive, but its what he brings to the table defensively that has Ben Howland singing his praises. The freshman takes pride in his defense, and wants to be the next Russell Westbrook.
If Powell continues to develop in leaps, he just might be. He gets a B- from me due to his freshman mistakes and offensive inconsistency—he followed up his 19-point performance with three against Richmond—but those negatives will erode with time.
Anthony Stover, C: C
8.1 Min, 0.6 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG
Known primarily for his pregame dance in the huddle, Anthony Stover has become a reliable defender off the bench. Despite his limited offensive skill set, Stover has serious shot blocking ability, so much so that Don MacLean cries “Stover came over!” every time the lengthy center sends one back.
Having yet to score over two points in any game this season, Stover’s 13 blocks and Joshua Smith’s poor fitness have gotten him more playing time. Only a sophomore, Stover has time to find a post game, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards this season.
Stover will continue to get minutes, and it will be critical in tight Pac-12 games that he doesn’t allow much defensive drop off while down low. He hasn’t been anything special so far, but neither has he embarrassed himself, thus the average grade.
Brendan Lane, F: C
7.3 Min, 2.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG
With Reeves Nelson out, Brendan Lane has moved up in the rotation, albeit to its backside.
After a respectable supporting role in last years iteration, Lane hasn’t made much of an impression or a place for himself in this year’s edition of UCLA basketball. The Wear twins have done more than enough to keep him unintentionally on the bench, and that looks to be where Lane will stay going forward.
Lane has the ability to make shots from distance, and as a junior has some experience that adds depth to the team. He makes the most of his time on the floor, posting eight points and six boards in only 12 minutes versus Chaminade.
Should any forward go down for significant time, Lane will be ready to step in. Until then, he should see limited time off the bench.
De’End Parker, G: C-
17 Min, 4.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 APG
We haven’t seen much of freshman swing man De’End Parker in 2011, with a variety of injuries keeping him in street clothes.
Parker sat out of the Maui Invitational due to concussion like symptoms, but hasn’t played since returning to California as a result of tendonitis in his knees. The problem seems to be lingering, and it might be cause for Ben Howland to eventually seek a redshirt for Parker.
In the two games he appeared in before Maui, Parker had his best performance in a loss to Middle Tennessee State with seven points and two boards. He was one of Howland’s first options off the bench, and his minutes have now largely been given to Norman Powell, who has used them favorably.
Whether he plays again this season or not, Parker should be a valuable asset going forward.
The Reserves: Incomplete
I’ll devote this slide to the men we only see at the end of blowouts: Kenny Jones, David Brown, Matt DeMarcus, Tyler Trapani and Nick Kazemi.
It’s tough to give them a grade, not only because of their lack of any significant minutes, but the fact that most of their impact happens off the court. Any team needs good squad players to practice against, and the better they are, the more effective practices are.
These are the guys that get zero recognition publicly, but are central to the team’s improvement and chemistry off the court. Ask any Bruin regular how much they mean to him, and he’ll go on and on with praise.
Few things are more enjoyable to watch than the entire UCLA bench standing up and cheering the reserves as they play out the final few minutes of a blowout. The crowd loves it too, with a Trapani bucket greeted with jubilation at a decibel level akin to a Norman Powell dunk.
I always enjoy watching the reserves ball it up out there, mostly because it means UCLA is probably up big. That’s really all Bruin fans ask for, reserve time in every game the team plays. The units’ solid play against UC Irvine won’t be the last time this season they’ll take the court.