UCLA Hoops Non-Conference Review (Part II)

UCLA needs Reeves Nelson to consistently put out the effort he did against Kansas and fight for rebounds and loose balls. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Building on yesterday's preview, let's turn to bigs and swings which leads to a discussion of mood swings (more below).  Whether this team goes to the Tourney may come down to how much effort they put into the game.   

And where effort can pay off the most for talented players is Defense.  This is not your past CBH teams.  UCLA has not been a defensive force since the last final four team of 2007-08. 

UCLA is ranked 197 in scoring defense and 194 in the all important FG % defense according to the NCAA.  All is not bad, as UCLA is 13th in the nation in block shots and this is the best shot blocking UCLA team in a long time.  And the key word is team, there is not a dominate middle guy blocking all the shots, backup big Brendan Lane leads UCLA in blocks but a close second is small forward Tyler Honeycutt.  It truly is a team effort. 

But maybe that is the problem.  If UCLA was doing a better job on their initial defense so many blocks would not be necessary.  Also as Penny2i wrote

"when a shot goes up or is blocked or the other team attacks most of our team not at the point of the action watch what happens instead of positioning themselves in front of the man they are guarding away from the ball. That is why we seemingly never get the ball after a blocked shot or give up weak offensive rebounds. Too much spectating and an incredible lack of awareness off the ball." 

The team has one very good defender in Malcolm Lee but everyone else has a way to go either in effort or ability. 

On balance, UCLA is not a pretty picture, ranking 230 in TO margin (-1 per game) and 121 on scoring margin.  (These stats are a few days behind and come from the NCAA webpage, except blocks from ESPN's stat page.) 

While our offense is good (very good against M2M, needs work against a zone) our defense is still a liability.  Which brings me to the one area where we should really be dominating people, rebound margin (64th in country).  With our bigs, how the heck can anyone rebound with us?

BIGS (Center and Power Forward Reviews)

Joshua Smith. 
A discussion of Bigs must start with the biggest big.  I am sick of the word big in association with Smith but there is still not a better word. 
Good.   Let me quote from a recent article that tells it all about Smith, a kid who has worked hard to get his weight under control and is getting better all the time:

"It was difficult, considering I came down here on a basketball scholarship and didn't touch a basketball," said the 6-foot-10 Smith, who led Kentwood to the state title last March. "But I saw the bigger picture."

And now he sees a smaller, more svelte version of himself. Smith, who also worked with a nutritionist, has lost close to 50 pounds and dropped his percentage of body fat from around 26 percent to 19.

"He worked unbelievably hard," Howland said, noting the long-term goal is to have Smith around 10 percent body fat.

. . . "He was fantastic," he said. "I was like, 'Wow.' I fell in love with him the first time I saw him play. Josh is really special in terms of his talent because he has great hands, unbelievable hands, and wonderful feet for a guy his size."

Howland goes on to talk about him being a next level guy and Smith mentions how he is enjoying playing.  I think Smith is a player we can all agree has a big upside as well as backside.

Bad.  Smith's fouling.  Smith averages a foul every 6.8 minutes and leads the team in Fouls.  (However, it is important to note he has not fouled out of a game.)  Smith's stamina may also be limiting his playing time (only averaging 19.8 minutes per game) as much as his fouling.  His 59% FT shooting may be a bit of concern but I think he has a good stroke and will improve there.

Intangibles.  While Honeycutt is the popular choice for best player and go to guy, some will credibly argue it may be Smith.  Smith is unstoppable one on one but has had a few problems with a packed in zone.  Smith is just a freshman and it shows at times.  But his development including ability to stay on the floor may be key to this team.

Anothony Stover. 
Good.  Stover can really block and alter shots.  He is averaging a block every 8.9 minutes and to be blunt I think he got screwed out of a few more.  (How good is Stover's average?  Branden Lane leads the team but only averages a block every 12 minutes.)  
Bad.  Stover is so raw at everything else.  He is shooting 30% from the field, 16% from the FT line.  He is the worst at rebounds per minutes of any of the bigs. 
Intangibles.  Stover is not about this year.  Stover will be a player that improves every year.  It takes many Bigs longer and Stover is no exception.  Stover seems to have a good attitude and hopefully be a little like Ryan Hollins, his Senior year he will be shocking us all with his improvement. 

Brendan Lane
First, according to CBH Brendan is only playing four.  When Brendan is on the floor with Nelson, Nelson is playing 5 and Branden is playing four. 
Good.  Brendan is the all effort guy.  Brendan is leading the team in blocks and has become a good help defender.  Brendan is shooting 50% from the field including the 3 point line.  He is rebounding at a good pace of one rebound every 4.5 minutes.  He plays fundamentally sound. 
Bad.  Lane leads UCLA in foul outs and is averaging a foul every 8 minutes.  Lane has at times been overpowered by the opposition in one on one situations.   Lane can't run like Honeycutt or Nelson.

Intangibles.  If Nelson had Lane's head or Lane had Nelson's body they would be an All Star.  Lane's problem is he is limited by his talent.  Lane does not have the great hands of Smith, the motor and dribble skills of Nelson nor the ability to create offense of either of those players.  He is not bad just not as good*. 

Reeves Nelson

Good.  Pac 10 player of the week twice.  A Power Forward/Center who has led UCLA in assists twice and may be the best at leading a break, certainly at finishing a break.  (How many 4/5s can say that?!)  Teams leading rebounder and FG% leader.  Improving on M2M defense. 
Bad.  In an nutshell needs to be more consistent which is why I put an asterisk next to the Lane "not as good."  Lane is better than "bad" Nelson.  Specifically, Nelson needs to become a better help defender.  Despite off season hype, not sure he should shoot the three.  Needs to control temper and emotion. 
Intangibles.  As Reeves goes so goes UCLA.  Don't take my word for it, listen to UCLA captain Malcolm Lee:

"He’s one of our key components on this team with scoring and rebounding," Lee said. "Usually when he plays well, we play well."

When he is "aggressive and on Reeves", UCLA can play with anyone.  When he is space eating Reeves, time to bet on Montana .   UCLA is 6-0 when Reeves shoots 6 or more FTs (a good sign of aggression) and 2-4 when he does not.  The UCI game was good and bad Reeves in a nut shell.  When Reeves got his impressive 5th Rebound in the first half with 8:39 left UCLA led 20-8 and were playing like "barn cats."  By the time of his next rebound 13:04 in the second half UCI was only down 6.  Reeves final rebound came with 18 seconds left after which he was fouled and made a FT that was the final UCLA point and the margin of victory. 
  
Swings
Tyler Lamb
Good.  Tyler may be the best at the entry pass into Smith.  Tyler has led UCLA in assists a surprising 4 times.  Tyler has won high praise from CBH for his defense.  Tyler has shown a very good ability to finish going to the basket. 
Bad.  Tyler shooting stroke looks, and so far this year, is a bit off.  He is only 4-18 from 3.  (But if you take away the threes, he is almost 50% shooting.)  Tyler has made some poor decisions leading to TOs or bad shots.  (I think these are freshman mistakes.)
Intangibles.  I wish CBH would play Lamb more.  He seems to know his role and to do his best with an occasional freshman mistake.  Recently it seems Anderson has passed Lamb as the first off the bench at guard in the second half.  I hope this is not true because I personally would rather see Lamb play more, even seeing Honeycutt at Power forward on occasion rather than Lee at 3 as has happen recently (before Tyler Honeycutt's injury).  Lamb is the future but he can also contribute more now. 

Tyler Honeycutt
Good.  Tyler's off season work paid off in that he is a good three point shooter.  He remains a great rebounder even at the 3 slot where he is averaging a rebound every 4.1 minutes.  Tyler had the best offense game of the year where he not only scored 31 against Kansas but hit two 4 point plays and tied for the lead in assists.  Tyler is a key reason why UCLA is doing so well at blocking shots. 
Bad.  Tyler sometimes lets down on defense and disappears on offense.  He makes too many turnovers and is by far the team leader in that category.  (While it is is easy to say he is too aggressive and does too much showboating with his passes; sometimes he has to account for who is passing to. For example, Nelson and Lee can catch a bullet pass on the run, other players, not so much.)
Intangibles.  If Tyler wants to go to the pros after this year as everyone assumes, he needs to take over this team and become its leader.  The opportunity is there for Tyler.  He can be the best shooter, passer, rebounder, etc.  Tyler needs to be not only the "tool box" but also the consistent all around star. 
 
Malcolm Lee
Good: UCLA's captain is a leading not with his mouth but with his play.  Lee is the best defender on the team.  His play on Jimmer Fredette was a key to UCLA beating BYU (Fredette had 7 TOs to only one assist.)  He has at times taken over the offense (12 points against MSU in the second half, 13 points against VCU in the first half, and 14 against UCI in the first half).  Lee is capable of a big game from three.
Bad.  Lee is not as consistent on offense as one would hope.  He can be ice cold from three.  As captain it would be nice if he would lead a bit more but not sure that is personality and it seems the team feeds off Reeves.  He needs to improve on passing to the post.
Intangibles. Lee is a solid player who works hard.  He usually covers the other teams best player and has shown leadership at times against lesser teams when others have let up.  To my mind, Malcolm has earned his Bruin Nation initials. Malcolm has done what has been asked of him well. 

So what have we found out after the out of conference season?  UCLA has the talent and ability to compete for the PAC 10 title and make the Tourney, which is an absolute must after last year.  But the Montana loss is very troubling.  They can't take anyone for granted and must improve their defense and effort.   On the latter, starting with Reeves Nelson, the players must become more consistent.  Again speaking of Reeves, Smith and Honeycutt have to go to the next level to help UCLA survive an off Reeves night and CBH has to consider benching "bad Reeves" more.   

Go Bruins.

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