UCLA Basketball: Is the Problem Effort v. Achievement?

It may not be fair but Norman Powell #4 needs to start now and be our leading shooter among backcourt players and wings. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Among all the soul searching and comments by Ben Howland and even Dan Guerrero amiss the terrible start this season, this one stood out from Ben Howland:

"Our effort has been good,'' Howland said. "I don't have an issue there.''

If the effort has been good why are we 0-2 with two ugly losses.  Is Ben Howland picking and favoring the guys who always hustle and are the most active over the guys who are the best players?  Putting aside the point guard position for a second, compare the "all effort" team to the "all talent" team for UCLA, effort player first, more talented player second:

Shooting Guard Tyler Lamb v. Norman Powell

Small Forward: Davd Wear v. De'End Parker

Power Forward:  Brendan Lane v. Reeves Nelson

Center:  Travis Wear v. Joshua Smith. 

In every case above I would argue the more talented guy should start over the effort guy listed above because they give UCLA a better chance of winning and are better basketball players.  In the ideal world, of course, every guy is Arron Afflalo, a talented player who gives an all-out effort on Sunday morning in the off season.  But this is not an ideal world, is CBH making the mistake that Coach Wooden famously said:

Never mistake activity for achievement

Before the year almost every preview talked of the Wears.  Looking at the Wears objectively and in their Freshman Year, I felt there was no comparison between them and Nelson/Smith.  Further, it was not a leap to come up with the talent team I listed above, as I predicted it as our starting line up by PAC 12 time. 

What is CBH thinking?  After three games (including the exhibition game), the Wears have shown that they are constantly active but they can be beat on defense by any rival big or wing.  What worries me most is CBH has had these kids for a lot of practices and knows basketball.  Did he buy the hype?  

I don't like trashing these kids and I am not saying they are bad.  Shoot they may be making the most of their talent. But it is like Tydides said:

You mean you missed every single preview out there That had the transfer of the Wears in as either item 1 or 2 of why this team will be good this year? . . . Ultimately none of this is even that big of a deal if Howland himself didn't seem to be reading the previews, but I guess he did since he decided to start both of them.

The Wears have worked hard in practice since last year.  CBH has been effusive in his praise of them.  But the fact is David is too slow to play three and Travis is not Reeves, Josh, or even Stover. 

Now Tyler Lamb is a tougher case.  He is by all accounts well-liked by his teammates and the heir apparent to the role of perimeter defensive stopper. Tyler was supposed to be the best perimeter defender.   Not only has he looked bad, right now UCLA opponents are making 77% of their three point attempts.  By contrast for his career, Tyler is 10 for 50 from three for 20%, including 2-11 this year.  Unlike his defense his shooting stoke looks better but the fact is Tyler does not look like a UCLA level player right now. 

Which brings me the last guy all the all effort team, Brendan Lane.  Lane has played one minute this year and even with Reeves suspend and Stover hurt he played only one minute against MTSU so he would not seem relevant to a discussion for this season.  However, there is this alarming stat from last year that may serve as an example.  In the first 15 games of last year Brendan Lane played 20 or more minutes 14 times and UCLA record was 9-6.  Lane never again played 20 minutes and the rest of the season UCLA went 14-5, including 10-1 in the first 11 games when Lane's minutes were reduced.  Lane started the year as the sixth man and ended the year as the ninth.  Would we had a better start last year if Lane started the year as the ninth man as he finished?  Is CBH doing the same thing this year on a bigger scale with Lamb and the Wears?

To be clear, I am not after any of these players. They are Bruins.  Our team needs them. But let's go to the other side, the talent guys.

Norman Powell is the best athlete since Russell Westbrook and the second best athlete CBH has coached at UCLA.  He has a huge upside.  He needs to play right now and as Tydides said he was one of only two who played well in the MTSU game.  Powell has also looked as good or better than Lamb on defense and is already better on offense.  He looks like a UCLA level player and potential all Freshman Team player.  

On Josh Smith.  It is upsetting that he shows up weighing almost 400 pounds while the Wears show up in great shape.  It is upsetting that Smith can barely dunk because it is hard to get his body off the ground while the Wears have shown the ability to move around the court and have even scored on an alley-opp.  But Smith is still an infinitely better basketball player than either of the Wears. 

Everyone notices Reeves Nelson negatives antics but not everyone notices what Reeves does.   Reeves and Kevin Love are the only two players in the Ben Howland era to have more than 200 defensive rebounds in a season.  He helps our defense in that way better than any other player on the current team.  Further, Reeves is a very good defensive rebounder as shown by his defensive rebound per minute rate which is better than Brendan Lane and both Wears ALL rebound per minute rate in their careers.  Reeves need to be motivated and play a team game, but the fact is he is a special player.  

De'End Parker had as many rebounds as David Wear against MTSU in 12 less minutes.  De'End has the quickness and length to cover threes of the other team.  De'End is not as good a shooter as David Wear but he is a better athlete and has a larger upside as a defender.  It may not be fair to David but he is just not a three and Parker is.  Also, Parker is a former PG which helps to play three for UCLA.  Often times last year the offense ran through Tyler Honeycutt.  The first final four of CBH team's three was Cedric Bozeman, a former PG.  Not saying it has to this year but as I will describe below it helps to have a passer at the three to help take pressure off the PG. 

Sure there are many other factors I could discuss on why UCLA is having problems but this is a blog post not a novel.  I will close with a word on the Point Guard.  No one worked harder during the offense season than LJ.  But LJ has been terrible, arguably our biggest problem.  I am not sure Jerime Anderson is much better.  But putting that aside Zeek needs to learn the other side of the activity coin.  Zeek is trying to do too much.  Zeek is leading UCLA this season in shot attempts.  The leading shooter of back court players and wings should be Norman Powell.  I think Zeek needs to be fourth on shot attempts among the starters.  CBH said Zeek was "pressing", well he is forcing shots.  He has to let the game come to him.

It is something Anderson learned last year, when he played his best when Lee and LJ were on the court with him.  He was not forced to create as a PG.  He just took what was given him.  LJ and Anderson at the point have to do that.  Not force things, realize they are not the first, second, or third option on offense. 

Howland said in the same interview as the effort quote:

Based on these early games, the Bruins look like the disaster that was the 2009-10 season -- when they started out 2-6 and lost all three games in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, including matchups to local teams Cal State-Fullerton and Long Beach State. The Bruins ultimately finished a pedestrian 8-10 in the Pac-10 and out of the postseason with a 14-18 overall record. "We're not going to be that group,'' said Howland. "We're much more talented than that group, especially up front.''

CBH you need to play the talent or you will end up with another 2009-10. 

Go Bruins.   

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