In examining the performance of the Bruin basketball team over these early weeks of the season, one of the keys in evaluating this team and its future outlook is the youth and inexperience of many of the players. This year's roster does not start from a position of maximum depth; 11 out of 13 possible scholarships have been used. After factoring in the heralded 5-man freshman class, we are faced with only 6 returning scholarship players (number crunching done for my fellow north campus majors ;).
SJH, in his post-Texas thoughts, raised the point that the team, as it now stands, has only two players with significant experience. This got me thinking about truly how much playing time and experience that this team has. Entering the season, the returning players and their experience follows:
Collison: 107 games, 76 starts, 28.5 minutes/game
Shipp: 107 games, 102 starts, 30.5 minutes/game
Aboya: 107 games, 17 starts, 15.7 minutes/game
Roll: 80 games, 0 start, 15.4 minutes/game
Keefe: 57 games, 1 start, 8.9 minutes/game
Dragovic: 31 games, 0 start, 8.3 minutes/game
DC and Josh Shipp are the undisputed anchors of this team, with over 3,000 career minutes logged over 107 games each. As a senior who has started a handful of games over his UCLA career, it may not be entirely accurate to characterize Alfred Aboya as inexperienced, but he is being asked to fill a new role this season as the team's primary post presence - with a corresponding increase in minutes and a need for greater discipline without Kevin Love or LRM to help shoulder the load.
James Keefe's main collegiate experience comes from a handful of games at the tail end of last season. While the minutes that he played in the last postseason were productive, the fact remains that he had started only 1 game entering this season, and averaged fewer than 9 minutes per game played at UCLA.
To date, Michael Roll has played a role similar to that during his freshman and sophomore seasons, though as a result of the foot injury which caused him to miss most of last season (and receive a medical redshirt), Roll has played only a handful of games in the last 20 months. After being kept out of the opener, Nikola Dragovic has seen his playing time increase dramatically in these early contests, in contrast to the limited playing time granted him during his first two years in Westwood.
Now to look at this in context of the starting 5 and the rotation:
Darren Collison: 107 games (76 starts), 28.5 minutes/game
Jrue Holiday: 0 games
Josh Shipp: 107 games (102), 30.5 minutes/game
James Keefe: 57 games (1), 8.9 minutes/game
Alfred Aboya: 107 games (17), 15.7 minutes/game.
Collison and Shipp's roles are consistent with prior seasons, in terms of starts and minutes played. Aboya has averaged 10+ minutes more than his career average, while Keefe has more than doubled his minutes in his first starting role. Jrue, of course, is the newcomer to the collegiate game.
Michael Roll: 80 games (0), 15.4 minutes/game
Nikola Dragovic: 31 games (0), 8.3 minutes/game
Malcolm Lee: 0 games
Drew Gordon: 0 games
Jerime Anderson: 0 games
J'mison Morgan: 0 games
The bench rotation holds at the top a solid role player, albeit one coming off of a redshirt year, in Roll; and in Dragovic, a junior having seen only limited playing time coming into this season. The remaining depth consists of a group of true freshmen who, although very talented, will need time to truly grasp the intacracies of coach Howland's style of play and to earn his trust in important game situations.
As can be seen, this team is centered on a pair of experienced seniors, and a elite freshman in Jrue Holiday. Aboya is being asked to expand upon his role of prior seasons, while James Keefe has been thown into the starting lineup with only a few games of meaningful experience. To support this lineup, we have a junior coming off of a redshirt year, another junior who had played only sparingly in his UCLA career, and four freshmen.
What the future holds for this Bruin squad cannot yet be told. But to imagine that the current state of the team's performance will bear much resemblance to the team come February/March is to underestimate the effect of a roster in which most of the players are being introduced to the college game, or greatly expanding their once-established roles. This is not to say that inherent flaws (if any) in the roster will not become a problem, but as the season progresses, these players will progress at an individual level, and come together as they practice and play together over the next several weeks. It will be fun watching this team develop, whatever the outcome of the season and the struggles within.