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Gambling on UCLA's Wings in Basketball Next Year

Will Tyler Lamb #1 of the UCLA Bruins be the next great defense stopper under UCLA head coach Ben Howland's tutelage?  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Will Tyler Lamb #1 of the UCLA Bruins be the next great defense stopper under UCLA head coach Ben Howland's tutelage? (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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While three starting positions are set for next year for UCLA basketball next year, two positions are wide open, shooting guard and small forward.  In other words, the wings.  Five names have been mentioned as possible wings. 

But before I analyze each player; let's briefly discuss each position under Coach Ben Howland.

-The off guard has generally been the team's best defender. From Malcolm Lee to Russell Westbrook to Arron Afflalo, the off-guard has been the team's defensive stopper.  The years it wasn't, it was the team's best potential defender (Jrudas Holiday) and the remaining year we played zone (MR).   The latter deserves an asterisk as Lee was the off-guard at the start of the year until he was forced to play point.

Thus to play shooting guard for CBH you better be a very good defender.  Also, the starting off-guard has been either the MVP (AA, Malcolm Lee, and MR) or the best athlete (RW and Jrudas).  The off-guard has been a key position for CBH, arguably the most important.

The small forward varies.   Any discussion of the small forward under CBH needs to start with Josh Shipp who was at points in his career a good defender, a good finisher, good outside shooter, and a leading scorer; but was never all at once.  Other small forwards, Cedric Bozeman and Tyler Honeycutt, were pass first players on offense and could hit an open three.  Honeycutt was a very good rebounder and shot blocker and Bozeman was a good defender.

More analysis of the small forward is needed and that must be done in the context of what this team needs.  It seems the Honeycutt/Bozeman hit an open three and pass first are the type of players a team with Nelson and Smith needs at the small forward position on offense.  However, on defense it gets tougher.  While Honeycutt's man-to-man defense left a lot to be desired, he was not a total loss on defense as some may think.  Honeycutt's ability to shot block helped the weak defense at PG (enabled lesser athletes Jones and Anderson to play tightly to their man) and his rebounding helped counter Josh Smith's weak defensive rebounding (Smith was amazing as an offensive rebounder but Honeycutt had almost twice as many defensive rebounds).  For next year, I think it is reasonable to hope Smith improves a bit as a defensive rebounder but I don't think Jones will develop into a great defender.  Thus what the team needs on defense is hard to say but it seems a good help defender would be an asset.    

Let's talk about the players expected to fill the wing roles next year after the jump.

Tyler Lamb - can Lamb be a two way player?

Tyler is in many people's minds the favorite to take over Lee's position.  On the plus side, Tyler last year was a good defender and many would argue he is ahead of where Westbrook and Lee were on the defensive side during their freshman years.  Also ,Tyler is a good post passer. This is very important on a team that is likely to get much of its scoring inside.  On the other hand, Lamb was a bad shooter generally (32%), and horrendous from beyond the arc (20% and 2-18 during Pac-10 play).  The only negative on Lamb coming to UCLA was questions on his ability to shoot outside.  On offense he was tentative and unlike Lee and Westbrook, did not show the same flashes of offensive potential.  His rebound per minute rate ,despite playing both wing positions, was anemic, worse than Lee, Westbrook, or AA, all three of which were only guards their freshman years. 

The bottom line is that Tyler seems a good candidate to be the defense stopper at the off-guard spot.  The big question is whether he will be able to step up on offense.  Hopefully, Lamb is a gym rat this off season working on his outside shooting over and over.  There is good reason why a lot of people our penciling in Lamb as a starter, but there are also reasons why CBH has said Powell and Lamb will battle to replace Lee.  As Peter Yoon summed up with some hyperbole:

He's an outstanding on-ball defender and often took on the opponents' top player when Lee needed a rest. His offensive game got off to a slow start when he made only four of 19 shots in the first two games, including one of 10 three-pointers, and he never regained confidence in his stroke. Look for him to be a much more dynamic scorer after a summer of working on his shooting touch.   

Norman Powell - the next Westbrook or Honeycutt?

The best athlete at UCLA since Russell Westbrook is the first thing you see and think on Normal Powell.  He was MVP of a team that won it all his junior year in high school.  It is hard to say without seeing him at the next level but he does seem to POTENTIALLY fit the model CBH likes at off-guard.  As ESPN wrote (emphasis mine):

Powell is an ultra-athletic scoring guard for the high-major level. He has a terrific frame with extremely long arms and huge hands. He excels in the open court where he can attack the rim utilizing his extreme bounce and strong frame. His hands allow him to palm the ball while hanging in the air to score over larger defenders. He is a very good scorer in the paint area off the dribble and he knows how to use his frame to ward off defenders. He has a very good 1st step to burst by his opponents and his jump shot, in the mid-range area, is improving. Defensively, he affects the game in multiple ways. He is a terrific defender who slides his feet very well and he has very quick hands. In addition, he is a potent rebounder in traffic at both ends of the floor.

Actually, I think Powell sounds like a good candidate to start at off-guard.  However, while like Lamb he needs to work on his outside shot, Powell's bigger problem may his "intensity/passion."  As Scout says: "If his shot gets consistent still he needs to play with a higher motor," as he can definitely score.  He says this:

I really want to start right away and contribute to the team offensively and defensively. I feel like I can go in there as a freshman and be one of the go-to guys. I want to be the guy that gets the big bucket in the game or that big stop. I'm looking forward to making an immediate impact.

I'm focused on any position. Wherever you put me, I'm going to play to the best of my abilities. Whether that's the two, the three or the one -- I'll play any position that will help us win.

The bottom line is it will likely be a battle between Powell and Lamb for who starts at off-guard.  If Powell works real hard, I would not be surprised to see him start when the Pac-12 season rolls around.  Officially CBH has said:

Coach Ben Howland said Tuesday that rising sophomore Tyler Lamb and incoming freshman Norman Powell (San Diego, Calif./Lincoln) would get the opportunity to compete for Lee's minutes.

The small forward spot, however, iss more interesting. 

De'End Parker - the Next Jones or Carlino?

I will go out on a limb and say the front runner to start at small forward this season may be De'End Parker.  On paper, De'End Parker looks like he has a chance to be the second JC player in 2two years to start for UCLA after Lazeric Jones.  He was the fourth ranked JC player in the nation last year.  On the surface he looks like a good passer, rebounder and three shooting wing, which seems perfect for this team

"We are extremely excited about De'End Parker joining our basketball program and family," Howland said. "He will give us immediate help as a transfer with the loss of our starting wings (Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt). He is a very good athlete and a great competitor, but most of all, he is an outstanding young man that will represent UCLA to our expectations in all aspects. He's a great kid and has been very well coached."

His background seems good for a small forward, even a championship game winning tip in

Parker averaged 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game as a sophomore this past year at CCSF. He shot 43.0 percent from three-point range while guiding the Rams to their first State title in 49 years (since 1962). Parker's tip-in with less than three seconds left gave CCSF an 83-81 victory over Citrus College in the 2011 California Community College Athletic Association championship game. The Rams finished the season 32-1 overall and ended the year on a 27-game winning streak. He was named as the Coast Conference Co- Most Valuable Player (with teammate Jonathon Williams), leading his squad to a league title and a 12-0 mark. The Rams were 29-5 in his freshman season, as he led CCSF to a 61-6 record in his two seasons.

"When UCLA offered me a scholarship, I was really excited, and I knew it was a no-brainer after speaking with my family," Parker said. "I have spoken to the UCLA coaches and know that I can come in and make an immediate impact. I'm excited about getting the opportunity to play because my natural position is on the wing as an off-guard. UCLA produces the most NBA players and I'm very thankful to have the chance to come in and compete."

Of course, he was also a very late recruit who could end up being a bust, just as when Carlino came to UCLA it was quickly obvious he could not play PG.  Maybe De'End impressive line of 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists per game does not transfer to this level. We shall see.

The following players are guys who will get playing time but, in my opinion, are long-shots to start:

David Wear - likely to play a role on the wing, but how much?

There is a lot of confusion here among fans who think David Wear will start at the small forward position.  Many reporters and bloggers have wrote that Wear will be competing to start or starting at small forward next year.  But be careful.  Look at the actual quotes from CBH.  CBH has said David Wear might or will play "some" at the wing.  In comparison to the comments about Powell and Lamb replacing Malcolm Lee at off-guard, it does not sound like the glowing recommendation for someone starting at the wing.

However, if Wear did start on the wing, UCLA would be huge, with a front line of Smith, Nelson and Wear.  That would certainly be one of the biggest (including weight) in UCLA history.  In limited minutes at North Carolina, Wear looked good from downtown (8-16 from beyond the arc) which is important for anyone playing the wing for UCLA next year.  He was a good rebounder at UNC as you would expect for his size, but ironically he was not a good shot blocker. While better than his brother, he was not a good passer either.  Last year Honeycutt had problems with some of the smaller-quick Pac-10 wing players who were really big guards; you have to think David Wear would have similar problems. 

Bottom line: I am sure Wear will play some three next year, I just think some will be a lot less than some people think.

Jerime Anderson - does he continue to surprise?

Jerime Anderson will play some off-guard next year as he did last year.  Arguably Jerime Anderson's best position is the off-guard spot, even when he was playing PG last year.  Look at what many consider his best game last year at Washington.  Jerime single handedly kept UCLA in the game with a number of long range three point shots, scored his career high, and led all Bruins in scoring.  But he also had more turnovers than assists and had to be taken out at one point in the game when he lost his cool bringing the ball up the court as PG when facing the tough defense of Venoy Overton.  Jerime also had many assists from the wing where he was a very good post passer.  I like the idea on offense of Anderson feeding Smith or if opposing teams double off Anderson, Anderson calmly sinking threes.  Anderson led the Bruins in three-point percentage last year. 

But while Anderson may start occasionally as he did last year when UCLA went with a three guard line-up, he is not being considered by CBH as the starter at off-guard. Why? Simple: the off-guard is the stopper for CBH and Anderson is not athletic enough to be the lock down defender, like Lamb and potentially Powell.  Anderson was greatly improved on defense last year but part of that is because of where he came from the year before, when he was the arguably the worst defender on the team.  To his credit, as a junior, Anderson really worked on his defense but he will never be a Lee, RW, or AA.  I am not saying Lamb or Powell will be at that level, only they have the body and athletic ability to be the next lock-down defender. 

Finally, there is one player that I'm confident we will not see on the wing next season:

Reeves Nelson - his mom says he's a good three point shooter, but the eyes don't lie.

Reeves proved a lot of people wrong.  While Lee had incredible games on defense almost every night, it was Reeves that turned in game changing performances on defense against NBA first round picks Derrick Williams and Nikola Vucevic.  Nelson asked to cover those players and shut them down. 

But Nelson has yet to prove he can hit an open three, hitting 19% last year.  Very important because the likely off-guards (Lamb/Powell) are not good three-point shooters.  As Gold wrote in response to a question:

4) Why is Reeves Nelson never mentioned as being able to play the 3 next year. Wouldn't that position be better suited for him at the next level anyway given his size? That would allow the Wear twins to rotate at the 4 and back-up the five. Any thoughts? I know Reeves would need to work on his foot speed on defense but I think he can handle the position if given the chance. - JF
Nelson doesn't have the skill set to be a true "three," but he definitely could slide over and guard a three at times if needed. There will be times next year when we see a Nelson/Wear/Smith frontcourt - I wouldn't be shocked if that was the starting lineup at some point - but I wouldn't think that Nelson can just become a three.

On paper, it seems replacing Lee seems easier than Honeycutt.  Of course, games aren't played on paper.  Lee was the heart, the MVP and Honeycutt was well, the underachiever.  If I were GUESSING right now I would say for the first Pac-12 game the starting off-guard is Powell and the starting small forward is Parker.  This is, of course, a guess which is really hard to make since neither of those has played a Division I game.  I will add that losing Lee, and to a lesser extent Honeycutt, will hurt, especially early in the season but I do think the team will step up come Pac-12 conference play.

Fire away with your thoughts on the starting wings (and when you do so, include who you think will start on the wing).

Go Bruins.