There is good on this team. I don't buy the argument that this team lacks athleticism and therefore can't be that good. This team is very talented and with the right coach could go far.
But then there is the bad at coach. In the last five seasons, Ben Howland record has more bad losses than NCAA Tournament wins. His teams have gotten off to horrible starts that have quite frankly embarrassed the four letters.
Which brings us to the ugly, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero recently called a win over a Texas team so bad it could not finish a two on zero break in front of an empty stadium, a "huge win." Sorry Dan, we don't hang banners for final fours, we don't call wins "huge" over awful teams.
But that is how bad things are now for UCLA. Let me briefly throw out my opinions on the good, the bad, and the ugly of each player ranking them in order of how they have played so for for the team. In past years this would take a while but since we only have eight scholarship players and only seven who have played enough to discuss, this won't be too long. (I don't feel comfortable rating Tony Parker yet as he has not played enough.)
1. Kyle Anderson.
Good. Yes I rank Kyle number one because he has done everything well for this team this season at times except shoot. In non-shooting categories, Kyle is either first (rebounds and steals) or second (blocks and assists). Kyle has arguably won games for UCLA with his defense (Houston and even Irvine he had big stops), and is a leader. While Howland was yelling "push it" on offense or "stance" on defense, Anderson was telling players what to do on both offense and defense, even yelling at Shabazz to play D in the Texas game. Everyone except Howland understands that Anderson is the leader of this team. You get the feeling if Anderson was point UCLA would be better off albeit with more turnovers.
Bad. Anderson has struggled shooting and has a lot to learn. He is a good shooter on the move toward the basket as he showed in the Texas game but he is slow to get his shot off from the post and has trouble from more than 10 feet out.
Ugly. Howland started the do-everything-except-shoot Anderson at wing this year; a position where shooting comes first. It was if he was trying to set Anderson up to fail.
Anderson is this team leader and capable of the spectacular pass. Howland needs to let him lead.
2. Jordan Adams
Good. He is most of Bruins Nation's favorite player. He is the best outside shooter since All PAC Michael Roll. He is an even better rebounder and scorer than Roll in that he can get to the basket and leads the team in free throw percentage and free throws attempted. The latter is very impressive because it is rare for a person to lead a team at any level in both categories. His effort on the offensive end is unquestionable.
Bad: I once wrote that Adams plays ABA defense in that his idea of defense is to out score the other guy. Adams is not even close to as good a defender as Roll. And that's the rub. Roll was not a good defender but he is still better than Adams. I can't decide who is worse on defense in the Ben Howland era: Nikolai Dragovoc, Jerime Anderson (sophomore year) or Adams. Maybe like Jerime he will get better. But right now his defense is beyond belief bad.
Ugly. I love the fact Adams, by all accounts very shy, is the one player who always plays with passion. Adams often seems to be the only guy who wants to play and is happy on the court. Major fail Ben Howland.
Adams is the best scorer UCLA has had in a while but he is also the worst defender to start for a Ben Howland team since a losing record season.
Good. Powell has had some break out games where he has scored in double figures and taken over briefly on offense. He has shown he can be a good wing on offense, if not consistently. He has even made some nice passes. He is also the team's best man defender who can even play a point guard.
Bad. His minutes are going down every game. He should be a key to UCLA as if anyone can play the Malcolm Lee-Russell Westbrook-AA role of defense stopper it is Powell.
Ugly. I hate the excuse that UCLA is too "unathletic." But if that excuse is true then Powell must play big minutes. As everyone agrees that Powell is the best athlete on the team, only Russell Westbrook was a better athlete at UCLA during the Howland era.
Powell needs to start and be close to the team leader in minutes.
4. Shabazz Muhammad .
Good. Shabazz almost forces a team to run. He gets out on the break. Shabazz passion is seen on the offense boards. Adjusted for games played, Shabazz would lead UCLA in offensive rebounds. He has thrown down some impressive dunks.
Bad. While Shabazz is the first player up the court on offense, he is not on defense. He has looked out of shape and is a bad defender right now. Worse, there are questions about his effort on defense. And on offense, he almost makes Travis Wear look like a passer. When Shabazz has the ball you can start going back on defense or hitting the boards because he is going to shoot. Unlike Adams who scores and passes, Shabazz is one dimensional.
Ugly. Before the season we heard stories of his work ethic that rivaled Arron Afflalo. So far this season we have seen him jog back on defense like Reeves Nelson.
Shabazz needs to play with passion on both sides of the court.
5. Travis Wear
Good. Travis Wear is doing a better job this year on the defense boards. He is tied with Kyle in that category. He is leading the teams in blocks despite playing out of position at the five. You can see he is putting out decent effort on both sides of the ball which cannot be said about all players on this team.
Bad. Travis shooting percentage is down from last year. Travis is not a five but really an outside shooting four. It is unfortunate that Howland has forced him to play out of position. Even worse Travis has played the second most minutes on the team which must be very tough on an out of position big man. He needs to play less minutes to be more effective.
Ugly. At the end of last year, it looked as if UCLA had Joshua Smith, Anthony Stover, and Tony Parker all potentially in front of Travis at the Center position. Of course, even if all those guys were still here or healthy (in Tony Parker's case), Howland would have probably still forced Travis to be the Center. Ugly.
6. David Wear
Good. David has tried his best despite nagging injuries. In a sense this may have been a blessing in disguise because I think both Wears are better players in less minutes. That may be part of the reason that David is shooting a better percentage than Travis for the first time in their careers. David also has shown more willingness to pass which is nice.
Bad. David Wear does not play to his size with only nine free throws for the season. Tony Parker, in less than one-third the minutes, has the same number. If David is going to play inside he needs to draw more fouls and get to the line.
Ugly. Howland's favoritism of the Wears is destroying UCLA and is not helping the Wears. The Wear twins are both better players in fewer minutes. Playing the Wears around 20 minutes a game would make them both better players and UCLA a better team.
7. Larry Drew
Good: Larry Drew has not made many mistakes with the basketball. With Larry on the court you know the ball is in safe hands. He has also looked better driving to the basket than expected. He is a decent shooter going toward the hoop.
Bad: Like Kyle Anderson, Larry cannot shoot outside. Unlike Kyle Anderson most of Larry's assists are the easy kind of handoff types. And while it is not entirely his fault, Larry is more the quiet type and not a leader, yet Howland has asked him to lead.
Ugly. Going into this season, I had big hopes for Larry as a defender. Howland's man-to-man defense is keyed on ball pressure on the point. I thought if Larry just played defense hard and deferred to Kyle on offense we will be okay. The opposite has happened. Larry was mocked by Dick Vitale for his horrid defense and regularly burned by a bad Texas team with a struggling freshman point guard. Unlike Adams or Shabazz, who have youth and inexperience as an excuse, Larry is a fifth year senior with over a year practicing with Howland. Larry should be playing hard on defense. But Larry has been a joke on defense. So what does Howland do: names him captain, plays him the most minutes on the team, and praises him endlessly in the press.
This team could be good but not if the coaching remains bad. Unfortunately, UCLA basketball will likely remain ugly as long as the AD thinks wins over lousy teams are "huge."
This could work out, but right now I like my odds of winning powerball better.