UCLA is going to be built around Shabazz, Kyle Anderson and Josh Smith this year. But who are those last two players going to be that round out the starting lineup? I have thought it would be for defensive purposes as Shabazz, Smith in reasonable shape, and Anderson are all offensive forces in different ways. Howland has also said defense would determine who starts.
But then I saw this ranking of UCLA as #2 nation and it identified the below as a perceived weakness that might prevent the Bruins from going far:
Why they might not: The Bruins do not have great shooters. There weren't any in the program last season, and Muhammad, though a terrific scorer, does not change that. It's tough to be "Final Four good" without a couple of guys to stretch opposing defenses.
I think there is a chance those fourth and fifth spots go not to the best defenders but the best outside shooters and most experienced players. While I generally agree that outside shooting may be a weakness I decided to delve a bit into the topic and the answers were a bit surprising.
First, the perceived best shooter is the forgotten newcomer Jordan Adams. Across the country people are talking about our incoming freshman class. But inevitably it is an article about the "awesomeness" of Shabazz Muhammad, the uniqueness of a 6'9" point guard in Kyle Anderson or even the odyssey of Tony Parker. The fourth person in the recruiting class is often an afterthought as in "and rounding out the class is Jordan Adams." If the coaches and tweets are to be believed Adams is surprising everyone, including the coaches.
This recruiting class will help reopen Pauley Pavilion, and it is a quartet so strong that even the normally stoic Howland gushed after he watched Adams knock down jumper after jumper during a practice in early July.
"Jordan comes in the least heralded of the four freshmen, but I tell you what, he is a really good player," Howland said.
North Carolina's ESPN's Seth Greenberg after watching a closed practice said:
Jordan Adams will be a very good player for the Bruins. Makes shots, rebounds his position, excellent feel. Versatile.
Some say Adams will be important because he is a good shooter and what the team is missing.
But the quote I started with said that there weren't any good shooters on last year's team. Keep in mind whoever are the other starters should be the fourth and fifth options in the offense. In other words this means these will be players who do not have to create the open shot but have to be able to hit it when it is presented.
Other players that Howland often praises are the Wear twins. Travis Wear is a career 42% three point shooter. Of course that stat should be taken with a grain of salt as he has only shot 12. David Wear is even better at 48% for his career, including 14 of 30 last year. Not a big sample size but at almost one a game significant. In other words, our power forwards could potentially stretch the defense.
But it was the last number that really surprised me. Tyler Lamb has the most makes from three of any returning player. I still consider him a player likely to be replaced by Shabazz in the lineup in most scenarios. But is Lamb actually a good fourth option, especially from the outside?
Tyler Lamb shot an okay 35% from three last year but that number does not tell the true story. For Lamb it was tale of the first seven games and the last seven games. Lamb improved exponentially as a three shooter as the season went on. He shot over 40% from three in all Pac-12 games (28-69) and was 50% in his last seven games (15-30). By contrast he started the first seven games a horrendous of 23% (6-26) building on his freshman year of 20% from three.
I must admit I was surprised at Lamb's improvement from three but there may be some reason for optimism. The Wears and Lamb are not a Reggie Miller or Michael Roll type who can create a three but they can make you pay if you ignore them. Along with Adams they can stretch a defense packed in to stop Smith or Shabazz driving to the basket.
Some are saying Howland is trading defense for offense. It could be just that if he plays the Wears and Tyler big minutes. But Howland really has a coach's dream of a team. He has the tools to counter and have almost any kind of team he wants. Running, shooting, dominate low post, defending, etc. He has no excuses not to win.