Steve Alford came up with his answer to the Missouri loss; it was to start David and Travis Wear. I don't think that is the answer. Tomorrow I will post on my ideal rotation from the cheap seats but today I want to talk about the most important player on this team, Kyle Anderson. IMO, using Kyle effectively is the number one key to success this season for the UCLA team.
Kyle is the most unique player in college basketball today and the one player that UCLA has to have playing at the top of his game to win.
Looking at UCLA objectively in four categories for who is the best.
Best scorer. Jordan Adams. Can shoot from anywhere and create. Second best, Zach LaVine. Zach has arguably a better outside shot and more athletic ability. It can credibly be argued he has the potential to be better than Adams.
Best Point Guard. Kyle Anderson. Second best is debatable but suffice it to say there is no one can argue that current backup point guard Bryce Alford is in the same league as Kyle. If nothing else Bryce does not have the ability to beat his man off the dribble or create a shot let alone drive and dish like Kyle Anderson does. Kyle is a bit awkward looking but he is really good at it.
Best Defender. Jordan Adams. Jordan was defensive-minded Ben Howland's choice to cover the other team's best player man-to-man last season. Jordan's effort has been inconsistent this season so far but he also is averaging 3.5 steals a game. Close second. Norman Powell. Norman puts out more consistent effort than anyone else on the team on defense. He is a bit foul prone as a result but his effort cannot be questioned.
Best Defensive rebounder. Kyle Anderson. UCLA's Achilles hill is rebounding this season. Kyle is a very good defensive rebounder. Second best is a tough call because everyone is bad. Statistically it is Tony Parker. Let me just say there is a very big drop off from Kyle to Tony Parker.
Why do I point this out? While UCLA has people who can credibly take the place of or help Jordan Adams; it does not for Kyle Anderson. Alford has to do everything he can to help protect Kyle Anderson so he can both run the offense and dominate the defensive boards. There really is not another option.
On the later, Missouri beat UCLA with a dominate second-half because they controlled the boards. If UCLA just cuts Missouri from 17 to 12 offense rebounds, they can win the game. Put another way Missouri had 17 offensive rebounds UCLA had 18 defensive rebounds. That is an unbelievably bad ratio.
In my opinion part of the problem was Kyle was dead tired in the second half. Kyle had a good first half against Missouri, shooting 3-6 from the field (1-1 from three), 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. In the second half, Kyle went 1-4, 0 assists and 2 rebounds. Kyle even made his worse turnover of the year when he threw the ball Jerime Anderson-style straight out of bounds. With a tired Kyle, we got our rebounded by 17 for a half (after breaking even in the first half) and our offense became full of bad shots. With a tired Kyle running the offense, UCLA had just ONE assist for the entire second half, by Travis Wear when the game was over.
So how can this be helped?
1. Keep Kyle close to the basket. Kyle MUST play the four on defense for this team. There is no other option or viable solution to the rebounding problem. Further you have to keep Kyle close to the basket for UCLA to have any hope on the defensive boards. When we were playing man-to-man against Missouri Kyle was covering 6'5" Jonathan Ross who torched him for 20 points, almost all in the second half. But worse Ross was 5-11 from the three point line, which meant Kyle was being dragged out away from the basket. UCLA just cannot afford to have Kyle too far from the rim on defense.
A similar thing happen last year against ASU. ASU's Sendak badly out coached Ben Howland with a superior game plan when ASU destroyed UCLA 78-60. Even though ASU had arguably the best point guard in the conference in Jahii Carson they ran much of their offense through power forward Jonathan Gilling that game. Gilling either shot a three (not that well 2-7 in the game) or passed the ball from the perimeter often to the post Jordan Bachnyski who had a career game going 10-12 with 22 points. Gilling had 8 assists but more importantly by dragging Kyle away from the basket, Bachnyski was able to dominant the boards.
That was one of the main reasons that UCLA lost that game.
For this UCLA team to have a chance on the boards, Kyle has to be close to the basket rebounding. That may mean that Kyle even covers a 5 on defense occasionally. Before people overreact, does anyone think that Kyle would be a worse defender on a 5 than the Wears, Bail, or Parker? Keep in mind Kyle also leads UCLA in block shots this season which is a bonus of keeping him close to the rim
Kyle must be kept close to the basket. It is also generally easier to rest close to the basket versus running around after a wing trying to get open to shoot a three.
2. Save Kyle when you can.
While Alford was rightly disappointed with the lack of any effort on defense in the second half against Prairie View I was more mad at Alford for how he used Kyle in the first half.
In the 1-2-2 three quarter court press, Alford incredibly had Kyle up top as the one. He did this at times in the Missouri game as well. It is the job of the player at the one spot in this press to cut off the dribble and force a pass. Now generically this makes sense as it is where the point guard plays. But again, generally speaking your point guard is your quickest player. The one in this press should be very quick to cut off the dribble.
Kyle's nickname is "slo-mo." What the heck is he doing as the one in this press? Furthermore, Kyle is second on the team in steals. This press is not set up for the guy on top to get a steal. His job is to force a bad pass which the other players can intercept. (Or more likely slow down the other teams offense and make it harder for them to set up.) Kyle is well suited to be one of the guys to intercept a pass with his long arms and ball-stealing skills.
On top of all this being the one is by far the most tiring. Even after the pass, it is the job of the one to try to help trap the receiver of the pass. So in a nutshell Alford is making Kyle expand a lot of energy for a role in which he is poorly suited.
Let me just add I like the 1-2-2 press as a change of pace and I think it suits guys like Jordan Adams and even Bryce Alford well. But having Kyle expend that much energy for a role he is ill-suited is coaching malpractice. Kyle could play the first two but is really well suited to play one of the back two.
Further on saving Kyle, it would be nice at times if others bring the ball up. Adams is a very good ball handler as is LaVine. It should not just happen when Bryce is on the floor. Kyle is the indispensable player on this team.
As we have said from the beginning, there is a lot of talent on this UCLA team. However, it is a very unique group that requires a good coach to unlock its talent. The most important cog and the most unique player is Kyle. A good coach will unlock his talent and UCLA as a team will flourish as a result.
UCLA losing its first road game to a tough Missouri team is not a disaster. But taking the wrong lessons from the game, is a sure recipe for disaster against Duke.
Tomorrow thoughts on the rotation.