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Part 2: On the UCLA Basketball Rotation

Some thoughts about how the UCLA rotation should work for its talented but lacking a true center basketball team

Norman Powell numbers are impressive as is his effort on D.
Norman Powell numbers are impressive as is his effort on D.
Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

Writing a lot of posts over the years in basketball I often use statistics to prove a point or feeling, or occasionally to disprove.  However, as I sat down to write a post on the possible rotations, I was surprised to see the top four in minutes, where as I thought it should be.

1.  Kyle Anderson, 31.4

2.  Jordan Adams, 29.2

3.  Zach Lavine, 25.8

4. Norman Powell, 24.8

IMO, those are the four best players in order of importance.  The next four get trickier because there are other factors involved such as Travis Wear's injury (which certainly inflated Tony Parker and David Wear's minutes).

But I still am not "happy" with the rotation. Why?  The number after the name minutes played.  I would argue that Adams, LaVine and Powell could all play 5 more minutes a game.  However, I realize averages are skewed by the blowouts of a cupcake schedule.  Looking just at the two recent close games (Drexel had no Travis Wear) the minutes breakdown like this:

1.  Kyle Anderson, UCSB 36 and Missouri 36

2.  Jordan Adams, UCSB 31 and Missouri 33

3.  Zach Lavine, UCSB 29 and Missouri 24*(LaVine hurt his finger against Missouri which seemed to effect his play and likely his minutes)

4. Norman Powell, UCSB 26 and Missouri 24

Of the "best 4" everyone's minutes went up except Norman Powell.  Powell was not in foul trouble either of those games.  And no, the minutes did not go to Bryce Alford, who played 21 against UCSB and 19 against Missouri, slightly less than his average.

Powell is the key here.  Powell played 33,30, and 28 in the first three games, only one close was Drexel.  Since Travis Wear has come back, Powell has never played more than his 26 against UCSB (keep in mind UCSB was a team with only one big) and three out of the last six games has failed to play 20 minutes a game.  As a result in the seven games in which Travis Wear has played Norman Powell has averaged 22 minutes a game, the same as he did last year when he was largely forgotten by Ben Howland.

Two questions.  Does anyone think Norman is playing the same as last year?  Is there anyone that thinks he is not outplaying Travis, David Wear, Tony Parker and Wannah Bail?

On a team with questions about their defensive heart, everyone who watches UCLA compliments Powell's defensive effort.

I am not going to say anything shocking to the regular commentators and smart readers here.  Steve Alford needs to go with the lineup of Norman Powell, Zach LaVine, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and a big.

But some will say "you have to play two bigs."  Guess what?  With Kyle as a four on defense you are playing two bigs on defense.

And which one of our bigs is shooting over 60% from the field and also dishing an impressive two assists a game like Norman Powell is?  We don't lose anything on offense and I still believe Kyle is our best four and best rebounder.

But Kyle can rebound as well from three and an extra big will help us right?  I disagree on the first point but let's discuss the second:  Jordan Adams has more defensive rebounds than David Wear, the current starting four.  Further, Jordan is rebounding on defense at a better rate (a defensive rebound every 9.4 minutes) than Travis ( every 10.3 minutes).   This is not a fluke.  For the season last year Jordan Adams had only 9 and 10 less defensive rebounds than Travis and David.  Making Jordan a fulltime three with Kyle at a four, will almost certainly add to his rebound numbers and actually improve UCLA's rebounding.

Putting Travis and David on the floor at 4 and 5 is not going to help with UCLA's rebounding, the reason we lost the Missouri game on the defensive side.  Simply put Jordan at three and Kyle at four is better for rebounding (and I think defense) than the current Travis and David starting combo.

So I really think that the "best four" have to play more minutes (except Kyle who is maxed out), especially Norman Powell.  This means Kyle needs to play four on defense.  Proposed minutes:

1.  Kyle 31 (See yesterday for why I don't want this higher)

2.  Small Forward Jordan 34 (Jordan is a sophomore but plays like an old vet.  He is less likely to become fatigued playing big minutes)

3.  LaVine 32 (For all practical matters this means Zach has to start.)

4.  Norman Powell 32

Now I realize that means both Kyle and Jordan are not playing in their respective hoped for pro positions.  Also realize this lineup would mean 22 minutes of Bryce a game backing up everyone but Kyle.  I still think Bryce is a liability on defense but he is turning into a smart player who realizes his physical limitations on offense.  I am okay with him as a sub compared to the current alternatives.  Maybe he will get further exposed in the coming games against better competition but I tend to think he understands his job.

Who would be the five?

Whoever shows they want it and/or who is hot.  There is one advantage to this situation: unlike if say Kyle has a bad game, here you have others you can throw in there.

Briefly on the four to play the five:

1.  Travis has always been a good offense player, a mediocre post defender (which makes him one of the better ones on this team) and a terrible rebounder.  This year his offense has deserted him.  Now it could be that he came back too fast from the appendix operation and it could be that he is ill suited to Alford's motion offense.  I am not sure yet which one.  However, I would still finish games with Travis because he is the best defender right now of the group and he is the least likely to turn it over.  (Travis only has one turnover in 135 minutes this season.)

Because of his personality and other issues I would not start Travis but I would finish any close game with Travis at the 5.

2.  By comparison, David is a mediocre offense player that often does not realize his limitations (he is tied for second with 15 turnovers, a high number for someone who does not handle the ball),a bad defender, and an average rebounder (however arguably the second best defense rebounder on the team).  I would not play David at 5 at all.  I would focus him on being Kyle's backup at 4 and make things simple for him.

3.  Tony Parker.  I would start Tony but never finish with him.  Tony numbers are actually the best of the fives, he is the best offensive rebounder on the team, best defensive rebounder of the bigs, and the best shooting percentage of the team.  Yes these numbers are padded by some big games against bad teams but in the games against Missouri and UCSB his numbers were better than Wears: 5-8, 8 rebounds vs. Travis 0-6, 4 rebounds, David 1-4, 7 rebounds.

Yes Tony is going to be embarrassed by a bone headed play, get lost on D, make a stupid foul, can't shoot a free throw, etc.  He is also going to make some plays the Wears can't, is the team's only true post, and has more potential to improve.  Thus I would start Tony but not let him finish a game where Tony can hurt you.

4.  I would give Wannah a few minutes in the first half to see what happens but not play him at all in the second.

Neither the Wears, nor Tony Parker are close to their McDonald High School All American status but all UCLA needs is for them to combine to be an adequate Pac 12 Center.   Also to be clear, I don't want to bash the Wears.  I am questioning Alford's decision to play two of them as starters.  I think the reason both Howland and Alford favored these kids is they are the types to try to run through a brick wall if you ask.   The problem that coaches should realize just because they would try it doesn't mean they could do it.

Right now, UCLA needs its coach to play the four best players as much as possible to help this team maximize its considerable potential.  And not to be bogged down by playing traditional positions or even the most experienced.  As we have said from the beginning this is a talented team, just not a traditional one.

I think a starting five of a big, Anderson, Adams, LaVine and Powell matches up well within in the PAC 12 except Arizona.  Further, the best 4 include the most likely all PAC 12 players (Anderson and Adams) and its two best athletes (LaVine and Powell).  It should be a no brainier.

Go Bruins.