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What are the Answers to the Problems with UCLA Basketball's bench?

A brief discussion of the problems with the UCLA Bench.

GG should get a shot at sixth man.
GG should get a shot at sixth man.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The most glaring issue that came out in the Battle for Atlantis is the bench.  Maybe the most shocking stat from b4a is UCLA was leading for the time Kevon Looney was in all the games, even against North Carolina.   Beyond stats at times the bench was unbelievably ugly, including when Isaac Hamilton, the starting two, was playing point.

However for the rest of this post, I am going to shoot from the hip and talk about a few ways to deal with a lack of a bench.  I will try to use a few stats.  With a drop off this big you play the starters as much as possible.   Before I get to the bench, let’s review the starters in order of importance.

1.  Kevon Looney. The key stat in UCLA's two losses may have been four.  In both UCLA losses Looney had four fouls.  UCLA has to keep Looney on the floor as much as possible.

2. Bryce Alford. Bryce may be a combo or two guard but he is the only guy who can even handle the point.  Steve Alford needs to keep Bryce on the floor but under control.  While competition definitely factors into this, so far this season in the two losses Bryce has less combined assists (5) then in any single win (6).

3. Norman Powell.  25%.  Going back to last season, Norman Powell has been in foul trouble (defined as four or five fouls in game) 11 out of 44 games.  Last year we had a bench to replace Powell when he got in foul trouble and he was not a top option in the offense.  This year Powell is the leading scorer and seemingly should be the first option in the offense.  Powell needs to be protected and it makes sense to make him a three in the zone and not the top defender like last year.

4.  Tony Parker.  Tony Parker leads UCLA in fouls, having been in foul trouble in 4 out of 7 UCLA games this season.  But he has also upped his game.  Parker is averaging 7.3 rebounds a game in only 23 minutes a game.   The defense is much better with Parker in the game and Parker, while still frustrating at times is able to score in the low post even against North Carolina.

5.  Isaac Hamilton. Isaac  leads UCLA in turnovers.  Isaac is not a point guard and the experiment of Isaac as a point guard has failed.   I honestly think it is time to have someone else run the point when Bryce is out but who?  Moreover, it really hurts Isaac as he is a player who is better off the ball.  Isaac leads UCLA in three point percentage and can really shoot lights out.  But I don’t think Isaac can create his own shot.  While many are comparing Michael Roll to Bryce Alford, the better comparison may be Isaac Hamilton to Michael Roll.   (Not quite right either but more correct than the Bryce comparison.)

Onto the bench.  In reverse order.

9.  Wannah Bail.  Wannah’s minutes have fallen in every game this season.  Wannah really has played himself out of the rotation.  He is a great athlete with good size but he is not a basketball player yet.

Tied for 7.  Noah Allen.  Noah is the kid who chose UCLA over Harvard in part for basketball.  Noah is the kid that you can see is working his butt off and would be the guy to run through a brick wall if you asked him too.  He may be the best defender off the bench and certainly the only one capable of playing man to man against a guard.  The problem is Noah is a liability on offense. Noah is shooting 26% for the year and has made one of his last ten.  This is not an issue of shooting too many threes because he is actually better from the three point line at 30%.  Even his free throw shooting is off at just 57%.

7.  Gyorgy Goloman. Unlike Noah who has played over a hundred minutes already, Goloman has only a handful of minutes and one meaningful ten minute spurt of playing time, against North Carolina.  He was 1-1 with 3 rebounds.  In that time and the next game he passed Bail as the backup four.  Goloman deserves a long look in these next three games.

6.  Thomas Welsh.  Welsh is clearly the best player off the bench but there are a lot of interesting numbers on Welsh.  Welsh is arguably the biggest gunner on the team.  On a per minute basis no one has attempted more two point shots than Welsh and overall he is third (Powell leads the team followed by Bryce with threes included).  Welsh also leads the team in another stat, fouls per minute.  Welsh has as many fouls as Looney in a touch more than half the minutes and fouls at a higher rate than Tony Parker.     Actually Welsh and Tony are actually statistically similar in rebounding per minute and free throw shooting as well.  Parker is a much better shooter overall then Welsh.  I will maintain that stats don’t tell the whole story as I think the team defense is better with Tony in the game but Welsh certainly is proving the bench is not empty.

Which leads to some questions which out to be explored in the next few games.  And to be clear, the questions are not answered by playing x for y.

Who should be the backup point?

This is the toughest question.  Norman Powell seems an obvious answer but Powell actually shoots even more than Bryce and is ill suited to be a point.  Actually tied for second in assists with Hamilton is Kevon Looney.  (LOL maybe the Kyle comparisons were not all off.)  To be clear, I don’t think the power forward Looney should be point but maybe he should always be in the game when Isaac is at point. He can certainly help and Looney unlike say Noah Allen looks comfortable with the ball in his hands.

What do we do we Looney is out?

Looney has to sit.  Big guys need more rest than guards.   I think this would be a good time to change up the offense and defense.  Maybe we should do that token three quarter press on defense to kill some of the clock.  Maybe we should slow the offense down and try to use the clock as well.  We need to have Looney on the court as much as possible.  Steve Alford does not use many timeouts other than one at the end of the first half to call a play.  Use a timeout when Looney sits later in the shot clock to call a play and give him more time to rest.  Looney is amazing, we need to ride him as much as possible.

What to do when Powell gets in foul trouble and can we play a big at three?

If we can play a big at three, we have a backup guard with Norman moving to two when Bryce or Isaac are out.  Norman's foul trouble also hurt us in the Oklahoma game.  Right now the only option is Noah Allen.

The other idea would be to play zone and play big.  Some may think this means play Tony and Thomas together.  My first thought is if you think Tony fouls a lot now imagine him trying to play at four in a 2-3 zone.  Same for Welsh. I think Welsh may be able to play four on offense BUT I don’t think either of them can play four in a zone.   Also I hate to pull Looney away from the basket as a 3.  I guess we could play man with Tony and Thomas in certain matchups.  Maybe you try it but I don’t think it is practical because Tony is playing about as many minutes as he can now because of foul trouble.  Maybe you could try it in man to man with Looney out because otherwise Looney will be covering a small forward or three guard. Welsh certainly is the best offensive player off the bench.

However, right now I would like to see Goloman get a shot.  He seemed like a competent passer and his high school highlights show it.  He might be able to do passable as the four in a zone.  I hate moving Looney to three on offense because he is such a good offensive rebounder.  But could Goloman play three on offense?  He has a face up game.  He can pass and is okay with the ball.  Ironically Goloman did play three in the exhibition game for Powell.

Not a great option but at this point worth trying.  If Goloman can handle it, we have our sixth man.

So if I was coach for the next three cupcake games UCLA plays, here are three experiments worth trying.

1.  Consider trying a few minutes of Welsh and Parker on the floor together.  With Welsh playing the four on offense and Tony the four on defense in man to man.  Maybe only when Looney is out. Under no circumstances do we zone with those two on the floor.  (May be hard to try this against cupcakes.)  Personally I am not as sold on this as others but we are desperate.

2.  Give Goloman a long look at the four and three.  Goloman held his own against North Carolina.  Try him at the three on offense and in a zone.  See what he can do with his length.  Again this limits the options on D because I doubt Goloman can guard most threes man to man who are often guards.

3.  Try alternative ideas like using timeouts to rest people, slowing the game down when certain people are out, etc.   I would rather be out of timeouts with two minutes left  and have Kevon Looney on the floor for two more minutes.

What do you think?  Please limit your comments to the current team and not what should have happen or why we are in this spot.