He covered the 2007-08 team with a sophomore guard named Russell Westbrook, who seemed poised for a breakout season, and a true freshman center whose uncle was a Beach Boy; that team earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament on its way to the Final Four.
UCLA has never again reached that level of talent in its starting lineup, but its 2016–17 team is, in multiple other ways, surpassing that Russ squad: The current Bruins are more entertaining, ranking 13th nationally in tempo, compared to 220th in ‘07–08. They shoot the hell out of the ball, ranking first in effective field goal percentage, compared to 75th in ‘07–08. And although present-day Westbrookites might consider this blasphemous, Russell was not even close to being the transformational force in Westwood that current freshman point guard Lonzo Ball has been for the Bruins. They now have a must-watch offense that’s worthy of deeper examination.
Winn gives credit largely to Ball, and notes how his addition to the team has provided an offensive makeover, not just for the team as a whole, but for individual players. Pay attention to the graphs of stats for Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, pre-Ball, and now in the Ball era.
He further expands upon the schematic overhaul on offense, with Alford eschewing the pick-and-roll for more motion:
As Alford has shifted UCLA away from the pick-and-roll game this year, it’s been to flowing offense that, like the old Indiana teams, involves all five players. But unlike Knight’s Hoosiers, the Bruins have a freewheeling, transition-first approach that, once in the halfcourt, settles into more perimeter-oriented movement inspired by Alford’s affinity for the NBA’s Warriors and Spurs, and made functional by personnel that doesn’t let things stagnate.
Ball’s assists too have been pretty spread out—he’s not passing the ball predominantly to just one or two guys, but to whoever is open:
Ball’s 8.8 assists per game rank second nationally, but I’m less impressed by his assist volume than I am by his equal-opportunity distribution. Through 10 games, each of UCLA’s primary five scorers around Ball—Hamilton, Leaf, Alford, Holiday and Thomas Welsh—have been assisted by him at least 10 times. Ball plays no favorites, which keeps everyone running and moving.
Give it a read.
LiAngelo's and LaMelo's success will be the true sign of whether Lavar's plan worked. Lonzo's brilliance at the college level could be a harbinger of things to come, or it could simply show that Lonzo is a once-in-a-generation type of player who would find a way to excel regardless of situation.
As usual, Lavar isn't concerned.
Turning to the gridiron, Ted Miller at ESPN takes a look at the Pac-12 South’s disappointments: that’d be the Arizona schools and your UCLA Bruins.
He shares his thoughts for what went wrong, and how things are looking for next season.
Still, the offense is the big question, starting with who the coordinator will be. Will Rosen blossom in his third season, which many believe will be his last before entering the NFL draft? Will the skill players around him step up? And what about an offensive line that is building a reputation for underachieving?
All good questions, Ted.
Now here’s the video of Bill Walton interviewing TJ Leaf after the game last night to brighten your day: