Yesterday ESPN asked the question "Looking ahead: Can Lonzo Ball make UCLA fun again?" Eamonn Brennan breaks down the last season and turns to the potential savior:
This is not just because Ball is a gifted young basketball player -- good enough to lift a program and its fans from a sub.-500 record to Pac-12 title contention. That's exciting, sure, but it's not the full extent of Ball's promise. Rather, it is the way Ball plays, the style with which he delivers his points, that may be the difference between last season's bad vibes and whatever comes next.
The words "the next Steph Curry" are relevant here.
Lonzo Ball has the potential to be one of the most exciting players in College ball next year. Yes, like Steph Curry he can shoot the three from ungodly distances. However, that comparison -- like comparing Kyle Anderson to Magic Johnson a few years ago -- seems a bit overblown. More importantly, he is one of those players who is so gifted with the ball in his hands that he makes the other players around him better.
His real potential for greatness is his ability to be the first true point guard UCLA has had since Larry Drew II (Kyle Anderson was a point forward.) and the best since ???
So the first issue, is Bryce Alford done as point guard. This should be a no-brainer as Brennan writes:
At the very least, he's a supremely talented guard, one Alford should immediately entrust with primary ballhandling duties -- allowing Bryce Alford to move off the ball, where his best attributes (perimeter shooting) aren't outweighed by his worst (a tendency to over-dribble chief among them).
This is almost a no-brainier. However, Steve Alford has not shown a lot of patience in this regard. After Bryce being played over Zach Lavine and Aaron Holiday there is a reason to wonder if Steve will put Ball on a short leash. In fairness, Aaron was not ready to be point guard at the start of last year but one wonders in a season as disastrous as last year was if letting Aaron learn by playing would have made that much a difference short term and helped long term.
The question remains will Steve Alford completely trust his freshman phenomenon from day one or if in the clutch the point guard duties will revert to Bryce. One thing is for sure, he should have a longer leash than was given Holiday.
Of course playing all those minutes at point for Ball raises other questions on who plays two and three. In some ways this is a happy problem as UCLA has depth. (Also give Steve Alford credit for keeping all the scholarship guards except Noah Allen. This is no small accomplishment.)
However the question remains who defends the point. Holiday was also UCLA's best point guard defender. Bryce is, well let's be charitable, not able to defend opposing point guards. Will Ball while learning point on offense also be asked to defend point guard? Ball seems like a more natural 2 or 3 defender. Ball also played a unique system in high school and will need to learn man to man defense.
But no one for a second believes that Bryce is going to have his minutes seriously reduced. So what does this mean?
The obvious answer is UCLA will have to outscore opponents to win. With Bryce and Isaac Hamilton on the wings and Ball at the point, Welsh as the outside shooting Center, there is a lot of offense to be had. It may be fun and UCLA may have a legitimate chance to get some 100+ games in the non-conference season. In year 4 of the post-Howland Alford era, UCLA may score a lot of points and dominate the lesser teams in non-conference. So yeah, no more worrying about beating LMU or Monmouths in the non-conference.
However, with only the athletic Bolden on the floor as a good defender, the basketball purist, Howland-defense-lovers may have the last laugh. The fun may end when UCLA goes on the road in the PAC 12 and plays better teams that play defense. The outside shots don't fall as easily in places like Pullman. Oregon may again light up UCLA. This won't be much "fun."
There is a chance for this team to be special if people are put in their best roles and Steve Alford uses his deep bench correctly. For example, pressing a lot as Ball did in High School and keeping fresh bodies in the game. Or sacrificing a bit of offense to play Aaron Holiday big minutes for Isaac and Bryce. Or making sure Bolden understands his role as the power forward and rebounder (and never being on the perimeter).
A good coach could make a great team this season. A bad coach would have some fun early. So yeah this team should be able to really score early in the season, the bigger question is will it be able to win late. Wining late would be fun.