Can Jaylen Hands play point? The question has been debated and bandied about ad nauseam. The consensus answer seems to be “no” from Bruins’ fans. Personally, I think it is the wrong question. To me, the question is: “Should Steve Alford be able to make Jaylen Hands into a Pac-12 level point guard?” Before I get to the meat of that question, let me answer with three players in UCLA history who were not point guards when they arrived but became good point guards by the time they left.
1. Nigel Miguel
Miguel was a forgotten small forward in the mess that Walt Hazzard inherited from Larry Farmer. Nigel not only became a Pac-10 level point guard, he was All-Pac-10 and defensive player of the year in 1985. Yeah, the team was not great, but Nigel was a quality player.
2. Darren Collision
Darren became the point guard for two Final Four teams, but his freshman year he was a fast athlete that was out of control. He shot only 40% from the field (33% from three) and averaged 2.3 assists to 2 turnovers that season. In his second season, he improved that assist to turnover ratio to almost two to one (5.7 to 2.9) and his shooting to 48% and 45% from three. Collision went on to have two more years as a starting point that made people forget that freshman season when he was an athlete more than a basketball player.
3. Aaron Holiday
Holiday started his freshman year as a point guard and was so bad that Bryce Alford had to move over to play point. Holiday averaged 4 assists per game to 3 turnovers. His shooting from inside the arc was awful (38%) while he was always a good outside shooter, hitting 42%. By his junior year after playing with Lonzo and working with his NBA brothers one summer, he was 5.8 assists to 3.8 turnovers and slightly better from three-point range at 43%, but much better from inside the arc at 49%. Holiday was also the best player on offense and defense that season.
I throw those examples out to say that “Yes, Jaylen Hands was not a good point last year but he should be this year.” Hands has the defensive potential of Miguel and the scoring ability of Holiday. He is not as fast as Collison, but is a better overall athlete who should be able to play three positions on the college level. Can Alford help him be a point and put it all together?
The defensive part cannot be overlooked. The pro scouts at the combine told Hands he needed to be a better defender. This team could be very good on defense and Hands could be a key. He knows with a good season he can go pro and be drafted in the first round. Hands will have the opportunity as Alford made clear this was Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands’ team at Pac-12 Media Day.
Jaylen Hands is a very good outside shooter with the caveat below. He was fourth on the team in three-point percentage. He was second in assists and steals. More interestingly, he was fourth in rebounding almost tied with starting power forward GG Goloman in rebounding in nearly equivalent time. Hands’ value can be seen in a strangely statistical way as well. In the UCLA Bruins’ 12 losses, Hands failed to score in double digits in 10 of them. When UCLA started the year 8-1 Hands was averaging almost 13 points a game.
Areas to Improve
Hands was the worst shooter by overall field goal percentage of any of UCLA’s scholarship players last season. Hands was awful inside the arc. He often took very bad shots and was out of control. Hands’ basketball IQ and feel for the game seemed lacking. Worse, he seemed to lose focus after the win at Arizona and averaged only 5.5 points in the last 9 games when UCLA went 4-5. To put it mildly, his effort was inconsistent.
With Aaron Holiday, UCLA’s best player and point guard, on the bench with three fouls and the Bruins clinging to a two-point lead at #13 Arizona, Jaylen Hands had arguably the finest minute of any player in Alford’s history at UCLA. In the last 54 seconds, he made three difficult three pointers that extended UCLA’s lead to 44-34. The importance of that win is hard to overstate. It was only UCLA’s second win over a ranked opponent and marked their best road win of the season. Without Hands’ amazing minute, UCLA would have lost and the team would have missed the NCAA tournament.
Jaylen Hands could be a very good scorer, defender, point guard, and/or a bust. The first three reasons are why Hands is on the pre-season Bob Cousy Award watch list for best college point guard. Hands has the tools. Can Alford focus Hands? While most are focusing on Hands as a point guard, Hands has the tools to be an elite scorer and defender. Almost any coach would be happy to have Hands.