Steve Alford’s seat is red hot. While everyone agrees that this UCLA team is deep and talented, most experts don’t believe Steve Alford can lead the team to reach its potential. One of the keys to reaching this potential will be the point guard play. I’ve previously posted some thoughts on this. For this post, we’ll briefly review how Steve Alford has done over his five seasons at the point guard position and give him a grade for each year.
Year One: 2013-14
I really wanted to give Steve Alford an A+ here. He did something most coaches would not. He let Kyle Anderson play point guard. This is not an easy thing to do. One easy way to make the point is just about the worst nickname you can have for a point guard is “Slo-mo.” Point guards are usually fast and never the slowest guy on the team. Yet Slo-mo was not only Kyle’s nickname but it is what Kyle was: a big, slow point guard. Most college coaches would not recruit Anderson as a point. Ben Howland did but would not let him play point and was perplexed with what to do with him, starting him first at 3 then playing him at 4. He knew Anderson had to be on the floor, but went with a traditional point guard in Larry Drew II. But Alford turned over the keys on offense to Kyle and it was the best finish he had as a coach at UCLA. Kyle was a great college point guard and kudos to Alford for giving Anderson a chance, something most coaches would not do.
While that was a great move by Alford, he made a big mistake in his backup. Alford used his son as the backup point; not the NBA level backup point guard Zach LaVine. Bryce was a 2 guard or maybe a combo. He was not a point. Yet, all the backup minutes at point went to Bryce Alford instead of LaVine except in one game. That one game was when Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson were suspended. Zach played point guard in the second half and UCLA came back to almost win the game. LaVine was not nearly as good as Kyle, but he proved then he was much better than Bryce as a point. Steve Alford’s failure to realize that may have cost UCLA in the Sweet 16 game. UCLA was in a tough game with Florida and the game turned when Kyle sat and Bryce played point. While LaVine was raw, he at least had the athletic ability to play point, while Bryce was raw and not enough of an athlete.
2013-14 Grade: B+
Year Two: 2014-15
If Bryce was a mediocre to bad as a backup point, 2014-15 backup Hamilton was one of the worst in UCLA history. Hamilton could not dribble. He was a good shooter and scorer, but UCLA was better off with the power forward, Kevon Looney, bringing the ball up the court. That Alford failed to recruit anyone who was a point guard was either a mistake or the ultimate nepotism in protecting his son from any competition.
Bryce himself developed into a mediocre point guard. It was incredible that the second best player on the team, Kevon Looney, according to Bryce, never had a play called for him. It was only through the individual efforts of Norman Powell and Kevon Looney that the team did as well as it did. Many thought it should have missed the NCAA Tournament, but it squeaked in and made a little noise. That said, it was in spite of, not because of point guard play.
2014-15 Grade: F
Year Three: 2015-16
Steve Alford at least recruited another potential point guard in Aaron Holiday. Holiday started the year at point but struggled. Holiday had been a lead guard all his life and was too raw to feed the post or be a true point. Holiday was moved off point and Bryce took over.
The season was a disaster. Even if Bryce was the team’s best point guard, he was still mediocre. Without great individual players like Norman Powell who could create their own offense, the team went down to a losing record. While, the lack of a point guard was not the only reason, it certainly was a factor.
2015-16 Grade: F
Year Four: 2016-17
UCLA’s offense was a thing of absolute beauty. Lonzo Ball was the best player this century for UCLA and his pass first mentality spread to the whole team. No need to drone on about this, but it was amazing. However, unlike Kyle, this was easy. Lonzo was an amazing point guard that ANY coach would love to have. All Alford had to do was not screw it up.
I think Alford earns a good grade here for what he did with the backup. Steve Alford let Aaron Holiday develop as a point guard and even let Aaron play point while Lonzo was on the floor at times.
This was a win-win. Lonzo was able to rest some. Aaron provided a complete change of pace from Lonzo’s “whip the ball around the outside” to Holiday’s “attack the hoop first” style. Most importantly, unlike his first year when Holiday was forced to play point, he had a chance to learn the point guard position while not having to be the main point guard. So, Aaron got a chance to develop and help the team in the process.
2014-15 Grade: A
Year Five: 2017-18
Aaron Holiday was a good Pac-12 point guard. He was not certainly Lonzo Ball or Kyle Anderson, but he was a real college point guard. While I think Alford deserves credit for some of the development of Aaron from 2015, it can be argued he learned more from Lonzo and his offseason workouts with his pro brothers. Regardless, the bottom line is that Holiday was good.
Then, why does Alford get such a low grade for this season? The answer is simple: Alford never rested Holiday. This really hurt not just the team, but also Holiday. There were times when Holiday just collapsed, like the Michigan game when he was so tired at the end of the game he was bouncing the ball off his legs. This was not Holiday’s fault but Alford’s. Holiday is human. However, at times, Alford refused to even play the backup point, Jaylen Hands, even a few minutes a game at point. Now in fairness, Hands did not look ready. That said this is a chicken or the egg came first situation. Hands can’t get better if he does not play, but Hands is too raw to play.
Not saying this is an easy solution. UCLA had very good play from the point guard position but it can be argued it should have got more and only one true point guard hurt the team.
2016-17 Grade: C
Year Six: 2018-19
At first glance, the question seems to be: “Is Hands the 2015 or the 2017 Aaron Holiday?” There are some similarities. Both are/were raw, but good pro prospects. However, physically Hands is a better athlete than Aaron Holiday. He is bigger, can jump higher, etc. On the other hand, Holiday was incredibly determined which also made him a good defender. Hands “best” highlight last season was a play that makes fans cheer and coaches cringe.
Can Alford control Hands and harness his potential? Unlike the “F” years of 2014 or 2015, there may be an alternative. Freshman Tyger Campbell is a true point guard. But there are some serious questions about his physical tools. The official 2018-19 Basketball roster lists him as 5’11”, an inch less than recruiting profiles. As someone who knows this height game, it seems likely (and from eyeballing it), Campbell is less than 5’11”. Keep in mind, the kid has a lot of hair that may add to his height (and, no, I am not joking). Not knocking him, but it is hard to be a short basketball player, which describes Campbell. So, Campbell has the opposite problem of Hands. He is a point guard but is he athletic enough for the Pac-12?
Good point guard play won’t be enough to save Alford, but bad point guard play will doom him. Alford has the tools, but can he make it work? We’ll see.