So, now, we've moved on, to projecting the make-up of next year's squad.
Without being able to project an entire roster for 2012-2013, we can try to project how the influx of talent we discussed in the first article would greatly change next year's team. So, this projection, of course, gets way ahead of ourselves, and includes Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker coming to UCLA next season.
Many on the BRO message board are discussing and debating projected starting line-ups. Start with this: It's 100% certain that Muhammad is part of any starting lineup, and probably about 95% certain that Kyle Anderson is.
Muhammad has the potential to be the kind of impact player that Kevin Love was in Howland's program. He's that good. Anderson, with his athletic limitations, might have a little more of a transitional period in college, but he is very talented offensively, and has a chance to be a big impact player in his first year in his own right.
And just so you understand how this all works: Players of this caliber -- top 20 national prospects -- don't come to a program not to start. Tony Parker, too, isn't going to come to UCLA to play 10 minutes per game. Every program recruiting these players has undoubtedly made some kind of commitment to playing time for next season. That's part of getting them.
So, let's think this through. Anderson would function as the point guard on offense, but would defend the opposing three or four, depending on match-ups. If, then, you're definitely starting Muhammad and Anderson, that would leave a need for someone who can match up defensively with the opposing point guard. Right now, the player best suited physically for that would be North Carolina transfer Larry Drew, who is sitting out this season due to transfer rules and will be a senior next season. Drew, actually, while he had some limitations at North Carolina, was considered a decent defender before he left their program in the middle of last season in 2010-2011. Having been in Howland's system for one year, he should be pretty versed on how it works, both offensively and defensively, so he's a pretty clear option to also get starter's minutes.
A year-older Norman Powell, though, would present a potentially dynamic option for filling that role. Powell, while he hasn't been great defensively this season, has the athleticism to develop into a very good defender. He's physically and athletically capable of matching up with opposing point guards. And as UCLA's history can attest, the biggest development for a college player commonly happens between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Think Russell Westbrook here. We've heard he's been making real strides in practice recently.
Tyler Lamb, too, could be an option. He isn't ideal for defending a point guard, and doesn't have the potential to do it like Powell. But, like Powell, with another year of development under his belt, he could potentially fill the role adequately.
Also, there are different match-ups that could be conducive for Powell and Lamb, and make it more likely they get on the floor playing alongside Muhammad and Anderson. They have an advantage over Drew offensively because they would present an offensive mis-match for opposing teams, with probably a much smaller defender having to guard them.
Then there's Jordan Adams, who will bring great outside shooting to the equation. Even though we'd have to think that Powell and Lamb, given their better athleticism and experience in the program, would be options over Adams, I don't think you can completely dismiss the idea that Adams could get playing time, given how in the past Howland has sometimes favored players who aren't greatly athletic but can shoot.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Lamb and Powell, and how Howland manages them next season. With the addition of the 2012 class, they will see quite a bit more competition for playing time. On one hand, Howland has a history of favoring experienced players in his program, but he also has a history of preferring players not necessarily based on experience. In other words, trying to predict what players Howland will favor next season is a complete crapshoot. It's pretty easy, though, to assume that Muhammad and Anderson will have favored status, and then it's a crapshoot from there.
With the way Howland has used David Wear and Travis Wear this season, it's difficult to foresee him cutting down on their minutes next season. They are averaging 27 and 25 every game, with Howland clearly using them as much as he can. However, and we're going out on a limb saying this, we can't see Howland continuing to use both Wears on the floor at the same time next season when he has so much talent and depth at both the small forward and center spot. We might entirely be under-estimating Howland's love of the Wears but, as I said, he'll probably be awfully fond of Anderson, Muhammad and Parker, too.
Then there is the center position, and that starts with Josh Smith. You'd have to think that, after this season in which Smith didn't progress and so much was made of his weight and conditioning, he'll return next season in quite a bit better shape. That development could come quicker than expected, however, since there is the possibility that Smith could put his name in the NBA draft. Really. That might mean he could take off the last quarter of the school year to get in shape to prepare for the NBA camps to gauge where he'd go in the Draft. You'd have to think, given Smith's history, that he wouldn't be mature enough -- to get in that kind of shape that quickly, or merely be ready to play at that level -- but rational thought has never been a real contributing factor to whether a player leaves early for the NBA. If he doesn't ultimately stay in the draft, the prospect of a fit Smith, who is one year older and more mature, returning to UCLA next season, is a huge key in the success of the 2012-2013 Bruins. As we've said all season, Smith is the one element of the roster this season that gave UCLA a talent advantage -- when he played with focus and intensity. Having a focused and intense Smith to give UCLA an un-matchable inside presence to go along with Muhammad and Anderson would be very formidable.
An aside: It is, however, not a greatly athletic core of three players (Muhammad, Anderson and Smith). Muhammad is athletic in terms of his leaping ability, but isn't lightning quick laterally (he makes up for it with effort), especially if he has to defend the two-guard spot. Anderson, defensively, will be challenged to either guard a smaller perimeter player or a bigger, stronger power forward. Smith, even if he is slimmer, will still probably not be an athletic defender. You'd have to think that Powell, who will still be the most athletic player on the roster next season, perhaps would gain favor since he'd bring much-needed athleticism to the floor. But Howland's recent history dictates that he doesn't tend to see it that way -- that it's not a priority to get more athleticism on the court.
Then, when contemplating the center spot, there is Tony Parker. As I said, let's make it clear: Parker wouldn't come to UCLA to play 10 minutes per game. Parker will clearly be considered for the starting spot, to at least push Smith, or to step in if Smith has faltered in his development. Parker is talented, but still pretty raw, on both ends of the court, and probably wouldn't be able to supplant even a slightly improved Smith. But Howland would probably have to think about getting minutes for Parker at power forward, to fulfill whatever kind of playing-time commitment has been made, implied or inferred.
Again, you'd have to think that puts more pressure on Howland cutting the Wear's PT. When it really comes down to it, it might be a matter of which camp Howland feels he needs to satisfy -- the Muhammad/Anderson/Parker Camp or the Wear Camp. The obvious question is: Why can't Howland just play all of them? That makes sense, but Howland's history defies that logic, since he always seemingly is one-minded in playing certain players the majority of the minutes. Ultimately, we think Howland will come down on the Muhammad/Anderson/Parker side of the equation, because that's the camp he'll need to keep the happiest. Again, given how much he's played the Wears this season that might sound unlikely.
Then there is Anthony Stover. We've made it pretty clear this season we think Stover is a difference-maker with his defensive ability, but in an effort to be completely candid, we feel that Stover, barring an unpredictable offensive blossoming, will have to battle greatly for minutes next season, given how Howland has used him this season. Having him on the team, in my opinion, will be a vital piece for the 2012-2013 Bruins to have a chance to make a deep run, but the logjam in the frontcourt could very well make Stover the odd man out.
If Stover is a potential odd-man-out, where does that put Brendan Lane?
What's interesting about the projected roster is that it, actually, gives Howland quite a bit of flexibility. It provides him the personnel to match up defensively with just about anyone, and also great potential to generate some tough mis-matches offensively for opponents. As we said, Lamb or Powell could see themselves guarded by a 6-0 point guard, or a bigger, slower opposing power forward might have to keep up and step out with Anderson. But it's a matter of whether Howland is flexible enough himself to exploit the roster's flexibility. He's traditionally pretty rigid in his rotation once he's established it.
So, after all this, projecting a starting line-up, or even projecting the rotation for the 2012-2013 team, is a tough endeavor. As I said, it's safe to assume that Muhammad and Anderson will be fixtures. If Smith has improved, he'll get upward of 25-28 minutes. Parker is going to be in the rotation, definitely getting time at center and, most likely, picking up minutes at power forward.
Just that right there will force Howland to have to cut back on the combined minutes of the Wears, and that will be near-shocking to witness, given Howland's use of them this season. If you really drill it down, so much, actually, will hinge on Howland's use of the Wears. If he insists on playing them a good amount of minutes, while still playing Muhammad, Anderson, Smith and Parker, that means Muhammad will be playing some shooting guard, and then that cuts into the minutes of Lamb and Powell. Given his preference for the Wears this season, that very well could be the case.
Bottom line: If UCLA does get Muhammad and Parker, it should be very interesting watching how Howland manages all of the players, their egos and demands for playing time next year. Howland hasn't shown a penchant for doling out playing time evenly or even in a way that seems logical (witness the USC game). And he'll have the biggest challenge he's ever had at UCLA determining playing time next season.