UCLA/Shanghai: Looks Like AAU Game

Playing against a Shanghai Jiao Tong University team Monday, UCLA looked fast, loose and sloppy in its 72-31 exhibition win...

You knew I was going to say that you really can't take much away from UCLA beating Shaghai Jiao Tong University, 72-31.

The basketball that was played is just so far away from anything that UCLA will be playing in this coming season that it'd be folly to make any conclusions, or even slight impressions.

Picture the worst exhibition game you've ever seen UCLA play, and times that by about ten. I don't think Shanghai Jiao Tong made one outside shot. They went probably 10 minutes in the first half without making a shot. That was due to a combination of UCLA just being far more athletic, with Shanghai not able to finish, but also that Shanghai was, well, just so bad. I don't mean to do anything to jeopardize U.S.-China relations, but Shanghai was really terrible. If there hadn't been a UCLA player on the floor, the Shanghai players would have probably missed their shots anyway.

And then when UCLA was on offense there were two factors that made it very difficult to take away anything: 1) UCLA was trying to get out to run no matter what, and did so mostly very sloppily and 2) Shanghai really has no athleticism to play defense, and played zone the entire game. This resulted in an offensive game unlike any you could ever envision under Ben Howland, with what seemed like about 50 turnovers. And that was only out-done by Shanghai probably doubling UCLA's turnovers. So, yes, there were 150 turnovers in this game.

Right now, the Bruins are, obviously, early in their evolution for the season, and are a long ways away from putting together the pieces. It's an intriguing situation however, that Howland has been emphasizing transition and running in practice, and that's certainly what the team attempted in this game. But I think it's near impossible that Howland would allow this year's Bruins to attempt to run this much if it commits this many turnovers. Of course, they should get better, but right now it's not great. And again, this wasn't against a team that actually would present any kind of challenge defensively.

Much of the problem in transition was really not a clear force leading the break. Larry Drew didn't show that he'll strongly control the break, and when he did have the ball in his hands he wasn't necessarily good with it. Kyle Anderson, who was the guy who probably next had the most control of the break, still is very much getting his feet wet. Then, there is the rest of the team, that all seem to think they can run the break also. It was really a hodge podge of transition and, to be candid, it looked more like an AAU game than anything else.

It very well might be that UCLA just doesn't have great finishers, too. Good finishers seem to clean up mistakes on a break. Norman Powell is really the only guy for UCLA in China who has the potential to be a good transition finisher but, while he has great hops, he's never had a great feel for how a break finishes, and he's still going through the learning curve. Of course, this might all improve dramatically when they get back Shabazz Muhammad, who is an exceptional finisher in transition.

If I had to take away anything from what I saw of UCLA's transition I would say they have a good chance at getting points in semi-transition. With the defense partially back and still trying to match up, UCLA showed it can find an open shooter. Jordan Adams is exceptionally good at catching and shooting in this type of environment, and he showed it in this game early. He jumped off to a hot start, with a couple of baskets in semi-transition, and combined that with a steal on defense and a lay-in on the other end.

In the halfcourt offense, Howland clearly let the team play far more loosely than he would in any real game, or even a legitimate exhibition game. There were very set pieces against the zone, and quite a bit of improvising, which made for a great deal of sloppiness and turnovers. To its credit, the team is trying to be unselfish and pass, and over pass, sometimes to its detriment here. Many times it forced passes that weren't there. Againze the zone, the post players touched the ball with their back to the basket very little. Again, it looked very much like an AAU game, which is the last thing I thought I'd ever write watching a Howland-coached UCLA team. But remember, too, this is a unique situation, going to China to play. What could be interesting, though, is that once you let this team play this way, with newcomers Anderson and Adams, is it going to be hard pulling this back and essentially getting them reined in?

It's literally impossible to take away anything defensively. Shanghai couldn't shoot (they even missed a vast majority of their free throws) and were too slow to take anyone off the dribble. UCLA got away with playing three at a time among Josh Smith, David Wear, Travis Wear and Anderson, because there really wasn't anyone with any quickness on Shanghai. Interestingly, though, Shanghai made a mini-run (and we do have to call it mini) to begin the second half, because it started posting up its fairly good-sized post players who either converted or drew calls (of course, but they struggled to convert them). Anderson and the Wears allowed a few post-up baskets. With the overall feeling of the game being so loose, UCLA's defense was pretty loose, too, with late rotations and help. They made up for it with their ability to alter or block shots with their athleticism.

Here are some player impressions: -- Larry Drew -- Definitely trying to be a pass-first point guard, I don't think he took a shot beyond a lay-up on a break. In Howland's offense, generally, the point guard ideally needs to present some kind of outside scoring threat, and Drew is not looking for his shot at all. Defensively he was decent, looking active, overplaying a few times to create a turnover, but he was also fairly undisciplined, trying to be too active at times, which created seams. If I'm actually going to take something from this game, I'd say that Drew has a ways to go before he's going to be a better option than either Jerime Anderson or Lazeric Jones were last season at point guard.

-- Norman Powell -- Even in this environment, with a turnover about every 10 seconds on the floor, you can still see that he's feeling far more comfortable. On defense he's not thinking as much but merely reacting. On offense, he's far more confident taking his shot and putting the ball on the floor. And he's very aware of getting out on the break. In the loose, undisciplined environment, he looked a bit like that still, but the improved smoothness of his shot and his energy on defense were encouraging.

-- Jordan Adams -- Make no mistake, he's going to get a good amount of minutes. He is UCLA's only truly good shooter (even when Muhammad returns, since he's just a decent shooter), and we know how the program favors shooters now. He's improved his body, having lost a good deal of weight, but it's still not a great, natural basketball body. He has a good instinct for the game, jumping lanes to anticipate passes, and he's exceptional at finding space enough to get off his shot on offense. He did score some around the basket in this game, but we're doubtful those opportunities will be available to him when he plays against even a team with mid-major athleticism.

-- Kyle Anderson -- He was mostly out-of-sync and out-of-control in this game. He tried to do too much on offense, penetrating into nowhere a few times and then jumping to pass, and forcing a good number of passes. His shot looks off compared to what we've seen of his shooting before, and we have to think that's still the injured thumb. He functioned as the back-up point guard to Drew, and there were a few possessions when Anderson seemed to slow down a little instead of forcing it, made the easy pass and created some good opportunities for his teammates. He was particularly effective in flashing to the high post, and passing from there, looking to go high-low to Smith a couple of times. Defensively, he struggled both in the post against some of Shanghai's bigger bodies and on the perimeter. Fundamentally he looks very raw, but much of it could have been just being so wound up. He left his feet a number of times on simple pump fakes.

-- Tyler Lamb, David Wear and Travis Wear - All looked like just about the same players we remember them to be. Lamb had some good moments as a facilitator and passer, but also got caught up in the looseness of the game a bit too much. He looked to pick up the point guard defensively when Anderson was running the point on offense. The Wears looked pretty much the same -- active, hard-working. -- Josh Smith -- He looks slightly thinner, if you look at him at certain angles. He does, though, appear to be better conditioned, able to get up and down the court far easier without getting gassed. But other than that he looks about the same. He got into foul trouble, which you would expect with the refs in this game, and he complained about it. He didn't get many touches against the zone. But then again, UCLA was playing so loosely, and there were only a few times they actually seem to run something against the zone that it wasn't his fault.

Again, we would encourage you to throw out the vast majority of this since it's really difficult to take anything from this game. You can't over-emphasize what a poor environment this was for any kind of evaluation -- not only because of the competition but because of UCLA's approach to it, to play so loose and undisciplined and so un-Howland-like.


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