How the guards distribute their time between the three positions will be interesting to watch. Powell is pretty clearly going to strictly play the 2 or the 3, but the question will be where Hamilton and Alford slot in. Alford played mostly point guard last year, but there have been rumblings out of the program that Hamilton has developed some ability as a point guard since we last saw him in high school. Hamilton was certainly the more talented prospect coming out of high school, and if he truly has developed, at least to some extent, a point guard’s mindset and skillset, it’ll be interesting to see if he plays the 1, Alford plays the 2, and Powell plays the 3.
Allen struggled last year in limited time, but the nature of the roster will demand that he play considerable minutes, possibly as many as 20 per game, unless UCLA goes super-big with its front court at times. We’ve only seen him in limited action, but from what little we saw, his skill-set is more that of a small forward than a guard, so we’d have to imagine he backs up just the 2 and the 3.
It’ll be interesting to see if Allen is able to play credible minutes this year. If he’s unable to perform well enough, we could see UCLA experimenting with moving Looney to the small forward spot. It wouldn't be ideal defensively, and it would take Looney further away from the basket and what he does best -- rebound. But might be a better value bet than having Allen play 20 minutes per game.
The post situation is decidedly better than the guard situation — as it should be, given the makeup of the 2014 recruiting class for UCLA. Kevon Looney will come in and start immediately, which was obvious even before Bolden went out, but is now a necessity. We’ll take a very, very slight leap and say that Tony Parker starts out the season in the starting lineup. We like Thomas Welsh a lot, but we know Steve Alford values experience and will likely give Parker the nod to start the year.
The cracks start to develop when the starters rotate out. When Looney comes out, UCLA will have some questions to answer. Wanaah Bail didn’t show, in limited time, that he was ready to play at this level last year. How much development he has made in the offseason is going to be critical, because he’s likely going to need to be counted on for up to ten minutes per game. We don’t know enough about Gyorgy Goloman at this point to indicate whether he’ll be able to be much of a contributor this year, but from what we’ve heard and the little we’ve seen, we’d be pretty surprised if he made a significant impact.
We could actually see a scenario where, when Looney needs to take a breather, Parker drops down to the 4. While he clearly doesn’t have the offensive game to play power forward well on offense, he’d probably have a better chance of guarding an opposing power forward than any other post on the team, besides Looney. To avoid that scenario, much will depend on how Bail has developed and how Goloman looks in practice.
Welsh, we’re confident, should be able to provide some valuable minutes at center, which would allow Parker some rest and perhaps give Parker the time to play some minutes at power forward.
UCLA will almost certainly have to zone considerably this year to save the legs of the starters, especially so if the Bruins do have to go with the very big lineup at some points during the year. Even if it were a deep team, the starting group is not full of elite man defenders.
That said, it’s not exactly a lineup ideally built for a zone either. Between Alford, Hamilton, and Powell, that’s not a guard lineup full of the traditional long-armed defenders you’d like to have in a zone. Parker hasn’t shown himself to be a great defender in either man or zone to this point, and counting on a freshman in Looney to be anything more than an average defender, even in a zone, would probably be foolhardy.
Defense is almost certainly going to be an issue this year, and struggles on that end could be one of many factors that force a decrease in tempo.
Given everything we’ve written above, we’d have to imagine UCLA slows its tempo considerably this coming year. Even before the Bruins lost Bolden and Octeus, we figured that would be the case, but now it’s imperative. UCLA’s guards are going to be sorely tested every game with such a limited rotation, and they’re just not going to be able to run like they did last year. What’s more, without Kyle Anderson’s vision in the open court, UCLA is likely going to struggle to get many of the same opportunities in transition that the Bruins got last year.
Best Guess Minute Distribution
1. Bryce Alford 30, Isaac Hamilton 10
2. Norman Powell 25, Alford 5, Noah Allen 10
3. Hamilton 25, Powell 10, Noah Allen 5
4. Kevon Looney 32, Gyorgy Goloman 4, Wanaah Bail 4
5. Parker 25, Thomas Welsh 15
Obviously, it’s not a pretty picture for this year. Many things would have to break right for the team to make the NCAA Tournament and match the success of last year. First, the team will have to remain close to 100% healthy all year. Second, Noah Allen and Wanaah Bail will have had to develop considerably in the last year, to the point where they can play like legitimate, Pac-12 level players for up to 15 minutes per game apiece. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Isaac Hamilton will have had to develop significant point guard skills in the offseason, allowing him to shoulder much of the load at point guard and allowing Alford to play his more natural position at the 2. Or Hamilton will have to replace the scoring of Jordan Adams, which is a considerable challenge. So, essentially, Hamilton will be asked to replace the play-making ability of Kyle Anderson and the scoring of Jordan Adams. Feel free to handicap the likelihood of each of those scenarios on your own.
Looking at the roster going forward, there are some clear issues that need to be fixed almost immediately. First, it's a decent bet that Looney goes pro after this year, and there isn’t a clear candidate on the roster to take over at power forward once he’s gone. Admittedly, we haven’t seen much of Goloman, but from what little we have seen, we doubt he’d be ready to take over as a sophomore and, from what we hear, is more of a center. Bail, from what we saw, is still a long way off. Bolden, who is still on scholarship for the year, could be the starter there, but there’s no guarantee he stays in school after having to sit out the year.
So, UCLA likely needs to sign a player who can provide an immediate impact at power forward.
Second, UCLA will lose Powell in the off-season, and there’s a not-insignificant chance that Hamilton could earn enough hype and national attention that he decides to go pro after the year (after all, he’ll be playing 35 minutes per game and may be the leading scorer). That would leave UCLA with Alford, Allen, and incoming freshmen Aaron Holiday and Prince Ali. From what we’ve seen of Allen, unless he’s made significant strides, he’s not someone who should be counted on for considerable rotational minutes for a good Pac-12 team. So, really, UCLA has three rotational guards on roster for next year in Alford, Holiday, and Ali. At minimum, UCLA needs one more impact player to add to that group, and probably two.
At center, UCLA is relatively stocked with Parker and Welsh, and with the other roster needs, it’s completely understandable if the Bruins do not take a true center in this class.
But it’s very clear at this point that, in addition to Holiday and Ali, the Bruins absolutely need to take two or three more impact players, including at least one power forward.