SG Isaac Hamilton (USA Today)

Takeaways From UCLA's Exhibition

Nov. 2 -- There isn't much to glean from the competition, but there was enough to offer some early thoughts on UCLA's talent...

UCLA's exhibition game against Cal State L.A. on Friday provided us our first glimpse of how the 2015-16 version of the Bruins will look this season -- and we do mean the word "look" fairly literally, in that it gives us a glimpse of how the team physically will look this season, as opposed to providing us a strong basis for analyzing how the team will perform this year. Unless the team loses, there's not much else you can draw from an exhibition against such an inferior opponent.

But there were still some pretty interesting developments. It's one game, but Aaron Holiday and Bryce Alford seemed to split time at the point, and when both were in the game, it seemed that Holiday probably even handled the ball a bit more, at least in terms of bringing the ball up the floor (if the fast break wasn't there, or if the first motion didn't get what UCLA wanted, it seemed that Alford tended to get the ball a little bit more to run a new set). Now, it's hard to gauge how Holiday will look against real opponents three months from now, but we absolutely welcome the experiment of Holiday playing a good amount of point guard this season, since it will free up Alford for more catch and shoot opportunities on the perimeter, which is where he has his biggest comparative advantage as a player.

Holiday was probably the biggest highlight for us while watching the game. His energy was nearly palpable at points, and he basically acted as a one-man press on defense, repeatedly harassing Cal State L.A.'s point guard into turnovers or poor decisions. On both ends, he'll need to play a bit more under control as the season goes on, as he fouled a bit too much on defense and seemed to be going a bit too fast on offense. Also, if he's going to play a considerable amount of point guard, he'll probably need to continue to work on his approach to the position, as this one exhibition reinforced the idea that he's more of a shoot-first lead guard at this stage of his development. There's obviously a lot to like there, though, beginning with the fantastic energy and very good athleticism he brings to both ends of the court.

The other interesting development, and this one is not as positive, was Thomas Welsh and Tony Parker starting the game side by side at the four and five. Now, in the best of worlds, neither of those players is anything other than a true center, but roster limitations this season (or at least through the early portions of the season) may force them to play together fairly often. From what we saw of Jonah Bolden, who many saw as a potential starter at the four, he's probably still a ways off from being able to contribute at the level necessary to start. He looked a little rusty (given the long layoff from competitive basketball) on both ends, especially in the first half. He committed to hitting the glass in the second half, and ended up with 11 rebounds, so that was good to see, but otherwise, he looked a little lost defensively. It's one game, so we'll obviously wait to see more from him before drawing any sweeping conclusions. It's perhaps telling, though, that UCLA went with the two centers to start the game rather than opting for Bolden.

It's hard to judge this sort of thing because the only context is weak competition, but Isaac Hamilton looked a little bit stronger and a little bit more explosive than he did a year ago, when he looked like he let his body get a little too thin and weak heading into the season. Typically we don't judge players on such things, but in the exhibition he had a nice steal and dunk that we really don't think he could have finished with such authority a year ago. He looked confident shooting the ball, especially in his mid-range game, and confidence, as we saw last year, is a big part of his game. Hopefully that keeps up throughout the year.

Alex Olesinski didn't look half bad in this one, playing under control and making good passes. We'll, again, reserve any real evaluation until we see him in a really competitive game, but this was encouraging, since we had no real expectations for him at all. He and Bolden both played the three at various points (sort of the same idea as Kevon Looney playing the three last season), but we'd have to imagine that once Prince Ali is back, UCLA will opt for more three-guard lineups and limit Olesinski and Bolden's minutes at the three. Last year, Looney had to play some three out of necessity given the lack of guard depth, but UCLA has one additional talented body in the backcourt now, and can probably avoid putting itself in that sort of unfavorable defensive lineup.

Defensive intensity was pretty poor throughout the game. Again, it was an exhibition, but it's at least something to note that the only two players we saw play with any consistent effort on defense were Holiday and Welsh. There was a great deal of inattention on the perimeter early that actually allowed CSULA to hang around for a while due to sloppy rotations. If UCLA has to start Welsh and Parker, and play one of Bolden or Olesinski real minutes at the three, this won't be a great defensive team under any circumstances, and if that group plays with poor effort, it could be a very poor defensive team. Obviously, with many of those big lineups in the game at the same time, UCLA used a variety of different zones in this one, along with minimal man.

The big lineup question for UCLA coming out of this one is who is going to emerge to take the minutes at the four. Gyorgy Goloman is out until the beginning of December, and he might factor into that competition when he returns. Welsh and Parker playing side by side is not an ideal long-term solution because, while Welsh has the ability to shoot from mid-range, both players are ideally low post players on offense, and neither is really capable of guarding a stretch four on defense. Even rotating out to the perimeter in a zone is a chore for those big guys, so it would obviously be ideal to limit their time together as much as possible. Bolden, Olesinski, or even Goloman (when he returns) emerging as a legitimate contender for 25 or 30 minutes per game would help to solve those issues. We didn't see much from Noah Allen to change our opinion of him from last year, and Ikenna Okwarabizie only played four minutes, and there wasn't much to glean from that.

We'll obviously have our full season preview in the coming weeks before Monmouth, where we'll get our first real opportunity to evaluate this year's team.


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