Instead of looking back, let's now look forward, shall we?
Let's do some far premature projecting of what next year's Bruin team could look like, and even beyond that.
Of course, so much is predicated on what Jrue Holiday, the freshman guard, does in regard to the NBA Draft. We probably won't know what he'll do until June, when he has to ultimately make up his mind to keep his name in the Draft. We fully expect him to at least "test the waters," go through some workouts, and see how he projects among NBA people.
Speculating about it is, well, truly worthless. No one knows whether he'll go or not. Not even the Holidays. Does he want to go? Sure he does. As do most college basketball players. There are reports that Holiday isn't necessarily happy at UCLA, and we're not going to refute them. But it's not that he is entirely unhappy either. Holiday, from what we know, has the normal amount of frustration for a highly-hyped freshman that didn't have a monstrous freshman year. But whether any of that comes to bear on the decision to return or not, again, no one knows. If he goes through workouts and gets projected as a Lottery Pick it's very safe to say he'll leave. Would he go if he were projected as a low, first-round pick outside of the Lottery? That's the big uncertainty.
So, because of that complete uncertainty, let's project what next year's team will be with or without Holiday.
With Holiday, the starting five are probably:
PG – Holiday
SG – Malcolm Lee
SF – Mike Roll
PF – Nikola Dragovic
C -- James Keefe
We've discussed some things with people close to the program and this is what we came up with as the 2009-2010 projected starting five.
Holiday will certainly be the starting point guard. It's where he's meant to play. So, that leaves Lee, Roll or Jerime Anderson to fill the other two starting perimeter spots. Those are some pretty decent options and it gives Ben Howland some good variations to play with. We opted for Lee and Roll over Anderson because of what they offer in combination with Holiday; You need a true defensive stopper, and the best candidate is Lee. He can match up against smaller guards and bigger guards. Then, also, if you have Lee and Holiday in there together, you're a bit weak on outside shooting, thus you need Roll. Roll, too, is an under-rated defender who probably has the best understanding of UCLA's defense, its rotations and such. The team would need that senior anchor out there defensively.
I feel that this group will play better defense than this year's team on the perimeter. Anderson is a very good defender, Lee is perhaps the best on the team, and it's not a stretch to expect Holiday to be more consistent, and be the defender we saw in spurts this season more often.
It's probably a good bet that Dragovic will return to his starting spot at the four. If he can continue to improve defensively and in his rebounding, and improve his body, which could increase his athleticism, that would make it far more justifiable.
At the five, we've heard that Keefe will get a look. Losing Alfred Aboya is a blow to UCLA's defense; really the best defense UCLA played this year was in the post with Aboya. Of course, Drew Gordon could make a huge jump in development between now and the start of next season. But we think, after talking to some people, that Keefe could be Howland's first option. He's a good post defender, and perhaps the best rebounder on the team. If, too, you can have a center who can step out and shoot it's dangerous, opening up the middle for drivers, which UCLA will have in Holiday, Anderson and Lee. Keee isn't a very good low-post scorer, but who is on the roster? Gordon shows the potential to be better than Keefe, but that's just potential.
There's also J'mison Morgan, who is a wildcard. It's impossible to speculate about his contribution next season since it's entirely based on the work he puts in during the off-season and his development. If Morgan is good enough to play more than just a few minutes at a time, and Gordon makes a decent leap in development, UCLA should have a good frontcourt rotation from among its returning players. Morgan does bring some things to the court that Gordon and Keefe don't – namely a bigger body who can match up against opposing bigger bodies. If Morgan can get in better shape and merely become a decent post defender, and learn how to hedge screens, it's very likely, because of the uniqueness compared to the rest of the roster, he could contend for many minutes. He also showed flashes of being a potential low-post scoring option, but it's all dependent on much it develops in the off-season.
With those eight, the team could be a little thin in terms of depth in the backcourt, and that's why we think there will be a chance for a freshman to get decent minutes. Mike Moser, the 6-7, long athlete, might be the most viable candidate. His athleticism makes him capable of guarding various positions, even possibly guarding opposing two guards. Unless he gets a lot bigger and thickens out, from what we saw of him, he could give Howland time at the 2, 3 or 4, being able to potentially guard all of those positions. Tyler Honeycutt, who we see as more of a three/four, would also have a good chance of gaining playing time as a freshman, because of his length and offensive skills.
In the frontcourt, there will be a logjam. UCLA will have a rotation of Dragovic, Keefe, Gordon and Morgan to begin with – and Howland didn't go deeper than four in the backcourt this season. Brandon Lane, the 6-9 power forward, might have the most long-term potential of the incoming frontcourt players, but he might be a ways off since he'll need to get stronger. That's pretty much the same with 6-9 center Anthony Stover. Both of them would probably struggle to defend in the Pac-10 as true freshmen. But if Morgan doesn't develop, expect Stover to step in and perhaps give the same kind of minutes that Gordon did this season. Reeves Nelson very well could get some time off the bench since he's about 230 pounds and ready physically to play at this level. We feel Stover and Lane, however, have the potential to make a bigger impact down the line.
What fans have to understand is that they've been ruined by recent UCLA freshmen, and it's skewed their expectation of freshmen. Kevin Love and his capability of coming in as a freshman and averaging 16 and 10 was an anomaly. Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar also helped to skew expectation since they were forced to come in as freshmen and play 34 minutes per game and have an immediate impact. So, while the 2009 UCLA recruiting class is very highly ranked, don't expect any of the five incoming freshmen to come in and "Carmelo-ize" the situation. All five are solid to very good prospects, with a few potential pros in the group. Lottery picks? Uncertain. We'll say right now there isn't a Kevin Love or even a Russell Westbrook in the group. But are they guys who, after a few years in the program, could be all-Pac-10 level? Yes. Could they be even more than that? Yes. But it's impossible to know for sure. That's why they're called prospect.
Without Holiday, UCLA's team next season has some issues. UCLA is very thin in the backcourt. Anderson would start at guard, Lee at the two guard and Roll at the three. Howland would have to definitely get some quick contributions from Moser and Honeycutt, but they are threes, if anything, and wouldn't give him much relief at guard. Howland would have to rotate Lee in as the back-up point guard by subbing Moser and Honeycutt in at one of the wing positions for Lee.
We know that UCLA would want to bring in another guard if Holiday left, but if Holiday waits until June to ultimately decide on the NBA, it could be too late to get a commitment from a high school senior. Donte Medder, the 6-1 point guard from Mesa (Ariz.) High, would be UCLA's first choice, but it'd be a case of UCLA convincing Medder to wait until June to decide when he has other schools offering him. There's also a question if Medder could get past UCLA's admission requirements.
If UCLA did lose Holiday, they'd make quite an effort to find someone to supply some potential back-up minutes at guard, perhaps even going to the JUCO ranks, or maybe roll the dice with Mohamed Koita, the 6-3 guard from questionable Tarzana (Calif.) Stoneridge Prep.
Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it's also fun to do a quick little projection of the 2010-2011 season.
It's, of course, impossible to know who will be in the program, but we can guess, so this is based on the players we feel will be around.
Anderson, as a junior, should be a very good point guard, and Lee, as a junior, a very good wing. Sophomores Moser or Honeycutt will be the starter at the three, giving Howland an offensive option and a more defensive option. If Moser, in fact, can guard a two, those four could get the bulk of the backcourt minutes. There will also be true freshman Tyler Lamb, who is a pure two, and potentially a good defender.
As of now, in our opinion it's still uncertain if Kendall Williams will be at UCLA, so we won't speculate on him.
You'd have to expect that Gordon will clearly be starting at UCLA by his junior season, either at the center spot or at the power forward spot. It would be particularly optimum for UCLA if Morgan had developed enough to be a strong starter at the five, and Gordon was at the four. There's also Stover, who will have been in the program for a year, and be prepared to play. Honeycutt, too, could be a four by this time.
The line-up of Anderson, Lee, Honeycutt/Moser, Gordon, Morgan/Stover, has experience, athleticism and length, and, most importantly, the potential to be both a good rebounding and defensive team.
Then throw in sophomores Lane and Nelson, along with freshman Lamb and then perhaps another freshman guard and post and UCLA looks pretty strong and deep.
Now, of course, it's completely impossible to project who would still be around three years from now, but that roster, if no one left the program early, would return intact for the 2011-2012 season…