With 12 basketball games under UCLA’s belt, it’s fair to say that these Bruins have been totally disappointing, and probably the most disappointing squad in the nation. After earning a preseason ranking of 13th, the Bruins fell down the rankings rapidly after losses to Cal Poly, Georgetown and San Diego State (and close wins against poor teams such as Georgia, Texas and UC Irvine).
There’s a reason for this. Specifically, UCLA’s defense has been as porous as any in the nation, allowing even the most laughable of offenses to look about as good from the floor as some of the top teams in the nation. Those account for six of UCLA’s worst performances of the season.
They do have nine wins, though, and they’ve kept afloat with offense, primarily. Although the offense has looked sloppy and UCLA coach Ben Howland’s rotations are questionable, they’ve proven to be potent with the rock in their hands.
And statistically, there’s a stark difference in UCLA’s play on offense and defense. While they numbers back the notion that UCLA’s defense is borderline elite, they also show that the UCLA defense is probably one of the worst in the entire country.
Let’s take a look at some of these stats.
1.12 Points Per Possession
Sometimes, points per game is an absolute lie. A potent offense may only score about 70 points per game, and that’s entirely because of pace; in fact, prior to 2012, Howland-coached UCLA teams ran at painstakingly slow paces, utilizing half-court sets as often as possible. Of course, that changed due to the offense being the worst aspect of this team and one of the worst in the Pac-12, even when accounting for pace.
Thus, with all this freshmen talent, led by Jordan Adams, Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, the Bruins have found that they are far more efficient when running the court. Last season, UCLA averaged 1.05 points per possession, which put them at 100th in the nation out of 347. This season, their 1.12 points per possession earned them a top-25 ranking at No. 23.
And although Larry Drew II at the point doesn’t make much sense, statistically, he’s been a helluva distributor, and owns the team’s best Pure Point Rating (a stat that measures how good of a point-man/”ballhandler” a player is) while earning double-digits in assists on a regular basis.
The offense is far more efficient in addition to being more fast-paced, which is a sign of serious growth on the offensive end. This, however, doesn’t come without caveats, at least for this team …
0.95 Points Allowed Per Possession
While the Bruins’ offensive efficiency is as good as it gets, their defensive efficiency is pedestrian at best.
And while it’s not bottom-100 (they rank 142nd out of 347), it’s far from better-than-mediocre and it’s likely inflated due to the level of offensive competition they’ve faced (the same argument can be made for UCLA’s offensive efficiency but the Bruins have yet to face the offensive versions of Fresno State and Texas, both of which were absent of any offensive prowess but laden with gaudy defensive statistics).
Allowing Fresno State to score 78 points off of 47 percent shooting and 58 percent three-point shooting is bad enough, but it’s worse when you consider those Bulldogs averaged 25 percent from downtown and 40 percent from the floor in general.
This is all a function of UCLA’s piss-poor defense at every level. The Bruins have a hard time containing perimeter players with minimal know-how on penetration and, at the next level of the defense, the big men inside — primarily David and Travis Wear — have shown to be absolute trash on defending the paint once the guards have broken through lax perimeter defense.
32% Of Opponents’ Points Allowed From 3-Pointers
The Bruins’ biggest issue defensively is three-point defense. It’s how UCI — a mid-major with a losing record — was able to take UCLA to overtime and it’s exactly how the Bruins lost to Cal Poly, Georgetown and San Diego State.
They aren’t athletic enough to rotate out to three-point shooters and if you couple this with the fact that Ben Howland avoid zone defense like the plague — something that’s bugged fans for quite a few years — it’s a recipe for disaster from downtown.
UCLA ranks 304th of 347 in percent of opponents’ points from three at 32 percent. One in every three points allowed by UCLA come from three-pointers. Let that sink in.
48 Percent Field Goal Percentage
This one’s fairly straight-forward and it’s still pretty telling of how good this offense is. UCLA ranks 19th in the nation in field goal percentage at 48 percent, which goes along with UCLA’s offensive efficiency quite nicely.
Four current UCLA hoopsters shoot above that percentage, three of which are freshmen (Shabazz Muhammad, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams); the fourth is David Wear. (Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb also shot above 48 percent from the floor before transferring away.)
This UCLA team gets its looks with constant ball movement in half-court sets and aggression on the fast-break and that strategy has helped tremendously with getting solid shots off.
And the fact that they run a line-up that features Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams helps quite a bit, too.