The UCLA Men’s basketball team has begun to pick up steam this season, winning 10 out of their last 11 games, including their first 5 Pac-12 games, led by 5 key players.
The story of this year’s Bruins squad has been about the incredible freshman class, who has mostly kept the team afloat. One of the unsung heroes, though, has been senior guard Larry Drew II. Drew II, who transferred from North Carolina after 3 turbulent seasons struggled with consistency for most of his career as a Tar Heel, but has seemed to find his niche as play-maker for the Bruins. Drew is quietly 3rd in the nation in assists with 8.1 per game, and 1st in the NCAA with a 4.67 assists/turnover ratio. Larry Drew II has committed himself to facilitating the offense, which has been much needed the first half of this season while Coach Ben Howland was figuring out his rotations.
Drew II isn’t the only upperclassman that has had a crucial impact for the Bruins. Junior forward Travis Wear, one of the Wear twins who also transferred from North Carolina, has been a constant positive. His 12.5 points/game on better than 52% shooting has made him a more than reliable option because of his combination of size and quickness in the paint, and his excellent midrange shooting. It would be nice to see his rebounding numbers go up, as he sits at just under 6 per game, but his contributions as the 4th most valuable player have been much appreciated while UCLA continues to improve as a team.
The third most valuable player, and least heralded of the freshmen is Jordan Adams out of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, a 4-star recruit according to Scout.com. In the first 3 games of the season, before top recruit Shabazz Muhammad was eligible to play, Adams provided a much needed and unexpected spark off the bench, averaging 24 points on 50% shooting. Adams has the ability to create his own shot and stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting. Since Muhammad has emerged as the team’s primary scorer, Jordan’s scoring has slowed down, but he has provided a much-needed boost on the scoreboard.
Shabazz Muhammad, the #1 ranked small forward in the nation coming into this season, got off to a slow start after dealing with an ankle injury and eligibility issues early on. Ever since he began playing, he’s been filling up the stat sheets with almost 18 points/game on an efficient 47% shooting, with 5.1 rebounds/game. Muhammad has lived up to the hype so far, showing elite athleticism and a great feel for the game at such a young age. Even though he leads the team in scoring, he’s still just 2nd most valuable player on the squad so far this season.
Freshman forward Kyle Anderson, the #2 ranked small forward in the nation behind Muhammad, has been the most important player for the Bruins so far. Anderson may only be averaging 10 points/game, but he is leading the team in rebounds with 9.1/game. His contributions transcend the stat sheet, though. He has a great basketball IQ, exceptional ball-handling skills for his height, and tremendous passing and play-making ability. Anderson, aptly nicknamed “Slow-Mo” because of his slow, smooth approach to the game on offense, has shown great decision-making skills for a 19 year old. Though he still occasionally makes freshman mistakes, Anderson’s versatility has been extremely valuable, creating miss-matches on both sides of the ball. If Anderson improves his jump shot, he has a very bright future ahead of him as a Bruin, and as a professional.
The top 3 players for the Bruins are all freshmen that have made improvements since the beginning of the season. As Kyle Anderson has developed, the team as a whole has improved, which is why he is the most important player on the team. His scoring, rebounding, play-making and leadership will hopefully lead to many more UCLA wins this season.