One of the dominant story-lines headed into the 2013-14 UCLA hoops season revolved around its point guard, in that the Bruins appeared to be without one.
When Steve Alford took the UCLA gig, he brought with him his son, freshman point guard Bryce Alford. Because of UCLA fans’ uneasy reaction to the hiring of Alford, his son immediately got the brunt of the vitriol, with the fan-base ready to pounce on the frosh due to his status as a scholarship athlete under daddy dearest. It didn’t take much for the UCLA fan-base to turn on the younger Alford.
Déjà vu, right?
Back in Ben Howland’s final season, that same point guard problem surfaced, but the Bruins lucked into a much-improved Larry Drew II. The transfer from North Carolina was heavily scrutinized among the Tar Heel faithful and mocked by the UCLA fan-base. Drew II — the third UNC-to-UCLA transfer — was lobbied against hard as the team’s primary ball-handler, and fans were immediately angered by Howland’s decision to let Drew II man the Bruin offense over freshman Kyle Anderson.
Well, we know how that turned out.
Drew II would turn in statistically one of the best seasons by a point guard in UCLA history, eclipsing Pooh Richardson’s record for most assists in a season. He’d have one of the highest assist-turnover ratios in the country and he’d go on to give a moving, tearful reaction to Jordan Adams’ ankle injury in the Pac-12 tournament that earned him the affection of UCLA fans everywhere.
Though Bryce Alford hasn’t shed a tear for anyone just yet, it’s clear that his status’s trajectory among the fan-base is mirroring Drew’s.
Of course, much of his working into UCLA fans’ good will has to do with his play.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Bryce Alford started the season shooting 4-for-13, earning five assists and three turnovers in his first two games. The scrutiny among UCLA fans became rather intolerable for even the most rational human being (and as a side note, yours truly was behind much of the loud criticism thrown Alford’s way).
Since then, Alford has done a commendable job in leading the Bruins’ explosive and energetic second unit, headlined by Zach LaVine. Though LaVine is clearly the star for UCLA coming off the bench, his pairing with the coach’s son has been rather fruitful.
Because Alford’s producing on the floor, in the playing time he has. Earning a PER of 17.5, Alford’s managed an effective field goal percentage of 62.3, shooting at a 52 percent clip from 2-point range, while also hitting a ridiculous 47 percent of his threes.
All while earning 3.5 assists per turnover, a team best. When Alford’s on the floor, 23 percent of his teammates’ field goals can be attributed to an Alford assist.
To his credit, the frosh has done a fine job in reeling in his own talents. It appeared at the beginning of the season, Alford’s confidence got the best of him. Indeed, an eye test may confirm that Alford took way too many contested outside shots, held on to the ball for far too long, and often turned over possession due to his overly-excitable ball-handling.
Much of those issues have disappeared, though, now that Alford’s comfortable and playing within himself. Sure, he may get a tad too confident once in awhile, but his overzealous shot-taking has largely taken care of itself. Defensively, there isn’t much improvement, but Steve Alford’s clever employment of the zone often masks the serious deficiencies his son Bryce has on that end of the floor.
All this is to say that Alford wasn’t as bad as we thought. And though he likely won’t bully himself into the starting line-up anytime soon, one can imagine a scenario (way) down the road in which the coach’s kid takes over the reigns of his dad’s offense.
Regardless, good on Alford for silencing the critics. He’s got some more winning over to do, but it appears he’s well on his way to doing so.