As UCLA basketball's 2012-13 season winds down, the time that UCLA fans have dreaded the past 11 months has arrived.
NBA draft speculation season.
UCLA head coach Ben Howland bought himself precious time by bringing in the top recruiting class in the nation last year, signing the top prospect in the country in Shabazz Muhammad, a top-five prospect in Kyle Anderson, and two other top-100 prospects in Tony Parker and Jordan Adams.
Of course, one of those was a surefire one-and-done player in Shabazz Muhammad. For the better part of three years, Muhammad was to pick a school to play at for a year and jam immediately after the season to make millions of dollars on a terrible, NBA lottery team. This, largely, is still the plan. Although Shabazz gave us the generic, "I don't know, I really enjoyed my time here" schtick, Ben Howland decided to "keep it real" (his words, not mine) by saying what we're all thinking:
"That was his last game in Pauley," Howland said after a hard-fought 74-69 victory over No. 11-ranked Arizona. "There's no doubt about it. I know that. He knows that. We all know that. So we want this season to go on as long as possible."
More about this, and UCLA forward Kyle Anderson, after the jump.
That sounds accurate. Shabazz Muhammad's likely thinking the same thing (despite his deference), and rightfully so: This isn't football, where one can improve his draft status significantly with another year. Not only is Shabazz Muhammad a guaranteed first-rounder, but he's a lottery pick: Projected lottery picks should generally jump at the chance to get to the NBA.
Of course, scouts do understand that this man his limitations. Although he's proven to be a legitimate scorer, his shot is ridiculously streaky, he's often forcing really stupid shots and he doesn't look anywhere near as explosive as he was advertised out of high school. That won't stop teams from drafting based on potential, though, as NBA teams are wont to do, meaning 'Bazz is all but gone at the end of the year.
There is, of course, another possible one-and-done in Westwood: Point forward Kyle Anderson, who ranks top-five in the nation in rebounding, while also finishing the season strong, averaging nearly 17 points a contest to go along with 11 rebounds over the past four contests. He's proven to be an integral part of a decidedly inconsistent UCLA basketball squad, and his versatility is a pain in the ass for opposing teams.
There's speculation that Anderson's leaving, too, and his situation is far less clear; in fact, it has been from the beginning and no one was sure if Anderson's unorthodox style would translate to the college game. (If we're being objective, it hasn't; Anderson's excelled in other important was, but that's a discussion for another time.)
Currently, no major NBA mock drafts have Anderson anywhere for 2013, but a plethora have Anderson as a borderline lottery pick in 2014.
So should he stay?
Yes. Yes, he should.
While we try to keep on our objective glasses on, it's important to understand that Kyle Anderson is the most unorthodox player this game has ever seen. He's a playmaker in that he can create shots for others, but he's painstakingly slow, unathletic and really big. His ball-handling skills are elite, but he's not quick enough to take guys off the dribble (hence the nickname "Slo-Mo"). He's a streaky shooter, a damn good rebounder, and a decent defender inside. His post moves seem non-existent and he's not strong enough to bang with the biggest of them. If you had to make a comparison, think Lamar Odom with less athleticism and a higher basketball IQ.
This affects his draft status, because while some NBA GM will undoubtedly drool over the prospect of having a possible Magic Johnson on their roster (meaning he'll be a first-round pick in 2013), it's not ideal for Kyle to jam as is and develop as a basketball player in the pros. In the NBA, coaches tend to be uncreative and boring, meaning they won't have the imagination necessary to use Anderson effectively. Indeed, a bland, unimaginative coach will look at Anderson's size, length and rebounding numbers in college and think immediately, "He looks like a hybrid forward, let's use him there." (If this is the criteria for unimaginitive, yes, we also think Ben Howland is unimaginative.)
Anderson needs a creative coach if he's going to succeed at the next level immediately; he can't be brought into a bad situation off the bat, with a coach on the hot seat, and expect to do well and progress as a player at a steady pace, at least not at this moment.
The alternative? Kyle stays. He becomes a more cerebral, more polished point man, capable of picking apart defenses with proper angles, while also getting more reps as the team's ball-handler at UCLA (provided Howland gets off his high-horse and succumbs to Anderson's talents). Anderson doesn't have conventional talent the way Shabazz does (who possesses elite athleticism and a skillset tailored to the 2-guard spot), and so it's in his best interests to stick around and smooth out some rough edges, while also convincing NBA GMs and coaches that he's capable of running an offense, and that he isn't just some run-of-the-mill forward that can rebound and perhaps, maybe, shoot.
That's how it should pan out, because while we want to see Anderson get drafted, we don't want him to fade out of the league within a couple of years, jumping from team to team, waiting for a coach that knows how to harness his talents.
What about you, though? Should Kyle Anderson or Shabazz Muhammad stay?