Wednesday November 2nd, 2016

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

As Isaac Hamilton nursed a left-ankle injury over the summer, UCLA’s leading scorer giddily observed what would be waiting for him when he returned: teammates pushing the ball at every opportunity, as well as a motion offense based on reading and reacting, which gives everyone more freedom to create. “We get open shots and good looks almost every time down,” the 6' 5" senior guard says.

For Hamilton, who averaged 16.8 points last year, increased tempo and the playmaking of touted freshman point guard Lonzo Ball will amplify his strengths. Transition accounted for just 13.1% of UCLA’s possessions in 2015–16; more fast breaks means that Hamilton’s effectiveness on the run (1.248 points per transition chance last year) will translate into even more scoring chances. An efficient three-point shooter at 37.7%, Hamilton is not shy about launching it from anywhere, and Ball’s punctual deliveries should put the senior in prime position to let loose.

The arrival of Ball also means that 6' 3" senior Bryce Alford (16.1 points last year) can expend his energy more efficiently. Initiating and producing offense as a point guard took a toll on him last season; year-to-year drops in adjusted shooting off screens (50.0% to 43.6%) and in spot-up scenarios (58.9% to 48.0%) followed. “It’ll simplify it a lot for me,” Alford says. “I had so many roles, I didn’t know what I needed to focus on the most.”

Scouting the Bruins has gotten a lot more complicated. Says Bryce’s dad, coach Steve Alford, “You got guys like Bryce and Isaac off the ball—those are two hard handles.”

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X-Factor: Junior center Thomas Welsh

Thomas Welsh’s 56.3% shooting on jumpers inside 17 feet makes him ideal for pick-and-pops in the motion offense, but he’ll have to adjust to a faster pace and block more shots—the 7-footer averaged just 1.0 last year.

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Coach’s Take: Steve Alford

“We want to play with really good pace. Whether it’s a make or miss, we want to get it up, and obviously [Lonzo Ball] is the start of that. When ’Zo gets going downhill, he’s hard to play against and he creates so much offense for everybody. We weren’t very good defensively. A lot of that also had to do with how we played. We’re playing mostly with two centers, we did not have the stretch fours. That affects how you play. We weren’t near as athletic and fast. How we defended pick and rolls was not the way we wanted to. But out of necessity that’s how we had to do it. This year, it’s the most depth I’ve had in the frontcourt since I’ve been here. So we’re able to stretch the floor and do a lot more things defensively like this team is capable of doing.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Isaac Hamilton Sr SG 16.5 4.5 3.3 115.4 22% 85%
Bryce Alford Sr PG/SG 14.7 3.5 4.5 116.5 22% 80%
Lonzo Ball Fr PG 13.8 6.0 4.6 116.9 22% 77%
Thomas Welsh Jr C 11.8 8.8 0.7 126.5 17% 70%
T.J. Leaf Fr PF 10.5 6.9 0.9 111.5 20% 63%
Aaron Holiday So PG/SG 8.0 2.3 2.4 105.6 20% 56%
Ike Anigbogu Fr C 3.7 2.7 0.3 107.1 18% 25%

Projected Pac-12 Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Oregon 14–4 14–4
2 Arizona 13–5 12–6
3 UCLA 11–7 6–12
4 California 11–7 12–6
5 USC 9–9 9–9
6 Utah 9–9 13–5
7 Colorado 8–10 10–8
8 Washington 8–10 9–9
9 Oregon State 7–11 9–9
10 Stanford 7–11 8–10
11 Arizona State 7–11 5–13
12 Washington State 4–14 1–17

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

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