Assessing Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, and Others in UCLA vs. Kentucky

December 13, 2016

by Alan Lu

UCLA vs. Kentucky was going to be the marquee matchup of the non-conference part of this year, especially for those that were disappointed when three of Duke’s top prospects were sidelined against Kansas due to injuries. The Kansas-Duke game still ended up being a terrific game, nonetheless.  But let’s get back on track with the introduction to this write-up.

The UCLA-Kentucky matchup may very well be the best game of the college basketball season so far, and it lived up to every second of its well-earned hype.   Top prospects squared off between likely future lottery picks amongst the two teams.  Two undefeated teams were going head to head.  In addition to that, the most exciting team in the country (UCLA) was going up against one of the most iconic teams of this decade (Kentucky).

I was unable to catch the game live in its entirety, but I was able to watch the two teams play recently.  With thanks to YouTube via UKBasketballLive, I was finally able to catch this well played basketball game that features potentially as many as six or more possible future first round picks in this game.

Freshman point guards Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox played terrifically, and UCLA narrowly edged out Kentucky in a come from behind win in a game that was played at a fast and furious pace.  Here are my observations on the various prospects that played on that day.

UCLA’s 6-5 freshman point guard, Lonzo Ball had a solid game overall in a win for his team.  He did have his ups and downs against Kentucky, as he had a turbulent first half, but he ended the half strong by making a three in the closing minutes.  He then went on to have a solid second half, as he made clutch shots and passes, and came away with big rebounds to lead his team to a five point victory.

Ball is a very unselfish playmaker that has terrific court sense.  He sees the floor very well, and he can make an assortment of passes to set up scores in a variety of ways for his teammates.  Ball will patiently probe the defenses, and he can routinely throw sharp, accurate passes to find teammates in stride to rack up assists.

But sometimes, he can try to be too fancy in making plays offensively, as he will try to make the home run pass too much that can lead to turnovers.  Ball is always looking to make a play, and his mistakes are mostly because of he will attempt passes that few can make on the court.

Ball also is a very good scorer off the dribble, especially in the open court.  He has great speed, ball handling prowess, and change of direction ability that can enable him to move swiftly past defenders, and he has the body control to score in traffic as well as to throw down dunks in traffic.

He struggled to make threes consistently, as he had trouble knocking them down for most of the first half.  But Ball made timely outside shots when they counted, as he can make a quick three off of a screen, and he has nifty ball handling moves and great range that can enable him to make pull-up threes from NBA distance.

Ball also rebounded the basketball very well, especially in the second half.  He has great hands and instincts, as he showed a deft ability to come away with tough defensive boards in traffic.  He also would push the ball up the floor afterwards to set up scoring chances for his team.  He also showcased adequate defensive skills.  Ball is a rangy defender that can play passing lanes to nab plenty of steals, but he also has the footwork, timing, and instincts to block the occasional shot when defending his man.

He is a smart defender that will play angles to cut off penetration, as he was able to force Isaiah Briscoe to step out of bounds multiple times when defending the drive.  But sometimes, Ball can get beat off the dribble to allow scores as he may not always show great lateral quickness, and he also can commit touch fouls due to over-aggressiveness.

In general, Lonzo Ball had a solid game, as he made clutch shots, passes, and rebounds down the stretch.  He may not necessarily have dominated in this game, but it is important to note that he played very well in crunch time on the road against a very tough Kentucky team, because he put forth a good showing by scoring 14 points, and notching 7 assists and 6 rebounds in a 5-point win over Kentucky, Ball looks to be firmly entrenched in the discussion to be a top 5 pick for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Kentucky’s 6-3 freshman point guard, De’Aaron Fox also had a very solid game.  He played well throughout the course of the contest, and he was easily the best player of the first half between UCLA and Kentucky.

Fox has great speed and a very quick first step that enables him to get many scores off the dribble.  Fox can really accelerate to get buckets in transition, and he has a nifty eurostep move that he can use to get past defenders.  He can score on crafty moves to the hoop, but sometimes Fox can play too wildly, which can lead to misses in the paint.

He also possesses a decent ability to knock down jumpers.  Fox is very fast, and he has good form on his shot, as he can easily make pull-up jumpers from the mid-range as well as beyond the arc.  But he also can be very streaky with his shot, which can lead to numerous misses for his team.

Fox also showcased stellar playmaking skills.  Like Ball, Fox does an excellent job of pushing the ball up the floor, and he can quickly get the ball to his teammates to set up a wealth of scores for his team.   He has great court vision, and he will patiently find players to get them the ball.  Plus, he is a terrific ball handler that can easily create separation off the dribble, as that can enable him to find angles to get his teammates the ball on the floor.

Also, Fox displayed adequate defensive skills.  He has the ability to get steals, as he used his smarts, athletic ability, and instincts to knock a ball away off of an opponent to help his team get possession of the basketball.  Plus, Fox can ably contest jumpers to force misses.

But sometimes, he can have lapses defensively, as he may give up too much space at times, which can lead him to being late on his rotations, and to him allowing baskets to shooters.  Also, Fox can occasionally be too aggressive on defense, as he may be prone to committing reach-in fouls every once in a while.

In summary, Fox had a good showing, as he is a pass-first point guard that can make a lot of plays offensively for his team.  He has great court vision, and he is a fast playmaker that can make numerous shots off the dribble.  He did not shoot the ball as well, but he did make some key shots to help his team stay in the game.  As he scored 20 points and notched 9 assists in the loss, Fox appears to be one of the best prospects for the upcoming draft, as he was a catalyst in helping his team make numerous plays offensively.

UCLA’s 6-9 freshman forward, T.J. Leaf also had a very good game, as he scored 17 points, and notched 13 rebounds, and 5 assists in a victory for his team over Kentucky.  Leaf showed an outstanding ability to score on hustle plays.  He constantly was outworking the opposition on the offensive end, as he was able to get numerous scores off cuts, put backs, as well as off broken plays.   Leaf showed great body control by scoring on a reverse layup off of a put back, as well as solid athleticism by throwing down a dunk to score in a scramble situation.

He also shot the ball well, as he showed a deft ability to make jumpers when he elected to take them.  Leaf was able to use a step back move to score on a Nowitzki-like fadeaway mid-range jumper.   He also managed to knock down an open three off the catch.  Leaf did show a decent ability to score off the dribble.  He showed solid ball handling skills by maneuvering tightly past his man on the baseline, and he managed to throw down an emphatic dunk around the basket.  However, he struggled to score consistently on half court drives against Kentucky’s defense.

He also showcased solid playmaking skills.  Leaf is a very unselfish player that will patiently find the open man, and he will consistently get his teammates the basketball to set up scores for his teammates.  But sometimes, he does not always make quick decisions, as this made lead to a shot clock violation, or to throwing an inbounds pass at the last minute that could lead to a turnover.

Plus, Leaf also rebounded the ball well.  He excelled at crashing the glass on both ends of the floor, as he showed great athletic ability, motor, and instincts to do so.  His best rebound was when he flew in to get an offensive rebound, and ended up scoring on a reverse layup off of a put back.

He also showcased good defensive skills.  Leaf has solid anticipation skills, as he was able to leap up quickly to break up a lob pass, as he jumped up to intercept it to get a steal for his team.

Plus, he also defended his man fairly well, and on one play he was able to rotate on drives, and use his length to block a shot in this game.  However, he had some trouble with fouls, as the strength and inside scoring ability of Kentucky’s players occasionally gave Leaf some trouble when he would defend the post.

In this game, T.J. Leaf generally played a smart, all-around game, and he showcased a lot of skills that could prove to be useful in the NBA.  His game may not stand out initially, as he is a good, but not a great athlete, but Leaf is a skilled basketball player that showed he can help his team in a variety of ways to get them victories, and he could potentially be a mid first round pick in 2017.

Kentucky’s 6-3 freshman combo guard, Malik Monk also had a fairly good showing in the game against UCLA.  He did not start making shots right away, but he really started to get in a rhythm as the game wore on, and he also played tough defense, as he generally played a solid game on both ends of the floor.

Monk is a very good shooter that can really knock down shots from long distance.  He has a lot of range on his shot, and he has a quick release that allows him to get good chances to score from beyond the arc.   He also has a great ability to make both spot up and pull-up threes, as he may easily be the best shooter on Kentucky’s team.

He also excels at attacking the basket to garner scores.  Monk is fast and athletic, and he can consistently beat his man down the court to garner scores in transition.  Plus, he has the leaping ability to throw down an emphatic two-handed dunk on the break.   Monk also can score on runners, and he generally has a good shooting touch at making shots around the basket.

He also can knock down pull-up mid-range jumpers.  But sometimes, Monk can be prone to taking tough, contested shots, which can lead to misses, and other times, he may go too fast, which can lead him to miss wildly on other shot attempts.

Monk generally played solid defense.  He is quick, agile, and has good hands, he can frequently jump passes and intercept them to get steals for his team.  He will anticipate outlet passes, and he has the leaping ability and instincts to time his jumps to get steals in mid-air to help his team.

The only drawback about his defense in this game was his tendency to give up too much space to shooters at times, which would lead to allowing three-point scores.  But generally, Monk was active in playing passing lanes, and he was able to force UCLA to commit plenty of turnovers.

However, he may only have displayed average playmaking skills against UCLA.  For the positives, Monk did show a decent ability to make passes in transition, and a willingness to pass, as he did see a back door cut and attempt a lob pass to a teammate.

But it ended up being picked off by a taller opponent who was able to anticipate the throw.  Also, on another play, Monk threw an errant pass that led to another turnover for his team on offense.  The jury may be out on Monk’s passing ability, but it appears that UCLA did a great job of anticipating his passes more than anything.

In this game, Malik Monk scored 24 points, made 4 threes, and collected 5 steals in a loss to UCLA.  He shot the ball well, generally excelled as a scorer off the dribble as well as on fast breaks, and he was very active defensively, as he forced the opposition to commit numerous turnovers.  He turned in a good showing on this day, as he looks to be a strong candidate to go in the lottery in 2017.

Kentucky’s 6-9 freshman forward, Bam Adebayo put forth a good performance in this game against UCLA.   Numbers wise, he did a great job as he scored 18 points, and he also had 13 rebounds and 4 blocks in a five point loss for his team.  Adebayo generally excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  He excelled at collecting offensive rebounds, and he was able to get numerous scores and free throws off of put backs.  He has great strength and athletic ability, as he was able to score on a couple of powerful dunks around the basket.

His best play of the game was when he set an on-ball screen and rolled hard to the rim, and leapt up to score by throwing the ball into the hoop on what appeared to be a dunk, as this action led to UCLA’s freshman big man Ike Anigbogu to foul out of the game.  He also has very good strength and athletic ability to draw numerous fouls in the post.   Plus, he also generally excelled at making his free throws.  But Adebayo would occasionally miss wildly on put backs, and he also struggled to find his shooting touch from the field.

Adebayo also made a couple of good passes from the field, and he generally rebounded well on both ends of the floor.  He was also quite active defensively, as he showed a great ability to block shots off of drives as well as in the post, as he has terrific length, athletic tools, and instincts to do so.  He showed great recovery speed on one play as he appeared to get beat off the dribble, and then managed to swat a shot off of a drive using his length and timing that time.  But he generally had more trouble defending out on the perimeter.  He would be caught on switches when defending screens, and while he would make noble attempts to stay with his man to try to get stops, his opponents were often able to make jumpers and draw fouls on him.

In general, Bam Adebayo was a presence for his team on both ends of the floor, and he helped get his team plenty of points, rebounds, and blocks around the basket.  He did have some trouble defensively when he would be caught on switches, though.  But generally he played well, and Adebayo showed a lot of promise as he could end up being an elite rim protector at the next level.  As Adebayo played very well and may be one of the most athletic big men in the draft, he could end up being a lottery pick for the upcoming draft.

This game also presented the opportunity to see UCLA’s 6-10 freshman big man Ike Anigbogu play in extended minutes this season.  While he did play against Texas A&M earlier this year, he did not look to be particularly impressive on that day, as he did not play that much then, and he struggled to make an impact against the Aggies.

But this game was different, as Anigbogu played quite well, and was downright impressive in some of the moments against Kentucky.  He showed a great ability to finish plays around the basket to garner scores.  Anigbogu can score on a drop step move in the post, and he showed good hands to score on thunderous dunks at the rim.

In this game, Anigbogu showed great leaping skills and motor, as his best play offensively, was when he elevated to score on a powerful put back dunk early in the second half.  Defensively, his performance on that end was a mixed bag, but he did have some impressive moments.  Anigbogu showed a great ability to block shots in this game, as he would quickly leap up to swat a ball ferociously off the drive.  Early on, he appeared to defend Adebayo in the post better than his teammate Thomas Welsh.

However, Anigbogu would then run into foul trouble.  He tended to commit fouls on drives, as he would be too aggressive in trying to block shots at times.  Other times, he would give up position when defending in the post as well as off of a roll late in the game, which would lead him to foul the opposition around the basket.

In general, Ike Anigbogu had a fairly solid game off the bench, and he made a couple of impactful plays to give his team a boost.  He may have a great deal of potential to excel as a player in the NBA, as he could potentially develop into an elite rim protector at the next level.   He is still raw offensively, and he will need to work on being a more consistent player, but if he can play as well as he did against Kentucky, he could potentially end up being a first round pick in 2017 or in future drafts.  Right now, he may project to be a second round pick for the upcoming draft.

Other Notes:

Kentucky’s 6-9 senior forward, Derek Willis had a solid showing in a loss to UCLA.  He did a very good job of making threes, as he made one off of a step back move, and he also made a quick three late in the game to keep his team in the game.

He also was able to find a way to get open underneath the basket to score on an emphatic dunk early in the game to showcase his athletic abilities.  Right now, he is overshadowed by his much higher profile teammates, but Willis may have the skills and the talent to end up being a second round pick in 2017.

In conclusion, this was a very fun and exciting game to watch.  This game was played at a frenetic pace, and the teams and players played very well throughout the contest.