Observing Lauri Markkanen, Allonzo Trier, T.J. Leaf, and Others in the Pac-12 Tournament

March 11, 2017

By Alan Lu

As we get closer to the NCAA Tournament, two of the top teams in the country squared off against each other in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament, Arizona and UCLA.   They’ve already played each other twice already, so I wanted to check this matchup out again, and see how the prospects would fare in a high stakes game.  Here are my thoughts on they played, as well as how they may project as players for the NBA.

Arizona’s 7-0 freshman forward, Lauri Markkanen had a terrific showing, as he led his team to a double-digit victory over UCLA.  He really excelled as a shooter and scorer on offense, and he also defended very well, as his strong play was instrumental in helping his team get the win.  Markkanen did a great job of shooting the basketball to space the floor for his team.  He really excelled at knocking down threes off of pick and pop plays, and he has great size and shooting skills to make long range shots from beyond the arc.  Also, he was able to make a pull-up, mid-range bank shot off the glass another time.

Plus, he also excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  Markkanen was quite active on the offensive glass, as he scored on a couple of put backs, and he also scored on an emphatic dunk off of a quick cut to the hoop.  He also showed off good low post scoring skills.  Markkanen has very good hands and footwork, and on one play, he managed to catch a tough pass, as he quickly turned to throw down a thunderous dunk in the paint, but he did struggle more when he would look to score off the dribble.  Markkanen struggled to score in traffic, and sometimes he would miss shots when looking to drive to the hoop to score, as he would go in too out of control at times.

He also showed off adequate rebounding skills.  He was fairly active on the glass on both ends of the floor, and he did a good job of hauling plenty of boards on both ends of the floor.  Also, Markkanen played great defense against UCLA.  He was very active defensively, as he managed to reach in to get a steal off of a pass, and he also dove for a loose ball on the ground to try to collect another.  He also showed solid length, athletic ability, and timing to block a shot quickly off the drive, and he excelled at forcing misses in the paint.  Also, he managed to draw a charge on a drive on the break.  He did commit a couple of touch fouls in the paint, but otherwise, Markkanen really excelled on this end of the court.

In general, Lauri Markkanen had a magnificent game, as he played really well to lead Arizona to a win over UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament.  He played like a future top 5 pick today, and with his skill set, he could end up being one of the best players to come out of this draft class.

Arizona’s sophomore guard, Allonzo Trier also played very well, as he had a tremendous all-around performance to help lead his team to defeat UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament.  Trier showed a great ability to garner scores off the dribble.  He really excels at changing speeds, and he has a solid blend of having speed, strength, and the body control to regularly finish plays around the basket.  He used a stutter step to score on a leaner, and he also really excelled at scoring with his left hand, as well as drawing free throws to help his team.

Also, he showed off a very good ability to knock down threes, as he made a couple of spot-up threes off the catch, and he also used a crossover and a step back move to make a pull-up three.  Trier also showed a good ability to get scores on the move, as he managed to draw free throws off of a strong cut to the hoop.  In addition, Trier showed off solid playmaking skills.  He showed off very good patience and court vision, as he would find open shooters off the dribble to set up plenty of scores for them.  But he did commit one notable turnover, as he was called for a carrying violation on a drive to the basket.  He also played good defense.  In this game, Trier managed to jump a quick pass to collect a steal when he was on the floor.

In summary, Allonzo Trier put forth another strong showing as he may be one of the biggest sleepers in the 2017 NBA Draft.  He has played very well throughout his sophomore season, and he could be a great find for an NBA team, as he may legitimately have superstar potential due to his great ability to shoot and score the basketball, and that he also is a solid athlete.  With his skill set, he could be a solid choice for a team in the first round of the upcoming draft.

UCLA’s freshman big man, T.J. Leaf put forth a fairly good performance in his team’s loss to Arizona.  He showed off solid scoring skills, and he showed some versatility when he was on the floor, though he did end up fouling out of this game.  Leaf showed off a good ability to score off the dribble.  He has a quick first step, and he managed to draw numerous free throws on high post drives to the basket.  Also, he displayed good low post scoring skills, as he managed to score on drop step moves, as well as a turnaround jumper another time.

Plus, he also showed the ability to score on hustle plays.  However, Leaf did not look to take jumpers often, and he occasionally had trouble finishing plays in traffic.  Also, Leaf showed off adequate playmaking skills.  He is an unselfish player that will look to move the basketball, and on one play, he displayed nice court vision to find an open teammate on the break after driving up the court to notch an assist.  But sometimes, he can play too carelessly, which can lead him to lose the basketball or commit charging fouls on occasion.

He also showed off decent rebounding and defensive skills.  Leaf showed a knack for collecting offensive rebounds, and he would also use his length to get deflections and force some misses.  However, he also was foul prone, and he especially had trouble guarding skilled opponents in the low post.

In this game, T.J. Leaf had a fairly good showing, as he played well on offense in his team’s loss to Arizona.  He did not dominate, but he did show off an interesting skill set in this game.  He is a skilled big man that could be a good role player in the NBA, as he could end up being like a slightly lesser athletic version of Patrick Patterson at the next level.

This was my first time seeing a bad Lonzo Ball game, and while some of the questions have lingered about his flaws as a player, this was truly the first time I witnessed him play significantly worse than usual.  Before his performance against Arizona, some of the talk was on his unusual jump shot, his perhaps low shot trajectory and odd delivery, but to me it did not look to be that concerning.

But there were other flaws that did appear to be potentially problematic after his woeful play in his team’s loss on this day.  Lonzo Ball struggled to make shots early, and he became passive on offense, as he was content to keep passing the basketball, even when his team was down by double digits and had a terrible time trying to make threes from beyond the arc.  His body language did not seem very great, as he seemed sort of withdrawn, and it seemed as if he was giving up on his team’s chances to win the game.  As for his actual performance itself, here is how I saw it.  Ball showed a good ability to get scores off the dribble in the few times he elected to do so, as he used a hop step move to get a smooth score around the basket.  Another time, he managed to draw a foul on a drive to the hoop.

But he really struggled to make threes consistently for his team.  Ball did make a quick three once, as he managed to get an extra free throw afterwards.  But he often missed quick threes when he would hoist up shots, and after awhile, he became discouraged and stopped showing the willingness to shoot the basketball, as his opponents stopped needing to guard him.

As a playmaker, he was adequate, but he seemed like he was trying to pad his own stats, and he had some awful turnovers due to trying to be too fancy at times.  Ball lost the ball after trying complex dribble moves in the corner once.  He also threw an errant lob pass to a cutter in an attempt to make the home run pass earlier, and he also made the same mistake by throwing an inaccurate pass to a roll man later on as that pass sailed too high and out of bounds.  While Ball showed the ability to find shooters, as well as the ability to hit cutters and make long outlet passes, his tendency to overtly go for the fancy play led him to commit unnecessary turnovers against Arizona as there were times where he seemed unwilling to make a more basic, but efficient play on offense.

Ball did show fairly good rebounding skills, as he was committed to hauling defensive boards for his team.  Defensively, he may have been average.  He was active as a help defender and he defended well early on.  Ball blocked a shot off the drive, and he used his length, athleticism, and instincts to nab a couple of passes to  collect steals.

However, later in the game, he started to really have trouble with his position defense later on.  Ball had trouble containing his man off the dribble, and he would also give up too much space to shooters, which would lead them to score on numerous jumpers.  He also had a tendency to commit bad reach-in fouls at various junctures of this game.

In this game, Lonzo Ball did not play very well, as he did not play to the level that he is capable of playing at.  As his team started to lose hope of winning, it appeared that he may have did the same, as he appeared to have emotionally checked out of the game, too.  He was content to hang in the background, as he did not look to shoot the basketball even when his team needed him the most, and so his opponents did not have to guard him.  He even thought about shooting late in the game, before passing in mid-air to an ice cold Bryce Alford in the corner, which of course, led to another miss for their team.

But the real question may be, just exactly how good will Lonzo Ball be in the league?  Is he the next transcendent superstar that we want him to be, or might he just be a pass-first point guard that may be overextended as a starter?  Chances are the answer may lie somewhere in between.  Ball will still likely be a top 5 pick, but he will need to play with a higher motor in all phases of the game for an entire season, and take on greater responsibility in order to maximize his full potential for the next level.

Arizona’s freshman guard, Rawle Alkins played fairly well to help lead his team to a double-digit victory over UCLA.  He showed off terrific athletic ability and a solid ability to score the basketball when he would elect to do so.  Mostly, he elected to defer to his teammates most of the night, but in the moments where he looked to score, he showed that he may have a lot of upside to develop as a player for the NBA.

Alkins did a great job of attacking the basket to garner scores.  He especially excelled at getting scores on fast breaks, as he managed to soar to throw down a high-flying dunk once and another time he drew free throws on a powerful dunk attempt after catching the ball as a trailer in transition.  Also, Alkins scored after using terrific dribble moves on a drive in the half court, as he used a reverse pivot and utilized a quick spin move to score with his left hand, as he also showed off great footwork and body control in the process.  He also showed a good ability to knock down jumpers.  Alkins managed to make an open spot-up three off the catch in the corner once from beyond the arc.

But he did commit his fair share of turnovers.  Sometimes, Alkins would play too out of control at times, as he would lose the ball off the dribble on the break once, and he threw a bad interior pass that was intercepted another time.  On a separate occasion, he committed an offensive foul off of a drive due to using his arm to push off of a defender.  Alkins showed off decent rebounding skills, as he hauled in boards on both ends of the floor, and he would leap up to grab a couple of rebounds for his team.

In general, Rawle Alkins put forth a fairly good showing, but the most exciting aspect of his performance in his team’s win over UCLA is the tremendous athleticism he showed when he would look to score the basketball.  He could be an intriguing player for NBA teams, as he could likely end up being drafted in the late first to the second round range of the upcoming draft.

UCLA’s 6-5 senior guard, Isaac Hamilton put forth a solid showing in a loss for his team.  He mostly excelled as a scorer, but he also showed off some defensive skills against Arizona.  Hamilton excelled as a scorer on drives to the basket.  He would often run the floor to catch a long pass, and he scored numerous drives to the hoop on fast breaks.  He has several nifty moves, as he can use a spin move and a eurostep move to get past defenders, but he struggled more to knock down jumpers to space the floor for his team.  Hamilton did make an open three off the catch.  However, he did miss several other threes, including one where he ran quickly off a pin down to get the ball in the corner.

Hamilton displayed decent playmaking skills.  He showed a good willingness to find the open man, and he also was able to kick it out to a shooter off the dribble once.  He showed off decent rebounding skills.  Hamilton was especially active on the offensive glass, as he hauled in plenty of boards on that end of the floor, and he also drew free throws off of a put back once.

He also showcased a decent ability to defend his opponents.  Hamilton did manage to block a shot off of a drive, and he showed the ability to jump passes to obtain steals and deflections for his team.  However, his team struggled to defend the other team all night, so he may need to improve his position defense in the future.

In general, Isaac Hamilton had a solid game, as he excelled at scoring the basketball, as a bulk of his scores came in transition.  He may be an underrated prospect that could potentially be a find for an NBA team, whether if he ends up being a second round pick or going undrafted this year.

UCLA’s junior center, Thomas Welsh put forth a solid performance in a loss to Arizona.  He really excelled as an inside scorer and rebounder when he was on the floor, and he looked to be quite effective for his team, especially when they would involve him on offense.  Welsh did a great job of scoring on mid-range jumpers.  He excelled at knocking them down off the catch, and he showed that he can be a reliable scoring option by making some of them off of pick and pop plays.

He also excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  Welsh drew plenty of free throws after rolling hard to the hoop, and he also leapt up once to score on a tip dunk after getting a quick offensive board for his team.  He also showed off solid rebounding skills.  Welsh would frequently crash the glass, and he hauled in numerous boards due to possessing good length, strength, ball location skills, and motor to do so.

Defensively, he may have looked to be fairly average in this game.  For the positives, Welsh managed to block a shot inside the paint due to possessing very good timing, length, and good athletic gifts on that play.  But he did commit a foul on a drive, and his team had trouble defending Arizona all game, so he may need to improve his position defense in the future as well.

In general, Thomas Welsh had a solid game, as he excelled at getting scores and rebounds for his team, as he also was very efficient in getting buckets on this day against Arizona.  He may be a very underrated player that could be a solid find for an NBA team, as he could likely end up going in the second round this year or the next.

UCLA’s freshman center, Ike Anigbogu had a decent showing in his team’s loss to Arizona.  He showed off great athletic gifts and fairly solid offensive skills, but he generally struggled defensively as his whole team had trouble defending the other team out there on this day.  Anigbogu showed off fairly solid inside scoring skills.  He really excelled at finishing plays around the basket, as he rolled to the hoop to throw down a thunderous dunk, and he threw down another powerful dunk after being open around the hoop another time.  Also, he managed to draw free throws off of a back door cut on a separate play.

He also showed off adequate rebounding skills, as he was especially active at crashing the defensive glass.  Defensively though, he looked to be below average.  For the positives, he managed to block a shot off of a drive to show off very good length, athleticism, and timing on that play.  However, he struggled with his position defense.  Anigbogu gave up too much space once to allow his man to score on a three-pointer.  Another time, he fell asleep on a backdoor cut, and allowed his man to score on a dunk.  Plus, he was called for committing numerous fouls in the paint.

Right now, Ike Anigbogu is a very athletic big man that may not be quite ready to play in the NBA.  He did a great job of scoring on hustle plays, but he will still need to improve his jumper, ability to create his own shot, and he will especially need to improve his position defense.  There are many facets of the game that he may need to work on, but his size, vast physical tools, and potential may allow him to end up being a late first round pick in the upcoming draft.

Other Notes:

Arizona’s senior point guard, Kadeem Allen had a fairly solid game, as he played well on both ends of the court to help lead his team to a victory over UCLA.  He excelled at shooting and scoring the basketball.  Allen showed off a good ability to make jumpers, as he managed to make a three off the catch in the corner.  Also, he showed an adequate ability to score off the dribble, as he managed to draw plenty of free throws on strong drives to the hoop.  But sometimes, he would miss due to playing too fast and out of control at times.

He also showed off very good defensive skills.  Allen excelled at jumping passes, as he would get steals and deflections for his team, and he helped hold down Lonzo Ball and the other UCLA guards to have an all-around bad shooting night on this day.

In general, Kadeem Allen may be an interesting prospect.  He is an athletic combo guard that can shoot and score the basketball, and he may have decent playmaking skills.  With his skill set, he could end up making an NBA summer league roster this year.

Arizona’s junior center, Dusan Ristic also had a solid game, as he excelled as a scorer in the post.  He mostly scored on jump hooks, as he possesses great size, strength, and shooting touch to get plenty of scores in the paint.  He did tend to be a bit foul prone though, as he would commit fouls defensively.  But with his skill set on offense, he could be a player to watch next season.

Aaron Holiday did not have a particularly great game for UCLA, but he did show some solid playmaking skills.  He generally made good passes to his teammates, as he threw a lob pass to a roll man to set up a dunk once.  But he struggled to make shots consistently, and he had some lapses defensively.  Right now, Holiday is a second round prospect for the upcoming draft, but he will need to be a more consistently productive player in games.

UCLA’s senior guard, Bryce Alford really struggled to shoot the basketball, as he had a lot of trouble trying to make shots against Arizona.  He would often miss threes from beyond the arc in this game.  But he did do a better job of scoring inside the arc, as he made a turnaround, pull-up mid-range jumper, as well as a floater off of a drive, as he showed an adequate ability to score off the dribble, though he did not take many two-pointers.

Also, he displayed below average playmaking skills, as he generally showed some lapses on offense, as he would throw a bad pass, or he would drop a ball to commit an over and back violation, as this would lead him to commit turnovers.  There are questions if Alford can effectively play the point at the next level, as this game may be concerning to those who already doubt if he can do so.

Right now, Bryce Alford may be a long shot to be drafted, but his jump shot will likely help him land on an NBA summer league roster.  But he will need to consistently shoot well and show that he can pass and defend against tougher competition in order to make his way into the association.

Overall, this was a very entertaining basketball game to watch, as it was both fascinating and compelling.  Arizona did a great job of matching UCLA’s offensive firepower and then some, as they really overpowered the Bruins with their ability to make shots from all over the court.  The Wildcats also defended very well, and their top two players, Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier turned in terrific performances to lead their team to a double-digit victory in this year’s Pac-12 Tournament.