Analyzing Ivan Rabb, Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and Others

January 5, 2017

By Alan Lu

UCLA and California squared off on Thursday as they met to play in a Pac-12 conference game.  This presented a great opportunity to not only watch multiple top prospects play with and against each other, but it was also my first glimpse at seeing Golden Bears’ sophomore center Ivan Rabb play in a full basketball game.  Here are the observations on how the various prospects performed on this day.

California’s 6-10 sophomore big man, Ivan Rabb put forth a solid showing in a loss to UCLA.  He had a relatively slow first half start, but he really started to play very well down the stretch as he helped his team stay competitive late in the contest.

Rabb showed a solid ability to score on hustle plays.  He possesses great length and athletic ability, and when he is engaged on offense, he can score often on put backs, rolls to the rim, and off broken plays around the basket.  When he is focused, he can really excel as a scorer in the paint, and he can throw down thunderous dunks with authority.

Plus, he also displayed the potential to be a stretch big at the next level.  Rabb was able to display more range than previously thought, as he was able to make a three off the catch.  He also has good form on his shot.  While he didn’t make jumpers consistently, it was an encouraging sign when he was able to make one from long distance.

He also displayed decent low post scoring skills.  Rabb did not show off many low post moves and his ball handling looked shaky at times, but he was quite effective at drawing free throws when he was on the block.  He was able to get to the line often by making strong aggressive moves to the hoop.

In this game, his playmaking skills appeared to be fairly average.  Rabb ran into some trouble with turnovers in the first half, as he did not always display great court vision.  He stepped out of bounds when attempting to drive to the hoop once.  On another play, he was trapped in the high post, and he threw a pass that ended up being intercepted, but he did show better decision-making skills on offense as the game wore on, especially in the second half.  Rabb showed an improved ability to throw interior passes, and he was able to get one assist by making a nice pass from the post to find an open teammate around the basket.

Rabb showed off terrific rebounding skills.  He possesses great length, athleticism, and instincts on the court, and he showed a deft ability to haul in boards on both ends of the court.  He was quite active at crashing the offensive glass to provide his team with second chance points, and he also would leap up to come away with many defensive rebounds.

Defensively, he looked to be about average.  Rabb had some lapses defensively, but he also struggled to defend the post as he is quite skinny for a player his size.  He would not always be in good position to contest shots, and he would occasionally commit silly fouls.  He also tended to get pushed back in the post, as stronger players would be able to establish deep position to score on the block.

He did play better defensively in the second half, though.  When he is focused, he can move his feet to stay with ball handlers on drives, as he can position himself to contest shots in order to force misses.  Plus, Rabb also was able to dive for a loose ball in the middle of the second half, and he did manage to get a steal and a block.  But despite having terrific athletic tools, he was not able to consistently block shots.

In general, Ivan Rabb is an intriguing prospect.  He is a very athletic big man that is a strong finisher around the basket, and he also is a terrific rebounder that could potentially be a chairman of the boards type of player in the NBA.  He also may have a budding jump shot that could enable him to flourish offensively.

On the other hand, Rabb displayed a rather inconsistent motor, as he was not very active on offense in the first half, though he did play very well and energetically for his team in the second half.  To his credit though in the first half, his team did not look to engage him very often on offense.  It will be interesting to see how well he will fare in subsequent games.  Surely, Rabb still ended up having a great stat-line as he scored 17 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the loss to UCLA.

Right now, he looks to be a solid candidate for the lottery.  Rabb may need to improve his ability to create his own shot consistently, and he will need to be a more focused defender on a consistent basis, and he will need to refine his jump shot.  That said, he possesses high-end athleticism and rebounding ability, which could allow him to thrive in the NBA.

UCLA’s 6-5 freshman point guard, Lonzo Ball also played very well as he lead his team to a double-digit victory over California.  He is a very unselfish player that possesses great floor vision, but he also showed off solid scoring skills, he played great defense, and he also generally played smart basketball throughout this contest.

Ball showed a solid ability to attack the basket to garner scores.  He really excelled as a cutter, as he would take advantage of napping defenders to get buckets for his team.  His best score off of a cut was when he caught a lob pass to score on an alley-oop dunk.  Plus, he also excelled as a scorer off the dribble.  Ball has a solid set of ball handling moves, and he is a quick guard that can score with either hand.

He did struggle to make outside shots from beyond the arc, but Ball was able to make an impressive pull-up three to at the end of the first half.  He took a lot of high degree of difficulty type of shots, as he would use step back moves to attempt Stephen Curry-esque pull-up threes, but Ball was not often able to knock down jumpers against California.

Also, Ball showcased solid playmaking skills.  He generally showed great patience, vision, and basketball IQ, as he was often able to get the ball to his teammates to set up scores for them.  He was very accurate in making throws to his teammates, and he also would push the ball up the court to set up scoring chances for his team on the break.  However, he did commit a couple of careless turnovers off the dribble late in the game.  He also did a fairly good job of rebounding the basketball.  Ball was able to haul plenty of defensive boards, and he was able to leap up to get a tough board in traffic in this game.

Ball also played very good defense.  He showed a terrific ability to jump passes to obtain steals, as he was able to get out on the break to get numerous fast break scores for his team.  He also displayed solid leaping ability and timing to block a shot on a drive, as he made a sound rotation to do so.   He did commie one foul in the post off the ball though, as he may need to add more strength in the future.

In this game, Lonzo Ball put forth a solid performance as he scored 14 points, and he also collected 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block in a win over California.  He showed off a very good set of all-around skills, and he looks to be a surefire lottery pick that could end up being one of the best players to come out of the 2017 NBA Draft.

UCLA’s 6-9 freshman forward, T.J. Leaf also had a strong showing in a win over California.  He generally excelled as an inside scorer and rebounder, but he also generally passed the ball well in this game.  Leaf showed a solid ability to score on hustle plays.  Leaf is a fairly good ball handler for a player his size, and he was able to go coast to coast off of a defensive rebound to score on a fast break.  He also was able to score on a quick cut to the hoop another time.

He also is a fairly good scorer off the dribble.  His best score of the game was when he drove in to throw down a thunderous dunk in traffic.  He also displayed adequate low post scoring skills.  Leaf has good size, strength, and mobility, and he also possesses deft shooting touch that can allow him to garner scores on the block.  Leaf has a few reliable moves, as he was able to get deep position on Rabb to score. However, he may not always possess great footwork down low, and he can occasionally struggle to finish plays around the basket.

Also, Leaf showed off fairly good playmaking skills.  He generally threw solid passes, as he would make good reads to find open teammates to set up scores.  But sometimes, he would commit turnovers due to carelessness, as he had some trouble creating plays off the dribble at times.

Leaf rebounded the basketball very well against California.  He was especially active on the defensive glass, and he would chase down balls to haul in many rebounds to help his team.  Defensively, he showed some activity as a help defender, as he collected a steal and a block, but he also was prone to picking up fouls at times.

In summary, T.J. Leaf put forth a solid overall performance, as he scored 18 points, and had 11 rebounds, and 3 assists in a victory for his team.  He is a very skilled combination forward that may possess strong offensive skills, and he also is a very good rebounder.  Currently, he may project to be a mid to late first round pick at the moment, as he could end up being a very good player in the NBA.

Other Notes:

UCLA’s 6-3 senior guard Bryce Alford shot the ball very well, and he generally did a very good job of scoring the basketball against California.  He showed a strong ability to make threes, as he did so off the catch, by running off of screens, and also off of a dribble handoff.  He has a very quick release that enables him to get his shot off easily.

He also showed a fairly good ability to score off the dribble, as he can maneuver his way into the paint to garner scores in the paint.  Alford does not possess a great first step, but he is deceptively quick and has a very good shooting touch that can enable him to get scores there.  Plus, Alford can use off-ball movement to get the ball off of cuts as he can score on short-area drives, but he can occasionally struggle to score in traffic.

In general, Alford is a very good shooter that could profile into a microwave type of scorer off the bench in the NBA.  He may need to show teams that he can run the point and defend at that level, but his jump shot could perhaps enable him to find his way into the league.

UCLA’s 6-10 freshman big man Ike Anigbogu was often in foul trouble, so he did not see the floor very much in this game.  But he did have some good moments.  Anigbogu is a gifted athlete that runs the floor well, as he was able to catch a lob pass to score on an alley-oop dunk.

On defense, Anigbogu shows promise as an interior defender, as long as he stays away from foul trouble.  A few times, he was able to use his length and athleticism to contest and block shots.  Right now, Ike Anigbogu may be a project player, but his size, athletic tools, and upside could entice a team to perhaps select him in the late first to the second round range of an NBA draft.  He may still need to significantly refine his overall game, but he could potentially develop into a defensive specialist at the next level.

UCLA’s 6-1 guard Aaron Holiday did not stand out in this game, as he struggled to consistently score off the dribble, he did not make a jumper, and he showed something of a penchant to commit turnovers and fouls.  But he did show a solid ability to run the floor to score in transition, and he is an unselfish player that has the court vision to rack up plenty of assists.  This game was not the best showcase for him, but Holiday has been a vital role player for UCLA this season.

This was not the best game for California’s Jabari Bird, either.  He was often passive on offense, struggled to consistently make shots, and he tended to run into foul trouble, as a combination of these things prevented him from playing well against UCLA.  He did make one open three off the catch, but Bird had trouble making shots or scoring off the dribble in this game.  This game may not be the best showcase for him, but Bird still will have other chances to showcase his talents for the NBA.

UCLA’s 6-5 sophomore guard, Isaac Hamilton did not stand out either, but he had some good moments.  He generally struggled to shoot the basketball, but he did make one three off the catch.  Hamilton also passed the ball well.  Plus, he also was actively defensively, as he was able to get a deflection, and he would contest shots to force misses.  Like Holiday and Bird, this game may not be the best showcase for Hamilton either, but he has also been an integral role player for UCLA this season.

UCLA’s 7-0 junior center Thomas Welsh showed a fairly good mid-range jump shot, and he also was quite active on the offensive glass, as he excelled at scoring off of put backs.  He is a mobile big man that can score the basketball, and he also made a nice shot block from the blindside in this game.

For California, 6-3 senior guard Grant Mullins shot the ball well, as he made 5 threes in a loss to UCLA.

In summary, the UCLA-California game was a riveting one to watch.  UCLA started off red hot, and they got off to a great first half start as they eventually went on cruise control.

But Ivan Rabb and California would not quit, as they competed and tried to rally from behind, and they were able to come close late in the 2nd half due to their improved 2nd half offense, as well as some late miscues from UCLA.

Ultimately though, it was too little, too late for California, as they could not come all the way back in their attempt to get a comeback win.   UCLA made enough plays to hold on for the win, as they generally made more plays offensively over the course of the game.

Well, that’s it for now.  Hope you enjoyed reading this, and hope you have a great rest of the week.