First Look at Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf against Portland

November 25, 2016

by Alan Lu

Just like the previous post, I wanted to analyze UCLA’s freshman duo Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf by watching them play in a full game, as their team went up against Portland.  Both of them put forth strong performances as their team won 99-77 in the Wooden Legacy.  Here are my observations on they played in this game.

Lonzo Ball had a terrific game against the Portland Pilots.  He scored 18 points on 6-9 shooting, made 4 threes, and notched 11 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals in a victory for his team.  Ball really excelled at knocking down long range jumpers in this game.  He made a lot of spot up threes off the catch, and he has a quick, compact release that enables him to get his shot off easily.

Plus, he did a very good job of scoring on the move.  Ball made a couple of strong cuts to the basket, and he would catch lob passes to finish plays to garner scores for his team.  In addition, he also was able to draw a foul on the opposition after making a speedy drive to the hoop in transition.

He also possesses terrific playmaking skills.  He has excellent court vision, as he will effortlessly find the open man to rack up assists.  Ball can see and make passes that only a few can hope to make, and he has an innate ability to get opponents to collapse in on him as he will quickly dish it off to a teammate to set up a score, but sometimes he will try passes that his teammates may not be ready for.

Therefore, he can be prone to some turnovers as he may go for those types of plays rather than stick to the simple ones that his teammates are used to.

Ball also displayed good defensive skills.  He was able to jump a couple of passes to obtain steals, and he also reached in to poke a ball away from an opposing ball handler to nearly get another.  He also appeared to make a nice shot block on a drive in transition, though he was called for an incidental foul instead.

However, there were a few miscues that he had on this end.  He had some trouble defending quicker opponents off the dribble, as he committed a foul on one play where he bumped an opponent, and another time he was beat off the dribble to allow a score.  He also struggled to defend in the post, as he got pushed back fairly deep in the paint, and allowed a score in the paint.

In general, Lonzo Ball played really well, as he has put himself in contention early this season to be the top pick of the 2017 NBA Draft.  He is a true, pass-first point guard that has a strong all-around game, as he may have a throwback style similar to Jason Kidd, except that he may be a better shooter and athlete than he was at this age.  Right now, Ball should definitely be a top five pick if the draft were held today, and he has helped make his team perhaps the most fun team to watch in college basketball for the time being.

T.J. Leaf also played very well in a win for UCLA over Portland.  In this game, he scored 14 points on 6 of 9 shooting, made his lone three-point attempt, and notched 9 rebounds, and 4 assists in a victory for his team.  Leaf does a very good job of scoring on the move.  He is an active finisher around the basket, as he would grab offensive rebounds and promptly score on put backs.  Plus, Leaf also helped out by scoring in transition as well as off of a strong backdoor cut to the hoop,.

He also showed a solid ability to create his own shot in the half court.  Leaf was able to back down his man far in the post to score on a jump hook on the block.  He struggled more to score off the dribble, but he showed a fairly quick first step to the hoop, as he was able to get a tough score in traffic early in the game.

Leaf possesses very good playmaking skills.  He is a terrific passer that has solid court vision, as he is an unselfish player that will constantly look to find the open man.   He makes timely passes to open teammates, and he also excels as a high post passer on the floor.  Plus, Leaf handles the ball well, and he does a great job of pushing the ball up the floor off defensive rebounds.

He also displayed very good defensive skills.  Leaf will use his length to contest shots in order to force misses, and he also will hedge out quickly on screens to allow ball handlers to ably defend shooters.  Leaf also will get his hands on balls to get deflections and to help his team get steals, as he is fairly active in the passing lanes.  But sometimes, he can struggle to defend opponents off the dribble, as he may have some trouble guarding quicker players at times.

In general, T.J. Leaf had a solid all-around game, and he was able to contribute in many ways to help his team win.  He has a very good skill set that he can bring to the table in the NBA, and he could end up being a first round pick for the upcoming draft.

Other Notes:

Senior guard Bryce Alford generally shot the ball well, as he made 3 threes for UCLA.  He really excels at knocking down long range jumpers after running quickly off of screens, and he also showed a good ability to score off the dribble.

He also showed off some defensive skills, as he made a terrific block on an opponent inside the paint early in the game.  Right now, Alford may be a borderline candidate for the second round, but his jump shot gives him a shot to be in the NBA, whether if it is next season or sometime down the road.

UCLA’s other senior guard, Isaac Hamilton also had a good game, despite strugging with turnovers early on.  The athletic playmaker showed a solid ability to make threes off the catch as well as off of screens.

He also generally displayed good playmaking skills.  Hamilton made solid passes as he would find the open man to set up an array of scoring chances.  But he did commit quite a few turnovers mostly due to carelessness, as he would play too recklessly at times when looking to make a play off the dribble.

But in summary, Isaac Hamilton played quite well offensively, and with his ability to score and make plays in plenty of ways on that end, he could be a potential second round pick in 2017.

Junior big man Thomas Welsh also played well for UCLA.  He scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a win for his team.

He did a very good job of knocking down mid-range jumpers, and he also showed a fairly reliable hook shot in the post.

Welsh also defended well when he was in the post, as he would not get backed down very far in the paint, and he would use his length to contest shots and force misses.  But sometimes, he would hang back too far when defending pick and rolls, which would allow the opposing guard to get enough space to score on open pull-up jumpers.  Still, Welsh had a solid game, and he could definitely be a player to watch in 2018.

It was not a good game for Portland’s senior point guard, Alec Wintering.  He had previously gotten off to a strong start to his senior campaign by averaging 19.3 points and 8.0 assists per game in his first 3 games of the year, but he struggled pretty much the whole way against UCLA as their length and athleticism bothered his ability to make plays offensively.

Wintering really struggled to score when he was inside the arc.  On occasion, he would get a score or draw free throws on a strong drive to the hoop, but he generally had trouble with UCLA’s length, as he would miss shots in traffic and get his shots blocked on other times.

He showed quite a penchant for taking mid-range jumpers, but he really struggled to find a rhythm when attempting them.  Wintering missed a handful of pull-up jumpers inside the arc, and while he hit a couple of them in this game, his misses probably hurt his shooting percentages in this game.

Strangely, he did not look to take many threes against UCLA.  He had quite a few chances to do so, but Wintering kept opting to pass to his teammates, or to pass up the shot to take the mid-range jumper.  But when he would take the three, he was quite effective, as he was able to make a deep three, and his three-point percentage was significantly higher than his two-point percentage against the Bruins.

Wintering generally struggled to make plays consistently on offense.  He would find the open man, but his teammates would generally not convert off of his passes.  Other times, Wintering would try to make a play, only to force the issue too much to commit turnovers.

He did seem to be more effective on the glass as well as on the defensive end.  Wintering was quite active on the boards, as he would leap up to collect defensive rebounds, and he would push the ball up the floor.  Defensively, he was able to jump passes to collect steals early on.  But his lack of size showed, as he struggled to guard Lonzo Ball on a backdoor cut, and he was nowhere close to ready to defend when Ball leapt up to score on a lob pass above the rim.

This was not Alec Wintering’s best game, and it may not be certain if he will appear on many draft boards, if he does so at all.  Most likely, he will have to play well enough to get invited to Portsmouth to have any shot to be drafted by an NBA team.  The 6-0 point guard may not look to be NBA material, but he may be skilled enough to find his way into professional basketball.