Lonzo Ball is in the NBA, leaving a huge question for UCLA men’s basketball: Who’s going to be the Bruins’ best player this year? We’ve got some ideas, so read along as the Sports editors clash with five different players each editor thinks can become UCLA’s new No. 1.
David Gottlieb, Sports editor
Choice: Thomas Welsh
Let me begin by saying I actually really hate watching Thomas Welsh play. I don’t think it’s entertaining at all.
The senior center is seven feet tall. With a seven-foot wingspan, his standing reach is close to nine-foot-three. That means the ball only needs to travel nine more inches to get to the basket.
Yet somehow, some way, Welsh has developed a playing style centered around a jump shot. I call him the anti-Shaq, since the wildly-entertaining NBA hall-of-famer Shaquille O’Neal always used to stuff the ball where it needed to go.
I cringe a little bit every time I see Welsh direct the ball into the air and arch it down when he was already so, so close to the hoop. It feels like a waste to me.
But this battle isn’t about who will be the most entertaining player, it’s about the best. And Welsh’s anti-Shaq antics have proven to be effective in the college game.
Welsh started every game he played in last season, averaging over ten points and eight rebounds for a second straight season. He also shot a 58.5 percent from the field, good for second among the starting five.
I’m also intrigued by the potential for him to start taking 3s. He’s only attempted one shot from beyond the arch in his career, but he did sink it.
Although I am certain that Welsh will consistently fail to entertain me this season, he’s still my pick for the best player on this UCLA squad.
Ryan Smith, assistant Sports editor
Choice: Jaylen Hands
When it comes to freshman guard Jaylen Hands, what’s not to like?
He was ranked 20th in ESPN’s 2017 Top 100, has an electric personality and can practically jump out of the gym.
During his senior year at Foothills Christian High School, the 18-year old averaged 29.2 points, 5.7 assists and 8 rebounds in 30 games. He also excelled on the defensive end, averaging 2.9 steals and nearly a block per game.
Despite not being the tallest guy at 6 feet 3 inches, Hands’ speed and athleticism make it hard to take him off the floor. On a Bruins team that is thin at the guard position, he could be playing north of 30 minutes per game this season.
In UCLA’s season opener Friday night, Hands started the game at the shooting guard position and logged 28 minutes in his collegiate debut.
He finished the game with 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting, pulled in four rebounds and had two steals.
Melissa Zhang, assistant Sports editor
Choice: Aaron Holiday
The Bruins welcomed a number of talented freshmen, but it still remains to be seen whether these rookies will be able to execute against tough collegiate opponents.
Aaron Holiday is one of the few players this year with the skill and experience.
The junior guard has already been earning recognition prior to the start of the regular season, getting named to the 2017-2018 Lute Olson National Player of the Year Award on Monday and the 2018 Citizen Naismith Trophy preseason watch list Thursday.
Holiday started all 32 games his freshman year and has played in every game since he came to Westwood. The Chatsworth, California, native averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists per game last season, one of only five Bruins to average double-figure scoring.
Holiday ranked second in assists per game and steals per game behind then-freshman guard Lonzo Ball. Over his first two seasons, Holiday has made 41.1 percent of his three-pointers, good for the sixth-highest career percentage at UCLA.
If his first two seasons were any indication of his success, Holiday should serve as a leader and role model for his younger teammates both on and off the court.
In order for the Bruins to log a winning season, unlocking Holiday’s potential could be one of their most critical steps.
Kelsey Angus, assistant Sports editor
Choice: LiAngelo Ball
Even before freshman guard LiAngelo Ball was arrested during UCLA’s trip to China last week, this would have been a controversial pick.
Then he got left in China.
But on the off-chance that Ball does follow in his brother’s footsteps and wow the NCAA with his jump shot, at least I’ll be able to say that I called it.
The three-star recruit will now be spending the foreseeable future in the team hotel in Hangzhou, China, and hopefully Ball’s foray into the Chinese legal system will end there.
For the sake of my argument, I’m going to assume that the long days in the hotel room have been beneficial for Ball. He’s put the stress of practices and midterms aside for a moment, and hopefully he’s directed that time toward figuring out how to play well if he returns.
Ball’s time in China has already been the subject of ESPN’s First Take and a Saturday Night Live sketch. Regardless of how – or if – Ball plays this year, I am at least confident that he and his father will be the most captivating off the court.
In all seriousness, I had to make this pick because my fellow sports editors stole the more realistic options of Welsh, Holiday, Hands and Wilkes before I had a chance to write about any of them. But hopefully Ball will surprise us all.
And hey, Lavar Ball said he’s supposed to be the best shooter of the three Ball brothers… right?
Nicholas Yekikian, assistant Sports editor
Choice: Kris Wilkes
I want to start this off with a little disclaimer: I know very little about UCLA basketball. It’s just not my thing. I’m more of track and field guy.
That said, freshman guard Kris Wilkes already showed a little of what he’s capable of in UCLA’s season opener against Georgia Tech.
Wilkes sunk 66 percent of his shots from beyond the 3 point line Friday and accounted for 18 of the Bruins’ 63 points in their win against the Yellow Jackets.
The only thing that has me worried about Wilkes after what I saw Friday was his defense – four rebounds isn’t what I’d call spectacular.
Not only that, but Wilkes was clearly lost on some rotations and was beat on a few plays. Though, he is brand spanking new to Division I basketball and with time he’ll grow out of it.
All he needs to do to become the Bruins’ best player this year is keep up on defense and create more opportunities for both him and his teammates.
Oh, he also won Indiana’s Mr. Basketball 2017 earlier this year. That sounds important.