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Battle of the Editors: Running the numbers to create best team of men’s basketball legends

By Sam Connon, Jack Perez, Coral Smith, Jared Tay, and Jacqueline Dzwonczyk

May 29, 2020 5:23 pm

UCLA men’s basketball has won 11 national championships and produced five Hall of Famers in its 101 seasons in Westwood.

The list of basketball legends who have suited up in Pauley Pavilion is longer than nearly any other school’s, and the debates over the best of the best remain relevant to this day. After constructing a budget matrix to rank players at each position, the Daily Bruin Sports editors sat down to draw up their own championship-winning lineups with only $15 to spend.

Join the discussion by following us on Twitter at @DBSports and sharing your own lineups with the world.

Ball-Miller-Kapono-Mbah a Moute-Love
Sam Connon, Sports editor

In today’s game, it’s more important than ever that your team can shoot the long ball.

Just look at the Golden State Warriors, who revolutionized NBA basketball with point guard Stephen Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson’s Splash Brothers pairing. Or Mike D’Antoni’s new-era offense kickstarted by two-time MVP Steve Nash and brought into the modern era by James Harden and Chris Paul.

UCLA men’s basketball has boasted plenty of knockdown shooters in its history, and I want to build a team of the best of them.

Shooting guard Reggie Miller was the NBA’s all-time 3-point leader at the time of his retirement, and the record lasted nearly a decade after he left the game. Miller broke that record despite the fact he played in an era that wasn’t too keen on volume 3-point shooting, and his 43.9% 3-point percentage during his senior year at UCLA isn’t half bad either.

The best shooting big man to call Pauley Pavilion home is another five-dollar player, Kevin Love. While he only shot 35.4% on 2.1 3-point attempts per game in his lone season as a Bruin, he has since gone on to drain 1,223 triples at a 37% clip in the NBA, fueling the stretch big movement in the pros.

The most efficient shooter to come out of UCLA is Jason Kapono, who shot 44.6% from deep on 710 collegiate attempts and 43.4% on 1,054 attempts in the NBA. Lonzo Ball may not have been able to lead his team past the Sweet 16, but his 41.2% 3-point percentage at UCLA was enough to convince the Los Angeles Lakers to take him No. 2 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was far from a good 3-point shooter in college – shooting 21.5% on less than one attempt per game across his three-year career – but he did shoot 34.5% from deep in his last five NBA campaigns.

Add in the fact that Mbah a Moute and Ball are top-notch defenders and that Ball and Love are great facilitators for their positions, and you have a well-rounded team that’s ready to win a championship the second it steps on the court.

Ball-Miller-VanDeWeghe-Mbah a Moute-Abdul-Jabbar
Jack Perez, assistant Sports editor

If I’m building a team for the college game, there’s one man who is an automatic pick every single time — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Then-named Lew Alcindor, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 26.4 points and 15.5 rebounds per game during his three seasons wearing the blue and gold. In three championship campaigns, he dominated most teams almost single-handedly and should be included in every UCLA all-time roster.

Since I have the best collegiate player of all time, the next logical thing to do would build the team around him. To complement the big man, I need shooters, height and players who can guard multiple positions.

At point guard, I’m riding with Lonzo Ball for $2. Although he played just one season in Westwood, he carried his team to the Sweet Sixteen behind solid shooting numbers and plus defense. However, it’s his innate passing ability and court vision that set him up to be a perfect partner to Abdul-Jabbar.

At my forward spots, I’ll use one dollar each on Kiki VanDeWeghe and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The two foreign-born Bruins both stand at around 6-foot-8 and while VanDeWeghe would bring the shooting, Mbah a Moute would provide a tough defensive mentality, taking on the best forward the opposition could throw at the Bruins.

This all leads to the one UCLA player who will be my go-to guy on the outside, as I’m choosing Reggie Miller with my remaining cash.

Miller can do it all. He can pass, shoot inside or outside and get a few steals per game. Coming in at 6-foot-7, he would be a matchup nightmare against opposing shooting guards.

With this combination of players, opposing teams will struggle to score and keep up, giving time for my reserve point guard Jordan Farmar to get some minutes.

Love-Westbrook-Kapono-Ball-LaVine
Coral Smith, assistant Sports editor

I firmly believe that the youth are the future of sports, so my entire lineup will be made up of players that competed as Bruins during my lifetime.

While my colleagues built a team based on some legendary players, I wanted to go with a bit of a wild-card strategy, and focus on players who might not have the sta status but do have the skill to make a well-rounded, high-scoring team.

The foundation for my lineup would be the combination of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, both $5 players who actually competed together at UCLA in 2007-2008.

I remember being a kid and watching Love and Westbrook play together in that one year before both headed to the NBA. That team was the last Bruin team to get to the Final Four, and I’d be lying if I said that little bit of nostalgia didn’t play into my decision to recruit them both.

Since leaving UCLA, both players have proven themselves as quality players at the professional level. Westbrook is an overall offensive threat, as he ranks second all-time in the NBA in triple-doubles and has proven he’s able to shoot from anywhere on the court. Love, for his part, has gone to the NBA Finals four times and won the championship in 2016.

With just $5 for the rest of my team, Jason Kapono, while not the most well-known name, seemed a good, affordable choice to add more scoring potential to complement Westbrook.

Kapono sits third on the list of all-time leading scorers, tied with 2,095 points with Reggie Miller, and just behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, both of whom are obviously legendary shooters, but out of my budget.

Getting Kapono’s shooting for the low price of $2, instead of the $6 I’d spend on Abdul-Jabbar, would be a steal for my lineup.

Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine round out my lineup as two consistent 3-point shooters that are undervalued in this ranking. Despite only spending one year with the Bruins each, Ball had a 41.2% clip from the arc, and LaVine 37.5%, and both also proved themselves as solid defensive options.

These players are still young and four are still playing in the NBA, so their legacies haven’t been cemented quite as much as those we immediately think of in relation to UCLA men’s basketball. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they wouldn’t be able to hold their own, and that’s what I’m betting on.

Davis-Miller-VanDeWeghe-Greenwood-Abdul-Jabbar
Jared Tay, assistant Sports editor

I spent $86 out of my $200 auction budget on New Orleans Saint’s running back Alvin Kamara in my fantasy football league last season.

I then proceeded to spend another $53 on the Kansas City Chief’s star wide-out Tyreek Hill.

Between Kamara’s decreased production and Hill’s injuries, to say that my strategy of blowing money on big stars failed spectacularly would be, well, a massive understatement.

So naturally, I decided to adopt the exact same strategy here.

The two big-ticket players that I’m banking on to carry the squad are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Reggie Miller. There’s not much of an explanation needed for these two. Abdul-Jabbar would bring dominance in the paint both on offense and defense, while Miller would bring almost an unparalleled ability to score from outside.

Committing a defense to guard either Abdul-Jabbar down low, or Miller up top would be a nightmare. These two dominated at both the collegiate and professional levels of the game, and I don’t think I have to worry about either of them having an “off-season.” It would be money well-invested.

To round out the squad, I like Kiki VanDeWeghe’s ability to score from outside with his step-back, Baron Davis should have good vision to distribute the ball to more reliable scorers across the floor, and David Greenwood’s consistent shooting from inside should fit nicely.

My strategy of spending big in the early going didn’t work for football. In fact, I became $20 poorer for my efforts.

But I have a good feeling about this lineup. Perhaps the second time is the charm.

Davis-LaVine-VanDeWeghe-Walton-Abdul-Jabbar
Jacqueline Dzwonczyk, assistant Sports editor

I’m just going to put this out there now – I know next to nothing about historical UCLA basketball.

What I do know about men’s basketball in general is that the best teams only need a couple great players and then a few more place holders. That is why I decided to make the most of my budget by splurging on both $6 options, subsequently settling for three $1 players to round out my roster.

You’re probably thinking it’s a bad idea to pick two centers – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton – but hear me out. Having players as dominant as they were in the paint is an underrated part of modern college basketball, plus a little interteam rivalry makes for great press.

With my remaining $3 and three open spots, I selected Baron Davis, Zach LaVine and Kiki VanDeWeghe. Again, these selections are based entirely on what positions and money were leftover after my strategic first and second picks. All they need to be able to do is play into my system by feeding both centers at every opportunity they get.

If this were almost any other sport, I’d probably go for a bunch of middle-of-the-road guys, banking on chemistry and teamwork and all that.

But that’s not how basketball works. No amount of lesser players is worth one Abdul-Jabbar or Walton.

And if that means committing to a poorly spaced formation and a comparatively poor backcourt, so be it.

Editor’s note: Former All-American Arron Afflalo was left off of the board not because we believe LaVine is better, but because we just completely forgot. The same cannot be said for Tyus Edney, Jordan Farmar and Earl Watson, who were in the running but ultimately got beat out by the five point guards who did make the list.

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Sam Connon | Sports senior staff
Connon is currently a Sports senior staff writer for the football and men's basketball beats. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats from 2018-2019 and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats from 2017-2018. Connon also contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment and co-hosts Daily Bruin Sports' weekly podcast, "Out of Bounds." Connon is a rising fourth-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.
Connon is currently a Sports senior staff writer for the football and men's basketball beats. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats from 2018-2019 and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats from 2017-2018. Connon also contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment and co-hosts Daily Bruin Sports' weekly podcast, "Out of Bounds." Connon is a rising fourth-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.
Jack Perez | Sports editor
Perez is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the football and men's basketball beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the men's volleyball, women's water polo and track and field beats and a staff writer on the gymnastics, beach volleyball, women's water polo and men's water polo beats.
Perez is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the football and men's basketball beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the men's volleyball, women's water polo and track and field beats and a staff writer on the gymnastics, beach volleyball, women's water polo and men's water polo beats.
Coral Smith | Sports senior staff
Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. Smith was previously a staff writer on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.
Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. Smith was previously a staff writer on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.
Jared Tay | Sports senior staff
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Jacqueline Dzwonczyk | Sports senior staff
Dzwonczyk is currently a Sports senior staff writer. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball, men's golf and women's golf beats. Dzwonczyk was previously a staff writer on the women's soccer, beach volleyball and women's tennis beats.
Dzwonczyk is currently a Sports senior staff writer. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball, men's golf and women's golf beats. Dzwonczyk was previously a staff writer on the women's soccer, beach volleyball and women's tennis beats.
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