Our first profile details the top seed in our tournament, the NBA UCLA Bruins. Overall, 88 players from UCLA have played in the NBA, six of whom have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. They also feature arguably the two greatest players in college basketball history, who both went on to become an NBA Most Valuable Player and the best player on a championship team. With a mix of dynamic playmakers, long-range shooters, and unstoppable low-post forces, they field one of the best and deepest rosters in our field.
Russell Westbrook, the starting point guard, may be the most dynamic player in the current NBA. In addition to his triple-double exploits, Westbrook’s best attribute is his ability to get to the rim, and draw the defense with him. He’ll create many opportunities for his backcourt mate, Reggie Miller, who was one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. At 6’7”, Miller had the ideal height for a shooting guard, and both he and Westbrook will have to use their length and athleticism on both ends of the floor, instead of solely concentrating on offense. They’re backed up by Baron Davis, an erratic point guard whose talent was often overshadowed by his poor decision-making, and Gail Goodrich, a Hall-of-Famer who played both guard positions. Expect Goodrich to serve as the primary backup for both starting guards, and Davis to be used sparingly due to the depth on the roster.
Marques Johnson, one of the more underrated players in NBA lore, will start at small forward. Johnson was a tremendously efficient player in his prime, who also exceled on the glass for his position. While he was not a three-point threat, he was a master from the midrange and in, and his crafty game will allow him to find space despite the plethora of low-post options on this team. He’s backed up by Jamaal Wilkes, one of smoothest players of his time who exceled on the fast break, and defended his position stoutly. Kiki Vandeweghe, one of the best shooters and scorers of his era, will also see time on the wing.
The starting big men are the aforementioned college (and pro) legends, Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Both were natural centers who will have to adjust to playing off of one another in the starting lineup. Before his injuries, Walton led Portland to their only NBA championship, and then guided them to one of the great starts in NBA history the following year before his body broke down. He will man the high post on offense and utilize his world-class passing skills to direct the offense in half court sets. Abdul-Jabbar is one of the handful of greatest players in NBA history, and will serve as their primary offensive option throughout the tournament. Their minutes will be staggered to ensure that one big man is always on the court at all times, but when they play together, opponents will have no chance of scoring at the rim against them. Kevin Love will see plenty of minutes as the ideal stretch four who will create space for each big man to operate in the post. His phenomenal rebounding skills are also noteworthy, as he won’t let them slip on the glass when the Twin Towers are staggered. Sidney Wicks and Mark Eaton will play when needed as the fourth and fifth big men on the roster. Wicks was an immensely talented player who battled with teammates and played on losing teams in his time in Portland. However, his size, quickness, and passing ability were valuable assets, and he should be able to positively contribute when called upon. Eaton, the most prolific shotblocker in modern NBA history, will provide a massive defensive roadblock for opponents if Walton and Jabbar suffer from foul trouble.
The NBA UCLA Bruins have a complete and balanced roster with great high-end talent. In order to reach their peak, their point guards, particularly Westbrook, must run the offense through their big men and avoid dominating the ball. Their shooters will thrive with the looks that Jabbar, Walton, and Westbrook will create for them, and their defense should flourish, particularly on the interior, with three of the great rim protectors in the tournament.