I’ve been hard on Paris Austin this year. He was hailed as a savior during the offseason: the “true point guard” who was going to turn around Cal’s offensive woes. What I’ve seen on the floor is someone who’s clearly limited as a Pac-12 point guard. A slightly undersized lead guard who lacks high major court vision, is maybe an average passer, and shoots a little too much for someone with a mediocre stroke.
Well, Paris Austin got hurt on Friday in practice and the Bears were without his services in Westwood today. His absence was the major factor preventing Cal from being competitive against a Bruin’s squad that may be the least fundamentally sound basketball team in the nation (present company excluded).
One of the strengths of Cal’s improved 2018-19 offense is ball security. Coming into the weekend, they have turned the ball over on only 16% of possessions, good for 33rd in the nation. The improvement from last year is in part a change in offensive emphasis away from posts who had trouble taking care of the ball and making decisions, but it is also a credit to Paris’s very clear strengths. He has a good handle and is poised with the basketball in his hands. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t throw the ball into bad spots. He initiates the offense on time and, as we saw today, that is apparently a big deal for this incarnation of the Golden Bears.
Prior to today, Cal’s highest turnover game was 16, in the season opener versus Yale. We were averaging 11.1 turnovers per game. In our last three games we had turned the ball over 5, 12, and 9 times, respectively.
UCLA’s is not good at forcing turnovers. They are 346th out of 353 teams nationally.
Without Paris Austin, Cal turned the ball over to the Bruins 19 times today.
Paris Austin also controls tempo.
Cal came into today 302nd in tempo, playing their typical game at 67 possessions. Controlling tempo is particularly important in games when you are outmatched in talent, because talent tends to win out over more possessions, and fewer possessions allows more variance (particularly shooting variance) to provide upset opportunities for underdogs (particularly underdogs who shoot well). Entering the game today, with Paris Austin at point guard, Cal had played 10 of its 13 games in the 60s, and its highest possession game was 75.
Without Paris Austin, Cal played an 88 possession game today.
If I wanted to take this further, I would go through my shot chart notes, and show you how Cal’s poor shooting day was a result of not having Paris in the half court offense (Cal did fine in transition). But I’m already tired of writing about yet another loss.
So I’ll close with this. My bad Paris. We need you, and you deserve much of the credit for what has been a surprisingly reasonable Cal offense this year. Get well soon.
UCLA 98 - California 83
We’re all sick of hearing about it. If you want to wallow a little more, you can re-read Nick’s column from Thursday night.
The 2018-19 California Golden Bears are terrible at stopping their opponents from scoring.
Coach Jones started an entirely new lineup today: Matt Bradley, Juhwan Harris-Dyson, Jacobi Gordon, Grant Anticevich, and Connor Vanover. He succeeded in getting what he’s asked for: more energy. The Bears came out swarming all over the court, and they made things difficult for UCLA early on, jumping out to an 11-7 lead. They maintained the energy throughout the game, forcing 22 Bruin turnovers.
It didn’t matter.
Despite giving up 22 of their possessions, sometimes just lazily throwing the ball to one of our players, UCLA still managed 1.11 very healthy points per possession, on the strength of 61% 2p shooting and the ability to get to the rim at will and dominate the area around the basket.
Look. We are just bad at defensive fundamentals.* We don’t know how to move our feet and keep anyone in front of us. We don’t know how to help or communicate on who’s helping. We don’t know how to rotate and fill gaps. We don’t know how to box out.
Defense is about doing a lot of little things right, and putting it all together for long possessions. We saw that harmony on a regular basis when Cuonzo Martin coached here.
We are seeing the opposite of that on a regular basis this season.
UCLA played the worst half court scheme you can imagine, and they still scored enough to win by 15 today. Taking away the ball on 22 possessions might have been enough on a day when we didn’t give 19 back. But we didn’t have a point guard today, so our effort wasn’t close to good enough. More concerning is the certainty that the next team probably isn’t going to hand us the ball 22 times and I don’t know when we get our point guard back.
People keep asking me whether I think we can turn this around. I don’t know. But I do know this: the answer isn’t just “energy.” The answer is learning to do it right. There are no shortcuts.
At this point last season Cal was 1-1 in conference and 7-8 overall. Today we are 0-2 and 5-9. Gulp.
*Shout out to Grant Anticevich, who’s easily got the best defensive fundamentals on this team (and is pretty sound offensively, also). I don’t know why you only got 18 minutes today, brother, but it’s better than the 1 minute the other night, I guess.