Key Takeaways

  • UCLA men’s basketball has consistently produced NBA players through the years.

  • Top players include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.

  • Lonzo Ball could end up as one of the top five NBA players from UCLA.

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There’s a reason that Den Passes burn a $169 hole in your pocket or that students have slept in tents on Bruin Walk to secure the best seats in Pauley Pavilion.

With 11 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championships — more than any other school — UCLA touts a world-class basketball program that has produced 88 NBA players.

This post investigates the quantity and quality of these players over the tenure of UCLA’s basketball program.

Below you can toggle between various metrics to explore trends.

NBA Performance is measured by VORP (value over replacement player) during the player's best year.

  • If multiple players were drafted in a particular year, their VORPs are added.
  • A time frame of 1969 to 2009 is used, since VORP data was not thoroughly available before 1969, and players drafted after 2009 have likely not hit their peak performance.

Interesting Facts:

  • In both 1974 and 2008, UCLA sent two All-Star players to the NBA in the same year - (Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes in ‘74, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love in ‘08).

  • In 2006, the “Years Spent at UCLA” statistic starts to decline. This can be attributed to the “one-and-done” phenomenon that began from the 2006 rule in which players were required to be at least one year removed from high school before entering the NBA draft. This forced many talented players to spend a year in college before moving on to the NBA.

  • 6 players from UCLA’s 1995 championship team went to the NBA. However, none of those players flourished in the NBA.

Notable Players

Name Draft Year VORP of Best Year
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1969 10.5
Russell Westbrook 2008 8.3
Kevin Love 2008 7.3
Baron Davis 1999 5.2
Reggie Miller 1987 5.2

Where does Lonzo rank?

This year’s revitalized UCLA basketball showcases at least 2 players expected to be selected in the NBA draft: Lonzo Ball, expected second pick; T.J. Leaf, expected 20th to 22nd pick; and possibly a third player in Ike Anigbogu.

Of the three, Ball is the most likely to someday sit on the pedestal of UCLA greats. While forecasting the trajectory of any NBA prospect is not a trivial task, examining the career of a similar player may proffer some guidance.

College stats of Lonzo Ball vs. Jason Kidd

Ball’s statistics are up to date as of Jan. 29, 2017. Kidd’s statistics are an average of his 2-year college career at Cal.

Vitals of Lonzo Ball (UCLA) vs. Jason Kidd (Cal)

Height Weight
Lonzo Ball 6-6 190 lbs
Jason Kidd 6-4 205 lbs

Admittedly, similar college production and vitals are insufficient evidence to conclude that Ball will follow Kidd’s footsteps, but the comparison does warrant some attention. If Ball does follow a similar career path as Kidd, then he may end up as one of the most successful NBA players out of UCLA.

VORP of Best Year: Kidd vs. UCLA Greats

The chart above indicates that if Ball’s career is identical to Kidd’s, he could end up as the fourth best player out of UCLA (measured by VORP in a player’s best NBA year).

Data Collection and Discussion of VORP

  • Statistics of the players were taken from Basketball Reference.
  • Mock draft projections were referenced from SI and DraftExpress.
  • Value over Replacement Player (VORP) was chosen as a metric to evaluate players since it’s influenced by a variety of contributions, including points, assists, rebounds and turnovers, whereas a metric like “Points per Game” only measures one dimension of a player’s performance.
  • Additionally, when discussing VORP, it is usually measured as a cumulative statistic over a player’s career. However, “VORP of Player’s Best Year” was selected in order to normalize the difference between retired players and active players. In other words, “VORP of Player’s Best Year” is a measure of a player’s performance during their ‘prime’.
  • More information about VORP can be found here: