After a solid freshman season, UCLA's Reeves Nelson
continued to show development as a sophomore, leading a talented but inconsistent Bruin team in scoring and rebounding, thanks to a more polished offensive game and an improved body. Nelson will look to build on that success in his junior season to work his way more firmly onto the NBA draft radar.
The most obvious knock on Nelson as an NBA prospect will continue to be his lack of size and length at the power forward position, but he has made improvements in his body, looking much leaner as a sophomore, and in turn, looking quicker and more explosive on the court.
We noted that becoming more of a force on the boards was something for him to work on as well, and he rebounded at a higher rate last season, going from 9.9 to 11.5 rebounds per forty minutes pace adjusted, which places him towards the middle of the pack of the power forwards in our database.
Offensively, with big man Joshua Smith
added to the picture last season for the Bruins, Nelson saw less post touches and diversified his offensive game, showing the ability to step out on the perimeter and attack off the dribble on occasion. With his trimmer physique, Nelson showed a more explosive first step to get by his man, as well as the same knack for scoring around the rim that we saw from him as a freshman. His aggressive mentality and scoring instincts continue to allow him to find ways to put the ball in the basket at the college level, but may be something that doesn't translate as well against the taller, longer defenders he'd face in the NBA.
After hardly attempting any jump shots as a freshman, Nelson slowly started incorporating a jumper into his game last season, shooting about one per game and connecting on about 33% of them. He still has more work to do in becoming a more consistent shooter and expanding his range, but it was encouraging to see the signs of improvement last season. His effectiveness scoring in the post and around the basket would likely be limited against NBA caliber big men, so becoming a more proficient jump shooter could be a big factor in his professional potential.
Defensively, Nelson's leaner body clearly helped his lateral quickness, and he did a much better job defending on the perimeter and getting up in the air to challenge shots. Around the basket, Nelson utilizes his strong body and toughness to fight for position, but his lack of size and length is difficult for him to overcome at times as players are sometimes able to score up and over him.
Overall, Nelson still has work to do to establish himself as a legitimate NBA draft prospect. The improvements he made with his body have been encouraging, but his lack of size and length at the four spot will make it an uphill battle. If he can continue to make strides with his skill level over his time at UCLA, he will be a player that will be tough to ignore, though, as teams are always looking for toughness, and Nelson is the type of player that won't back down from anybody.