Coming into this season, many fans expected a big change in the way this team plays, but in many ways this team looks like the late season Brian Gregory’s Jackets. Much was made of Josh Pastner’s plans for an uptempo offense. Last year the Jackets played at a pretty slow pace of 67.5 possessions per game, the 251st fastest in the country. While playing slightly faster this season, they are still below average at 69.2 possessions. My suspicion is that Pastner would love to play at a faster pace, but the team often lacks the talent and experience to make the split-second decisions to take advantage of numbers. It seems like several times they’d have a chance at a quality shot early, but bring the ball back out for a new possession. If this team gets more comfortable on the fast break or even getting shots from the set offense before the end of the shot clock, we could see the Jackets start to separate from last year on the pace of play.
If there has been one difference maker on the team this year it has been Ben Lammers. He has led the team to the country’s third best block% of 21.4. He is not the only one making blocks, even the guards are getting in on the action, but he certainly is a beast inside. Last season, GT gave up way too many points inside (49.5% from inside the arc), but the Lammers’ monstrous presence inside is helping the Jackets hold opponents to just 42.5% from two. He has anchored this defense so far, and is a major reason this team is playing somewhat above expectations.
One major point of concern I had coming into this season was rebounding. We lost one of the best rebounders in the country in Charles Mitchell, as well as James White who was nearly as good. Plus, Pastner is playing this team with one fewer true big men. So how have they fared this year? Interestingly..... The Jackets are getting 35.9% of their offensive rebounds, good for 45th in the country. This has been a team effort with Lammers leading, but Abdoulaye Gueye has shown a serious knack for fighting his way to the offensive boards and has grabbed 12.4% of available offensive boards (for reference, Mitchell was third in the country last season with 17.7%). Defensively it is a whole ‘nother story. They are allowing opposing teams to save 33.2% of their possessions on the boards. There are three main reasons that our rebounding has regressed, in addition to the loss of Mitchell. First, we are only playing one true big man which limits any size advantage that we might have. Second, our only big man sells out for blocks, which has been effective, but leaves him out of position on the boards. The third is that the Jackets are playing a lot more zone this season, leaving them more vulnerable to offensive rebounds. Unless changes are made, I expect this to remain an issue for much the rest of the season.
Fun Stat: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are 4th in the country right now in free throw defense. Teams are shooting a terrible 58.5% from the stripe so far.
Josh Okogie has been fantastic for a freshman this season. He stepped in as a young gun and is taking a leading role in the offense. He is averaging 18 points per game so far, and while he is only shooting 42% from the field, he has been a volume player for us, so his field goal percentage is forgivable. He takes about 35% of the shots when he is on the floor, easily the most on the team. He does need to get more consistent though (this will be a recurring theme). He had that fantastic 38 point game against Tulane, but was a combined 7/34 from the floor against Ohio and Penn State, the two best opponents so far. He looks like he is going to be a great player for us, but he is not ready to lead us at this level like he is being asked to right now. He needs the more experienced perimeter players to step up around him. And they have....at times. Tadric Jackson started out red hot, before shooting just 3/14 over the past two games. He’s our main creator other than Okogie and when he gets complacent, this offense stalls. He is still shooting over 50% from the year which is a huge upgrade from his past seasons, but I would like to see him keep pushing and making things happen.
What is there to say about Quinton Stephens? He started off the season struggling greatly offensively. He has been playing a good bit better these last few games, but is still in a situation that does not fit his offensive skills and it shows. I have given up on him being a consistently strong 3-point shooter, but I am never surprised when he makes a shot. He would be the biggest beneficiary when Jackson plays aggressively because he is at his best off the pass. He is shooting 34% from the field and 31% from three, although he has taken quite a few desperation shots at the end of the shot clock.
Then there is Ben Lammers. In addition to the rebounding mentioned earlier, has been an integral part of our offense and spends much of his time in the high post. He spends much less time posting up than he would in a Gregory offense, and much more time moving around looking for seams. When he has the ball he can take it to the hoop (if he’s close enough), look for the pass, or hit the jumper. His versatility has been huge for this offense. As he is such an important player, he is playing almost 90% of the minutes. Pastner has to be careful not to burn him out. He is currently averaging a double-double with 16.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
With Josh Heath back, point guard is returning largely to a two man rotation with Heath and Justin Moore. Moore has not been a fantastic scorer, but he has done a good job of distributing the ball with 4.8 assists per game for a very good 30.8% assist rate. Heath in his limited time has done nearly as well in both categories, though he does not provide much scoring threat either. The big number to watch for Justin Moore to improve on is his turnover rate. He turns it over 2.5 times a game for a far too high 28.2% turnover rate. He needs to control the ball much better because this offense does not have the talent to give away possessions.
Three big games are coming up for the Jackets. They start with a game at Tennessee, before they head to Richmond to take on VCU. After a home game against Alcorn State, the Jackets welcome Georgia to Atlanta.
Tennessee is not a big team, and appropriately is giving up 34% of their offensive rebounds. Tech needs to hit the boards hard and take advantage of the lack of bulk on the team. Despite that, they are solid on the offensive boards, so Tech can’t get complacent. Tennessee turns the ball over quite a lot on both sides of the floor, so we could be in for another sloppy game. This team has had a lot of experience already this year with games against Chattanooga, Wisconsin, and Oregon. To beat them, the Jackets will need to make shots inside where they are vulnerable.
VCU is the best team Tech will play until the ACC season, and they are on the road. To beat this classic press team would take a huge effort for the Jackets. Defensively we would have to clamp down on their potent offense inside and out. Offensively the guards cannot let the press stop them and cause turnovers. The Rams do not give up offensive rebounds and are great at getting turnovers. That will likely spell doom for a Tech offense that isn’t built for the shootout.
Against Georgia, Ben Lammers is going to have his hands full against big man Yante Maten, a top-notch scoring big. And let’s not forget JJ Frazier who tore up the Jackets last season. The Bulldogs aren’t particularly deadly on offense, especially from deep, but their defense will keep them in most games. A key for the Jackets here might be speeding up the offense to put some pressure on a team that plays a slow and steady style (222nd in the country with 68.6 possessions.