Today we continue our discussion about the Jackets’ returning players. Who will take on a bigger role? Who will be called upon in crunch time?
Countdown to tipoff: 29 days
Height/Weight: 6-10, 234
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, 2.1 assists
As a sophomore in the 2015-16 campaign, Ben Lammers worked his way into a senior-filled rotation and played just under 15 minutes per game. His numbers were nothing spectacular overall, but Lammers did show some promise on both ends of the floor, shooting 65.5 percent from the field and recording a team-high 47 blocks. The problem was that he was about to be unceremoniously thrown into the fire. After the season, Brian Gregory was fired and all of the senior frontcourt players departed, leaving Lammers as the only post presence with any significant experience on a team with a new coaching staff.
For all intents and purposes, Tech’s hopes in the 2016-17 campaign largely rested on how well Lammers could play. Given that weight on his shoulders... all Lammers did was emerge as one of the best frontcourt players in the ACC. He nearly put up a double-double for the season, finishing with 14.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Lammers was a major offensive threat for Tech, but where he truly shined was on the defensive end. His 3.4 blocks per game (125 total) were highest in the ACC by a large margin, and he was fourth in the conference in defensive rebounds per game. The end result was that he was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year and finished second in Most Improved Player voting.
As Lammers returns for his senior season, that leaves one hanging question: what can he do for an encore performance?
Lammers is at his best on the defensive end, but in reality he’s a fairly well-rounded center. Even a brief highlight reel from Tech’s win over Syracuse displays the extent of his skillset:
Lammers has emerged as one of the best rim protectors in the college game. A huge element of shot blocking is timing the jump, and the rising senior is excellent in that respect—if he goes up for a block, he’s almost always there at the right moment to make it. He does a decent job of grabbing rebounds and is good at stepping up to provide occasional help defense on the perimeter.
On the other end of the floor, he’s developed a nice offensive skillset too. Lammers moves well on the post, even when double-teamed. He can score at the rim, but he can also step back and hit a mid-range jumper from the elbow or a jump hook from eight feet away. He passes well and is also useful playing away from the basket—specifically on screen plays, where he’s a large body who positions himself well when setting a screen.
While it isn’t a specific skill, Lammers also deserves credit for staying out of foul trouble while playing very, very heavy minutes. He had some issues with fouls early in the season, but over Tech’s final 11 games—in which he played 35+ minutes in every contest and played 38+ minutes in eight of them—Lammers never had more than three fouls. He definitely showed signs of fatigue late in games, particularly when Tech was playing two games in three days, but he was still effective at a minimum and kept the fouls down.
One big area where Lammers needs to improve is in boxing out for rebounds. He’s not necessarily bad, considering he averaged over nine rebounds per game a year ago, but he does get beaten more often than he should for a player of his size. Even a modest improvement in this area would set him up to average a double-double as a senior.
Another area, and one that Josh Pastner himself has highlighted, is Lammers’ running ability. He does an adequate job of getting down the floor when Tech is looking to push the ball on a fast break, but he isn’t always in position to make a play. In fairness to Lammers, it’s hard for a 6-foot-10, 230-pound center who’s routinely playing 36-40 minutes per game to consistently run at full speed... but stamina aside, his top speed isn’t spectacular.
This one might sound familiar: Tech’s hopes will largely rest on Lammers’ shoulders. For the moment, he’s the only proven offensive threat in the frontcourt, and his defensive presence helps to deter opponents from attacking the rim aggressively. If he’s hurt or shelved with foul trouble, the team’s approach will change dramatically—the offensive approach will focus heavily on the backcourt, and the players will have to be prepared for more drives and inlet passes by opposing guards.
The good news is that one of the most instrumental figures in his development is still around. Last offseason, Lammers benefited tremendously from working with assistant coach Eric Reveno, the former Portland University head coach who had helped to develop several future NBA frontcourt players as a Stanford assistant (including Brook and Robin Lopez and Jason Collins). If he improved as much as he did from one offseason of working with Reveno, then Lammers likely has learned even more over the past seven months. A double-double average for the season seems well within reach.
One thing is certain: as long as the senior is on the floor, the Ben Lammers block party will be all kinds of fun.