Jackets readying to play six-man rotation

Feb 03, 2018
ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
November 19, 2017 Atlanta: Georgia Tech freshman guard Curtis Haywood II leads the dance as the team takes the court to play Bethune-Cookman in the home opener of a NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, November 19, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

After a brief interlude in which his minutes plunged to as low as 34 minutes, Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers is getting ready to saddle up again.

With guard Curtis Haywood going on the shelf for the remainder of the season with a stress reaction in his right shin, coach Josh Pastner likely will depend on a playing rotation of six players. The Yellow Jackets (11-11 overall, 4-5 ACC) play at Boston College on Sunday (noon, ESPNU), starting the second half of the ACC schedule.

As a result, Pastner will have to go back on a decision that he made about two weeks ago that he deemed in the team’s best interest – to give Lammers and guard Josh Okogie more rest to help the Yellow Jackets’ two best players play more optimally.

Asked if Lammers was headed back to playing 40 minutes a game, a routine that is highly distinguishing among Division I centers, Pastner’s response was unusually succinct: “Pretty much.”

For Lammers, at least, there was dispassionate acceptance.

“Obviously, another extra minute (of rest) here or there would help a little bit, but if I have to play 40 minutes, I have to play 40 minutes,” he said.

It’s not inconceivable that Pastner could give every significant minute of playing time the rest of the way to the starting five – Brandon Alston, Jose Alvarado, Abdouleye Gueye, Lammers and Okogie – and sixth man Tadric Jackson. It means more playing load for each and less lineup flexibility. For example, Jackson’s minutes have ranged from 14 minutes to 28 in ACC games because of variations in his productivity. Likewise, while starting, Alston has played between 12 minutes and 19. Having only six players that Pastner has placed trust in likely will require him to ride with players even if they’re off their games.

Also, foul trouble and injury will place Tech in considerable jeopardy.

Haywood struggled to find his pre-injury form after returning from the shin injury that kept him sidelined for six games – he was 4-for-20 from 3-point range in seven games after making 13 of 26 in the first eight. Still, he was an effective defender and took care of the ball. Haywood was averaging 20.3 minutes per game in six ACC games.

“Obviously, he’s a good shooter, so it takes away an outside threat, but guys just have to step up,” Lammers said. “Guys are going to have to take his minutes, and we’re just going to have to adjust.”

One change that Pastner said he’ll make is to shorten practice. On Friday, he specifically called on freshman forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright to be ready if called upon.

This playing arrangement underscores again Tech’s heavy reliance on Alvarado. The point guard is playing 88.3 percent of the time (35.3 minutes per game). According to KenPom, only four freshmen in the country are playing a higher percentage of their teams’ games, one at a power-conference school.

Alvarado played two of his better games of the season in Tech’s past two games, the 72-70 defeat to Clemson and then Wednesday’s 55-51 win over Syracuse. Both times playing 40 minutes, he had a combined 10/3 turnover assist/ratio in the two games. It was 14/22 in Tech’s first seven ACC games. Not coincidentally, Tech turned the ball over nine times in both games, compared with 13.1 in the other seven conference games.

“He played really, really well (against Syracuse),” Pastner said. “Really well.”

As for Lammers, he returned to his 40-minute grind against Syracuse (Haywood’s first game back on the sideline) with one of his top games of the season, his eighth double-double of the season with four assists, two blocks and no turnovers. It was his fourth 40-minute game of the season and 11th with 38 minutes or more. Through Friday’s games, he ranked 33rd nationally in minutes per game (36:10) and was the only center in the top 100.

Lammers has a couple of tricks to try to handle 40 minutes. He makes a concerted effort to hydrate, as he said he can lose up to five pounds in water weight over the course of a game. During halftime, while some teammates go through a full warm-up, he prefers to stay off his feet.

“Because my body likes to sit down every now and then,” he said.

Also, while sitting, he covers his legs in a heating pad to keep loose.

“I put it on my joints to make sure they don’t get stiff because I’m getting old,” said Lammers, who at 22 is grad-school age.