A coach tells SI: Lawal and Favors don’t play well together

Gani Lawal gets a shot blocked. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Gani Lawal gets rejected. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Not that I’m smart or anything — we all know better than that — but I suggested almost two months ago that Georgia Tech’s Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors hadn’t yet formed a mesh. Indeed, I typed as much (at 9:25 p.m., if you care to check) in a live chat off the Tech-North Carolina game last week: “Favors looks so much more comfortable when Lawal’s not in.”

Being all too human, I’m always encouraged when someone happens to agree with me. (Which almost never happens.) Here, from an unnamed opposing coach as told to SI.com’s Seth Davis, is an outsider’s look at Tech:

The biggest problem with Georgia Tech is that the Jackets invent turnovers. They play faster than they need to play at times, and that’s why they turn it over. They’re playing [Gani] Lawal and [Derrick] Favors, who are two mountains masquerading as men, but there’s not a lot of room when you play those two guys because they’re both low post players. They’re almost better when they play [Zachery] Peacock because now they have a four who opens them up a little bit. [Iman] Shumpert is very tough, but it looks to me like he’s trying to be in the NBA right now. [Mfon] Udofia doesn’t understand at this point how to play the point guard position. They’re so aggressive that they put you on the line. Lawal is an unbelievable rebounder but he’s a terrible passer out of double teams. Favors is a lottery pick but he’s unskilled labor right now. He’s a lot like that kid from Texas A&M, DeAndre Jordan — explosive, long and quick, but still learning how to play. They don’t have a guy that just knows how to get him the ball.

I wouldn’t disagree with much of that. (I’m not sure Lawal is so much a “terrible” passer as an unwilling one.) But the part about Peacock being a better complement is something I’ve likewise thought for a while now. If the game’s on the line, Peacock needs to be on the court.

Every team needs a post player, but not many teams in the history of basketball have been able to accommodate two. Wilt Chamblerlain and Nate Thurmond were a bad match; David Robinson and Tim Duncan were better. Al Horford and Joakim Noah were a complementary pair, but neither of those arrived as a McDonald’s All-American. Lawal and Favors were both accustomed to being the go-to guy, and teams really can’t have two go-to guys, can they? (Especially if they play the same position.)

Regarding the draft stock of Tech’s big men: The good folks at NBAdraft.net now have Favors going No. 8 in the June draft — that’s the lowest I can recall seeing him — and Lawal 15th, which is one pick out of the lottery.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about this week’s bracket projection: Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com has the Jackets a No. 10 seed now, down from No. 6 two weeks ago and No. 9 last week. That’s not exactly headed in the right direction, but it’s not yet in the danger zone. (The danger zone is Nos. 11 or 12.) I say again: Bid-wise, Tech’s OK.

151 comments Add your comment

ND

February 23rd, 2010
2:30 pm

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2010
2:31 pm

ND cuts down the nets, so to speak. Kudos to you.

ND

February 23rd, 2010
2:32 pm

Two words: Paul Blewitt.

todd grantham

February 23rd, 2010
2:33 pm

well, after being first last being third isnt so bad.

todd grantham

February 23rd, 2010
2:36 pm

Mark, do i need to clarify that statement?

AndyC

February 23rd, 2010
2:36 pm

Tech misses the tourney, Hewitt gets fired, and all of the good players leave for the draft. That’s my prediction.

Josh

February 23rd, 2010
2:37 pm

Its a 4 out 1 in motion offense that GT runs. Of course it works better with only one big. Hewitt was trying to make it work with both and it was horrible. I’d use Lawal off the bench to spell Favors, he is just a garbage player that gets his from rebounds and put backs, he’s a more athletic Hansbrough but has less skills.

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2010
2:48 pm

I think we’re only beginning to see what Derrick Favors can do, Josh. He’s not unskilled. He’s just playing a new position. As I tried to say, when he has his back to the basket he’s much more dynamic.

Brian

February 23rd, 2010
2:49 pm

Tough team to gauge. Would love to see more Brian Oliver on a regular basis. That said Go Jackets.

Random Fan

February 23rd, 2010
2:52 pm

CPH needs to look at Paul Johnson’s coaching philosophy- play to your strengths. At Hawaii, Johnson had more of a passing based attack, based on his personnel available. At Navy/GSU/GT, it’s a running attack. Forcing a 4-1 offense with the players available isn’t working. Why not just put in CPJ as basketball coach? It’s not like we’d lose MORE games.

misterwax

February 23rd, 2010
3:02 pm

If favors and/or Lawal or anyone else for that matter could shoot 80% free throws, we would not be discussing any of this and GT would have lost only one game this season…on the road at Duke….last in the ACC means a LOT of losses.

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2010
3:06 pm

As a freshman, Lawal didn’t make 50 percent of his free throws. He’s up to 59 percent now. Not good, but better.

messin with sasquatch

February 23rd, 2010
3:10 pm

so how many times have I brought up lack of team chemistry for this group of players – I think at least 5.

T-Bone

February 23rd, 2010
3:10 pm

Most coaches would love to have this problem–two NBA-caliber big men. The problem is coaching. Hewitt needs to figure out how to make his roster work, especially since he is the one who put it together.

I don’t know if this unnamed coach is right. But I do know that Tech is struggling with the same thing this year that they have for the last several years–too many turnovers, players that don’t mesh on the court, poor free throw shooting, and an inability to inbounds the ball. When the talent level gets better but the results don’t, that’s a coaching problem.

messin with sasquatch

February 23rd, 2010
3:11 pm

this is life after matt causey.

DawginLex

February 23rd, 2010
3:11 pm

Under .500 in the ACC won’t get a bid. They must win 2 more games to be a lock.

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2010
3:11 pm

You know, Stanley Roberts and Shaquille O’Neal were big-name big men who played together. And they lost to Georgia Tech in Round 2 in 1990.

FullMetalJacket

February 23rd, 2010
3:12 pm

I am sure many will blame Hewitt for their not playing well together; I wish we had already fired Hewitt and hope we still do at season’s end, but I can’t blame him for the mismatch. I do blame him for not recognizing it earlier (yet, for that matter), but the fact is sometimes the dynamic is just not there when certain combinations of players are on the floor. The coach is responsible for teams and individuals working together, but when it just doesn’t work he must find a way to use everyone to his maximum ability. While it may be no fault to the players or the coach, they may find a way to work together and meld into a real tandem when they both get less playing time because of the other. Here’s hoping Hewitt can lead them to a strong finish and tourney showings, but history tells us it just isn’t going to happen. My only fear is that he does just enough to keep around another couple of years of mediocrity.

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2010
3:14 pm

A further word on Hewitt’s behalf, FullMetalJacket: It’s not easy when your two most talented players play the same position. As nice as it is to have two big men, ideally they wouldn’t do almost the same things. (That’s why Peacock is such a complement: He’s a big man who does something different.)

messin with sasquatch

February 23rd, 2010
3:14 pm

I think they lost to Lethal Weapon 3……so 3 might be a critical mass.

Tech-xas Hoops Lover

February 23rd, 2010
3:14 pm

A real coach would utilize two talented big men effectively. John Thompson did it back in the day at Georgetown. I think the opposing coach who mentioned that Tech plays too fast sometimes, hit the nail on the head. Slowing it down would not only help both bigs in the offense together, but also help develop Udofia.

Ozzy

February 23rd, 2010
3:15 pm

Maybe Favor’s looks more comfortable when Lawal’s not in because he know’s he’s not going to have to watch Lawal airball another free throw, or toss up another brick.

Tech-xas Hoops Lover

February 23rd, 2010
3:16 pm

….oh yeah, Dale Brown did it for a couple of years with Shaq and Stanley Robertson, too.

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2010
3:17 pm

They did lose to Lethal Weapon 3 on a Saturday in Knoxville. LSU led 22-5 early. And you’ll recall that Chris Jackson, who was a great collegiate guard, was also on that Tiger team.

Josh

February 23rd, 2010
3:18 pm

Mark, I meant that Lawal is more like Hansbrough. Without the hustle he wouldn’t be a good player, lack of skills. He is athletic and works hard, thats all he has going. Favors has the skills and the talent, he just needs more seasoning. Lawal is one frustrating player to watch, he’s clueless out there.

messin with sasquatch

February 23rd, 2010
3:18 pm

as I said early in the season, a team needs an alpha dog to lead it…not just a bunch of starlets running around.

nickj0321

February 23rd, 2010
3:18 pm

dawginlex – go back to your doggy blog

nickj0321

February 23rd, 2010
3:19 pm

Josh – i think you’re clueless…Lawal is a great player

Gordon

February 23rd, 2010
3:19 pm

I’ll bet whoever that coach is could come in here and get things going pretty fast. He sounds like he actually knows what to do. I wonder how many coaches would love to take the steering wheel of this Tech team. Alas, we have Paul Hewitt driving the bus (sigh).

Tech-xas Hoops Lover

February 23rd, 2010
3:19 pm

Sorry Mark, I just realized you mentioned that old LSU team.

FullMetalJacket

February 23rd, 2010
3:19 pm

If they were making most of their free throws we’d have several more wins already, but Hewitt’s players never have and never will be good at that. I think eventually Hewitt’s earlier success, which has carried him through so many mediocre seasons since, will be his downfall. If we credit him with the success of the 2002-2004 teams, it becomes clear that he is capable of coaching and leading better. His subsequent consistent failure to coach and lead should therefore be evidence of his own lack of effort, commitment, or other inability to continue doing what he is clearly capable of. I don’t happen to think he was ever a good coach or leader, but either way, with the worst record of any coach with his experience in the ACC, we can’t keep him. If DRad doesn’t make the move soon, it will be even harder to buy Hewitt out in the future as revenues continue to decline.

Jacket Backer

February 23rd, 2010
3:20 pm

Mark Price!!!

Mark Bradley

February 23rd, 2010
3:20 pm

I don’t think Lawal is clueless, Josh. He was clearly Tech’s best player through December and January. But I think he gets tired toward the end of a season, maybe because he does play so hard. Remember how his numbers dropped at the end a year ago?

nickj0321

February 23rd, 2010
3:22 pm

Mark – I think the real problem is it seems like that no one progresses under Hewitt…take Shump for example…

Tech-xas Hoops Lover

February 23rd, 2010
3:22 pm

You think it might have something to do with the level of competition in January and February Mark, versus him (Lawal) just getting tired?

ND

February 23rd, 2010
3:22 pm

My prediction the rest of the way: They hold serve at home and lose at Clemson. If they can avoid the #6 seed for the tourney they will at least play for the tourney championship. The #6 seed plays the last game both Thurs and Fri meaning at the earliest 9:30 tips. This team comes out of the gate slow to begin with, playing that late would not help.

But then I think of the two words I mentioned above (Paul Blewitt) and know I certainly would not put one cent on my prediction being correct.

Tech-xas Hoops Lover

February 23rd, 2010
3:23 pm

Hey Nickj0321….did Anthony Morrow not progress under Hewitt?

Hewitt Basher

February 23rd, 2010
3:23 pm

I think Josh was saying that Gani is a garbageman. Gani gets his points from hanging out under the basket cleaning up the garbage down low (both his own garbage and the garbage of others). He actually does have a complementary skill to Favors in that he’s not a first option. If Gani were given the role of just sitting down low and waiting for the garbage to come his way, and Favors given the role of being the sole post option, I think Tech would be a lot better. However, like Josh said, Hewitt plays 4 out, 1 in…so there’s really no defined role in the offense for the garbageman playing alongside the postman (plus Gani is trying to play the postman role, but is absolutely terrible at kicking it out).

nickj0321

February 23rd, 2010
3:24 pm

Tech-xas Hoops – not that I recall…are you saying he did? if he progressed he certanly was never utilized correctly

FullMetalJacket

February 23rd, 2010
3:25 pm

Mark, you are right about having two big men in the same position with the same skillset. It is the proverbial wealth of riches…after so many years without a consistent, proven big man. You certainly can not afford to NOT recruit a talent like Favors, of course, but to a small extent I think the uncertainty of having a four-year cycle of players makes recruiting so much more challenging in figuring out what your current and future needs will be. It’s not just losing the talent, it’s having to juggle the talent when you have it on hand, to ensure everyone gets his minutes, the team gets the best combination on the court, and the end result is numerous “W’s” before one or more bolt for the big bucks of the NBA.

ZamBonE

February 23rd, 2010
3:28 pm

Lawal is like a black hole. Once he gets the ball, it’s gone. He usually forces up bad shots and misses or gets fouled. Lawal has a similar style to that of hansbrough, except that hansbrough was money from the charity stripe and could consistently hit open jump shots. Lawal shot 25% from the ft line against maryland, which accounted for two thirds of the teams misses from the line. A lot of his points come from offensive rebounds he puts back up. He is an outstanding rebounder, but not that great at anything else. I thought by year 3 his shot selection and shooting percentage would improve, but I don’t think it has.

Go Jackets

nickj0321

February 23rd, 2010
3:31 pm

Zambone – his shooting % is excellent, is it not?

Tech-xas Hoops Lover

February 23rd, 2010
3:31 pm

I guess my point is that Morrow wasn’t NBA material when he arrived at Tech, but you have to give Hewitt some credit for Morrow making it to the league. I mean if he were a 1 or 2 and done, I would questions Hewitt’s impact but this kid played his 4 years and made it as a free agent.

Tech-xas Hoops Lover

February 23rd, 2010
3:31 pm

nickj0321

February 23rd, 2010
3:33 pm

I thought Morrow was highly recruited, and he never did anyting at GT…maybe im wrong but I think that is a bad example

FullMetalJacket

February 23rd, 2010
3:36 pm

I am no fan of Hewitt’s, again, and wish he was gone yesterday, but I can’t blame him for the Lawal/Favors situation, or even for recruiting some players who bolt after a year or so. His main recruiting problem is not also recruiting a core of strong talent who will stay long enough to develop (and of course to be able to develop them). Hewitt’s obvious (but unacknowledged) tunnel-vision in recruiting a particular kind of player is not politically correct to discuss but is a contributing factor here. Instead of fielding squads demographically more consistent with academic rivals Duke, UNC, UVA (and even Vandy in the SEC), Georgia Tech basketball under Hewitt more closely resembles the squads of (academically less challenging) basketball schools with dubious ethics, low standards of character and off-the-court performance, and questionable leadership and administration. Hewitt himself doesn’t look like some of his ethically-challenged peers, but his teams sure look like their teams.

Gordon

February 23rd, 2010
3:36 pm

FullMetalJacket @3:19:

I think Hewitt tries as hard as he ever did. I give him the benefit of the doubt on effort. There was a severe dropoff after the 04/05 season, and I think it is because the original assistants were both gone after that point. Things have not even been close to being the same since then, with even greater talent.

FullMetalJacket

February 23rd, 2010
3:39 pm

We beat BC, lose to Clemson on the road and VT to close the season. Lose in first round at Greensboro. Maybe one win in the NIT or even the NCAA.

dogdoodoo

February 23rd, 2010
3:39 pm

geez, CPH doesn’t realize this already, big surprise…

Paul in RDU

February 23rd, 2010
3:39 pm

Mark – Who do you think the “unnamed coach” was? My money is on Dino Gaudio.