Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner has a challenge for five of his guards that, if they all were to meet it, would be nothing short of astounding.
Pastner said that he has challenged Brandon Alston, Jose Alvarado, Michael Devoe, Curtis Haywood and Shembari Phillips to each shoot 43 percent or better from 3-point range this season.
“I think if you’re shooting 43, you’re shooting the daylights out of it,” Pastner said. “I think it’s a good bar. You look at some of the teams that I’ve said I want to model us after, the Notre Dames and Virginias, you look at what they do well, they shoot the 3’s well. Each team had multiple guys that shot that rate.”
The numbers don’t quite back up Pastner. Last year in the ACC, four teams had two players who shot 43 percent or better from 3 – Duke, Louisville, Miami and Virginia. Among those eight players, two attempted two 3-pointers each, another took 3 and a third took 32.
In fact, among the 351 teams in Division I, only three had three players shoot 43 percent while attempting at least 30 3-pointers last season, according to sports-reference.com. While recognizing it as a high target, Pastner is calling for five. The last Tech player to shoot 43 percent from 3 for a season was Glen Rice Jr. in 2009-10.
Why 43 and not 42 or 44?
“I just kind of stuck on 43, and I think it’s a reasonable number for those five guys,” he said.
At the least, Pastner’s objective speaks to his boundless optimism and also the dramatic uptick in offense that the Jackets will need this season to be competitive. Without a proven scorer like Josh Okogie and also without a gifted passer like Ben Lammers to run the offense through, Tech will need to be far more efficient with its possessions and more dynamic in its offensive style.
“The last two years, we have not been a good 3-point shooting team,” Pastner said. “We have to be a high-level 3-point shooting team this year.”
Tech shot 31.8 percent from 3-point range last season (325th nationally) and 33.1 percent in 2016-17, which was 266th nationally. The team began preseason training Monday and will begin practice Sept. 25.
Pastner said that all five worked hard this summer to improve their 3-point shooting. Alvarado said that team members committed to making 10,000 3-pointers each over the summer in private shooting workouts over the summer. In early August, Alvarado had already reached the mark. He estimated he was making about 65 percent of his attempts. As a freshman, Alvarado made 37 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Alvarado said he aimed to improve to the point that “the scouting report for the other team (says) ‘Make sure you don’t leave him open,’ to try to get my teammates open when I drive.”
That is indeed another aspect of Pastner’s offensive approach for the coming season. The past two seasons, Tech ran much of its half-court offense through Lammers in the high post, often having to wait for him as his speed diminished with the heavy load of minutes he was playing.
Pastner envisions playing at a faster tempo and incorporating elements of the dribble-drive offense that he used at Memphis, both strategies that could create more open looks from 3. In the dribble drive, guards drive at the basket and either go to the rim or, drawing help defense, kick out to open teammates or pass to a post player.
“You go dribble drive, you attack somebody else’s defender, they come off for a dribble handoff, get the other guys open, just cut and cut and cut,” said Phillips, who will be eligible to play this year after transferring from Tennessee in 2017. “I think that’s our biggest strength.”
The pieces are in place to get faster. Pastner calls this team the most athletic of the three he’s had at Tech. The Jackets also devoted themselves to conditioning over the summer. Pastner said that, in reviewing his practice plans from last season, that the Jackets weren’t as fit as his first team because he had to stop practice more frequently to teach and correct. While this team lost the three veterans and is young, it’s also a group that, except for three freshmen, has been with Pastner at least a year.
“We have run a lot this summer,” Pastner said. “A lot. And it’s because I only have three new guys and the other guys already know the stuff, and we just go.”
Pastner recognizes the challenges ahead, including aiming to have five players shoot 43 percent or better from 3-point range, especially when Alvarado and Haywood shot 37 percent and Alston 36 percent. (Devoe is a freshman and Phillips sat out.) Haywood did make of 12 of 22 3-pointers in a six-game stretch against non-conference competition before a shin injury put him on the sideline.
“That’s a good challenge for me,” Haywood said. “I like that. So I’m going to take that on and I’m going to run with it.”