Johnny O’Bryant III’s calculus can be simple when the LSU big man snags a post-entry pass.
Wait for Jordan Mickey to take a dive. Figuratively speaking, though.
If a double-team arrives to pester O’Bryant, a common occurrence, Mickey’s cue is easy. The freshman forward darts toward the rim. Hands pop up. O’Bryant whips the feed across the lane.
Sometimes, it ends with Mickey softly laying the ball over the rim.
“We’ve just gotten really good at reading each other,” Mickey said. “It’s been easy.”
To diagnose how Mickey’s transition has been seemingly seamless for LSU (9-2), which hosts Rhode Island (8-6) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, simply narrow your focus to the high-low play between the Tigers’ pillars in the paint.
Two weeks ago, Mickey tallied a career-high 25 points against UAB with nary a set designed to flow through his sinewy 6-foot-8 frame.
Instead, coach Johnny Jones made a salient point that might give looming SEC foes pause.
Mickey, who is averaging 13.3 points and shooting a team-high 56.3 percent, tallies his points on hustle plays — tip-ins, putbacks and loose balls — and playing off the veteran in O’Bryant.
“A lot of it has come from Johnny and the attention he gets,” Jones said Friday. “But a lot of it just comes from hustle plays and the options out of our offense.”
It explains why he’s second in minutes, 30.9 per game, but only takes a shot on 19.7 percent of possessions that end in his hands — only fourth-highest on the roster — and trails a reserve in Shavon Coleman.
It’s also a far cry from the SEC’s other elite big man in Kentucky’s Julius Randle, who averages 18.1 points per game but takes 24.7 percent of his team’s shots.
And at its core, the setup act is deceptively simple.
Often, Mickey flashes to a patch of hardwood just above the elbow. On the wing, a guard dumps the ball to O’Braynt, who handles a team-high 26.6 percent of possessions, and a double-team can be soon to follow.
If it’s Mickey’s man, he simply ducks into the lane created to the rim.
“The thing I’m always trying to do is give Jordan space to work,” O’Bryant III said. “He can do so many things that I’m either waiting for him to drive or make his move.”
The only thing on Mickey’s mind, meanwhile, is spacing.
“Just knowing where to dive and where I am on the floor to make the pass easy,” Mickey said. “I don’t want to be too far away from the goal when Johnny delivers.”
Over the past four games, O’Bryant has seemingly started slow. Yet, he’s averaged 15.7 points since a quiet four-point outing against ULM on Dec. 14, but Jones lauds his star’s patience.
“Teams have somewhat made an adjustment, even to what we run through Johnny,” Jones said. “Guys know what the next look and what the next option is, and they’ve done a tremendous job of not forcing the action.”
Instead of looking for his shot, O’Bryant is trying to use the attention he draws to create looks on kickouts and dumpoffs.
“It’s not really that,” O’Bryant said of giving up his shot.. “We’re just trying to make the right play.”
Other options abound, too. The guard can feed to Mickey, who then looks for O’Bryant to seal in the lane for a feed.
Or if a help-side defender slides over behind the double-team to take away the dive cut, then Mickey’s back-up option is easy: a mid-range jumper from the foul-line.
“Coach is always telling me to take the shot if no one comes out on me,” Mickey said.
So Mickey, who at 220 pounds still has ample room on his frame, has been spared the hurdle of having to toil and bang one-on-one for his points.
And the LSU staff hasn’t used the long stretches of time off that come with five games in 34 days to try and expand the array of skills the freshman has brought to the table.
“You don’t want to put too much on their plate,” Jones said. “We certainly don’t want to overload him as well, because we think he functions extremely well and gives us a lot of quality minutes.”
The advice is uncomplicated, just like the way he gets his touches.
“If it’s a good shot, just take it,” Mickey said. “It’s something they allow me to do.”