One of the biggest reasons the Oklahoma City Thunder’s title aspirations stalled out last season was because Scott Brooks played aging players like Caron Butler and Derek Fisher down the stretch because he did not trust the younger players on the bench. Fisher and Butler did the best they could, but at their age, they couldn’t play crunch time minutes effectively.
Jeremy Lamb was one of those young players on the bench who Brooks didn’t trust late in games.Lamb had a disappointing season last year. In his second season, Lamb, who the Thunder acquired from the Houston Rockets in the infamous James Harden deal, appeared in 78 games and averaged 8.5 points per game in 19.7 minutes while shooting 35.6 percent from deep.
Lamb got off to a good start last season, playing over 20 minutes a game and averaging more than 10 points on better than 40 percent 3-point shooting in November and December. He was benefitting from playing with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and looked comfortable in his role.
Brooks increased his minutes to more than 24 minutes per game in January and Lamb’s season spiraled out of control. He shot 31.4 percent from 3 in January and saw his role diminish by the day.
By the time March rolled around, Lamb was averaging 14.8 minutes per game while shooting 32.1 percent from beyond the arc.
It was clear Lamb lost his confidence at some point in January and just never got it back. It was unfortunate for the Thunder because when Lamb scored, they won games.
The Thunder were 26-4 when Lamb scored 10 or more points.
Lamb is important for the Thunder moving forward. They need competent defense and 3-point shooting out of Lamb on a consistent basis to be able to win an NBA championship.
So what should the Thunder expect from Lamb this season?
I think the Thunder can expect Lamb to average around 10-12 points per game while knocking down 38-40 percent of his 3-pointers. Lamb is clearly talented enough to do that; we saw that in the beginning of last year.
A big part of putting it altogether and having that type of season for Lamb is his confidence. I think Brooks needs to let Lamb play through his mistakes and regain his confidence through his play.
It is hard to gain confidence when you are not on the floor.
When he is on the floor, Lamb has a simple job–knock down open jump shots. He gets a lot of them because teams are so worried about helping on Durant and Westbrook that guys around them can spot up and get easy looks.
It’s not hard to imagine Lamb putting up the numbers I suggested when he is getting looks like that.
A big part of Lamb’s progression hinges on his ability to knock down the corner 3 at a higher rate.
The corner 3 has become such a weapon in the NBA becomes it is the shortest 3-pointer and if you can get defenses scattered with ball movement and penetration, it is often left open. As good of a shooter as Lamb is when he is locked in, he should be able to shoot a higher percentage on corner 3s than he did last season.
Take a look at this play. Lamb gets a great look in the left corner (he shot below league average from there) after Durant is double-teamed and Jackson penetrates and kicks to him.
He is going to get these type of looks all the time next year. Lamb has to knock them down more consistently if he is going to be a double-digit scorer.
I envision a bounce back season from Lamb. With another year of experience under his wing and a solid showing in the Western Conference Finals, I think Brooks will be able to look down to Lamb in big moments with confidence.