Jeremy Lamb: Is This Finally His Year?


Can Jeremy Lamb finally become a consistent contributor? ( photo)

Jeremy Lamb has it all for the taking. The 12th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft couldn’t be in a better situation to succeed. After being traded from the Houston Rockets with Kevin Martin and picks (one of which turned into rookie stud Steven Adams) for James Harden, he’s yet to find a niche in the NBA. But will 2013 finally be the year where he becomes a major factor for the Oklahoma City Thunder?

As a freshman at UConn in 2010-11, Lamb played second- fiddle to current Bobcats guard Kemba Walker on the Huskies’ championship run. But he couldn’t have been a better foil to Walker, who succeeded that season because he was the primary ball-handler. Lamb averaged 11.1 points per game compared to Walker’s 23.5 and got most of those opportunities off assists, leading to easy, catch-and-shoot opportunities. This explains his high effective field goal percentage that season, leading the team with .548%. Because the opposing defense planned around the explosive and cold-blooded Walker, Lamb was able to lurk in the shadows and knock down open shots. You can see in this highlight tape of his 2010-11 season that he would often sneak around on offense, finding easy looks.

More often than not, these easy looks were from behind the arc, so we know that Lamb can hit an open three with confidence. But that’s the main x-factor for Lamb: confidence. That season, Lamb wasn’t looked at as the star. Thus, he thrived.

Fast-forward to the 2011-12 season for the UConn Huskies. After winning it all the season before, expectations were high up in Storrs. Freshman phenom Andre Drummond looked to take over, as Lamb was handed the reigns to the team. However, the team struggled mightily. They squeaked into the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed, losing in the first round to Iowa State. Of course, Lamb’s stats increased as he took on a higher role. His minutes increased to 37.2 a game, and he put up 17 a game as well. But against tough, Big East-style defenses, he looked lost. For example, against Georgetown, he went 4-for-18 from the field in a 58-44 losing effort. This season proved that Lamb will not be the primary scorer on a winning team. By no means did that plummet his stock as a pro; he created havoc on defense and did things like this:

But he fell in the draft to No. 12 to Houston. And he didn’t look too happy about it (but that’s kinda how his face looks).

Fast forward again to last season. With Kevin Martin taking hold of the starting shooting guard position, Lamb bounced around the D-League for the majority of the season. He put up some solid stats playing for the Tulsa 66ers too, with an average of 21 points and five rebounds with 1.2 steals per game. You can make the argument that he probably deserved more of a chance in the big leagues, but that’s a deeper criticism of Scott Brooks and his handling of young players. Some say he likes to bury high-ceiling guys like Lamb and Reggie Jackson under guys who haven’t scraped their ceiling in five years (yo D-Fish), but that’s an argument for another day.

Once Lamb arrived in the association, he didn’t make enough of an impact to really take anything from his stats. For a rookie to average 3.1 points in 6.4 minutes per game is pretty standard, but what was worrisome was his lack of steals. He has 7’1″ wingspan and it would have been inspiring to see him jump some passing lanes and grab some steals last year. But he only snagged 0.2 per game.

Which brings us to today. This season, Lamb has seen a bigger role, now averaging 18.9 minutes per game. And while his stats look better than his small sample size of last year, especially with true shooting percentage (.528 from .479 last year), he still doesn’t look great on paper. But I am very pleased with the Jeremy Lamb we have seen thus far. While they haven’t always gone in, he’s popped the open three a lot more this season. That’s awesome to see. And according to Lamb himself, he feels better about taking open threes earlier in the shot clock when he’s feeling it.

"“Reggie hit me and I was wide open,” Lamb said. “It was early in the shot clock but late in the game. We had to get some points on the board, so I just tried to knock it down.”"

It’s lovely to see him have that confident mindset. Knowing his talent, those shots will fall as the season progresses.

In addition, now that Russell Westbrook is back, Lamb will only continue to flourish. Westbrook will play the Kemba Walker to Lamb’s Jeremy Lamb on the UConn 2010-11 championship team. Defenses are sagging off the wing, leaving open looks for Lamb on Westbrook drives. And that’s not even considering the fact that the Thunder have the NBA’s best scorer in Kevin Durant on their team. If given the opportunity in the right lineup, Lamb can lurk through defenses like he did in 2010-11 for open looks. And the more experience he gets, the more those looks will fall.

Jeremy Lamb showed lots of promise in the summer league and the preseason, having games like this:

But the 2013-14 regular season will be the year where Lamb breaks out. He’s too talented, and in too perfect of a situation to not thrive as a spot-up shooter in the lively Thunder offense. If Scott Brooks gives him the chance, Lamb will seize it. He and Thabo Sefolosha could create a beautiful offensive-defensive dynamic that will be tough for opponents to stop.

This is your year, Jeremy. Go out and take it. And keep on dancing while you’re at it.

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