If you asked someone before the start of this season who was going to be the X-factor for the Oklahoma City Thunder, most would have pointed to Jeremy Lamb.
Lamb entered his second season in the NBA this year and after a rookie campaign in which he hardly saw a meaningful minute, there was a lot we didn’t know about him. Lamb wasn’t going to be able to fly under the radar this season either. Coming over as one of the key parts of the James Harden trade, and now that Kevin Martin had left, it looked as if it was going to be largely up to Lamb to fill that scoring void coming off the bench for OKC.
Lamb hasn’t exactly begun this season with a bang. But he has gradually improved and is working into becoming a very nice piece for the Thunder. Has he exceeded expectations yet? I’m not sure, and there’s still a long way to go this season. But he is no longer a project and rather a player that the Thunder are beginning to be able to count on night in and night out.
Lamb has scored in double-figures in each of the last four games, and six of the nine games in December. This month, he’s averaging 10.7 points in 21.8 minutes per game while shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from behind the three-point line. He set a career-high with 18 points in the Thunder’s 116-100 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s made at least one three-pointer in seven of the nine games this month.
Considering the paired emergence of Reggie Jackson this season, this is about all the Thunder could have expected from Lamb. When he enters the game, he’s looking to shoot when he gets the ball. He comes off pindowns ready to pull the trigger, is always ready to catch-and-shoot when he’s spotting up, and when he attacks the rim, he’s got a nice floater he can go to.
Lamb got off to kind of a slow shooting start this season. He wasn’t making corner three-pointers and was really unsure with himself. He’s still shaky on the defensive end. He can get lost trying to track a really good wing like Kevin Martin, but he also has the potential to be really good on that end. He has long arms that he uses pretty well to play the passing lanes or contest shots.
What we’re seeing from Lamb on the offensive end is a pretty compete scorer, even moreso than James Harden in some ways. Harden hurt the defense in very specific ways. He was a great three-point shooter, especially from the wings and top of the key. And then he would attack the paint either in the pick-and-roll or fast break. Most of Harden’s shots came at the rim or from behind the three-point line, a big reason why he was so efficient. Harden would get in trouble sometimes when he was taken out of those comfort zones. That’s what the Miami Heat did to him in the Finals. He didn’t have a midrange game and if he had to react to score in different ways rather than go to his seemingly predetermined moves, he was in trouble.
Lamb is different. He is not the beast Harden is in the pick-and-roll. He’s not like a train when he’s going to the rim and he’s not the distributor Harden was. But Lamb has been shooting the three just as well as Harden ever did for the Thunder. So far this season, Lamb is hitting 50 percent from the left wing and top of the key, and 47.62 percent from the right wing. He’s yet to make a corner three from the left side in 10 attempts, but has made 5-of-12 from the right corner.
Lamb is getting it done in the midrange as well. He’s shooting 46.94 percent on midrange jumpers overall. In those areas right around the rim but not quite at the rim, Lamb can be very lethal. He’s shooting at least 60 percent in all three areas of the “floater zone.” And at the rim, Lamb is a not too shabby 51.9 percent.
What Lamb has shown so far this season is that he can be a very good weapon on the offensive end. He’s not initiating offense as well as Harden did two years ago, but he’s not being asked to either as he is always surrounded by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or Reggie Jackson. Lamb’s touch, from almost anywhere on the court, is as natural as it comes. Insert any amount of confidence and we might need to start calling him an elite shooter in this league pretty soon.
Lamb is basically a rookie this season and that means he is probably going to have his ups and downs. It’s impossible to yet predict how reliable he can be in the playoffs. And there is even a chance that this first half of December could end up being his best two weeks of the season. But I doubt it because he looks to be on the rise improving his game more than anything else. And he’s in the perfect position where he is not really being called upon to do a lot himself, and can take his time finding his niche with this team.
What Lamb, and Jackson, are doing so far this season has to have you thinking this may be the best Thunder team yet. Neither is replacing Harden by themselves but together, they are doing a pretty good job of that.