In three preseason games, Jeremy Lamb is 9-of-33 from the field. He’s 1-of-13 from 3. This comes on the heels of an Orlando Summer League in which he was named MVP for the week, but quietly shot only 39 percent (25-64) and 6-22 from 3, and had games where he went 6-18, 4-16 and 5-16 from the field.
With the Thunder’s offseason so clearly based around confidence in both Lamb and Reggie Jackson being able to fulfill second unit roles replacing the loss of Kevin Martin as sixth man, the sluggish offensive start to Lamb’s season does raise some eyebrows. Oh, and the fact that Lamb was the centerpiece in the trade that sent All-Star James Harden to Houston, there’s some attention on that part of it too.
The question is simple: Preseason and small sample sizes be damned, panic time check yes or no?
“They’re not falling right now,” Scott Brooks said after Tuesday’s game. “But there’s no reason to not believe that they will.”
So Brooks says he’s not worried. Lamb himself doesn’t seem too concerned about his shots not dropping. But this is a growing trend and while Lamb’s offensive ability has never been the big question centering on him, it’s kind of time to start seeing some of those shots go in, right?
Following his 3-12 performance Tuesday against the Nuggets, as I noted, when he was asked postgame about his general thoughts on the game, Lamb asked what he shot. Who really knows why, but I think it’s pretty obvious: He’s thinking about it. Each miss sounds an alarm in his head. Uh oh, that just hurt my percentage. With the misses piling up, Lamb’s feeling the anxiety grow with each one.
“I’ve got to get back to the drawing board and trust the work I’ve put in,” Lamb said.
Fact is, Lamb shredded the D-League last season, shooting 35.2 percent from 3, averaging 21.0 points per game on 49 percent shooting with 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 21 appearances. At Connecticut, 17.7 ppg on 47.8 percent shooting as a sophomore in 34 games. All that stuff of knowing he can score and shoot is real. Because he can. It just doesn’t mean he will. Which is a little worrisome.
His teammates aren’t worried, though.
“He’s such a great shooter, he’s going to have a night where he goes 8-of-6,” Jackson said last night. “I know it probably doesn’t sound possible, but hey, when a shot’s that pretty.”
Ask anyone on the team and they’ll rave about Lamb’s offensive ability and outside touch. We haven’t really seen it yet, but the big questions around him were the other things — defense, ball-handling, passing, defense, defense and defense. In those areas, he’s playing better than expected. His defense — specifically on the ball — has been surprisingly solid and he’s done a solid job handling and passing.
It’s just that he can’t make anything.
Really, here’s the big issue in evaluating Lamb: James Harden. Everything he does is compared against Harden and with every miss, critics of the trade shake their heads and tisk-tisk Sam Presti. It’s not fair to evaluate the Harden trade in the vacuum of it being for Lamb and Adams, though. There are so many other factors to consider. Like, had the Thunder NOT traded Harden and instead just played out last season, they wouldn’t have either. Those that laugh at the Thunder for trading Harden for Lamb think this was some intentional deal and overlook the fact the Thunder’s hands were tied. Could they have waited until next summer and tried to find a different deal? Yes. But at the time, Harden’s trade value wasn’t at all what it would be now. Remember: The Thunder traded 2012 James Harden (who was definitely outstanding, mind you), not the 2013 one that’s an obvious superstar.
Regardless of all that, writing off Lamb before he’s had a chance to play consistent minutes is plain unfair. Look at other young players that blossomed. Very, very, very few had it click right away. For instance, James Harden. He had critics right from the jump, with people all over OKC for taking him third.
“I like Harden as a glue-character guy and he definitely has a good porn name,” Bill Simmons wrote on draft night. “But considering the Zombies have to worry about Durant fleeing in a couple of years, wasn’t it in their best interests to find him an unselfish guard who’s immensely fun to play with and was put on the earth to get Durant easy baskets? Big mistake.”
As a rookie, Harden struggled mightily in his bench role, having games of 2-9, 3-9, 0-8 and 2-15 shooting his first month. His second month, he shot 35 percent from the floor. His third month, 39 percent. His entire rookie season was up and down with some flashes of brilliant offense mixed with forced shots and poor decisions. It had a lot of people crying for Tyreke Evans or Stephen Curry and already deciding Harden was, like Simmons said, a mistake.
More of the same to start his second season, too. Just 39 percent in November, and down to 37 percent in February. Things really didn’t turn for Harden until the Thunder traded Jeff Green and his role opened up. That’s when things started clicking for him. I wish I had a little time capsules with all the tweets and emails and comments about Harden before he started turning the corner. But we live in a present, immediate world and all the declarations and proclamations about him being a bad pick are just dust in the Internet wind.
Am I saying expect Lamb to take a similar trajectory as Harden? I only wish. By no means am I comparing the two. But the point is, dismissing any young player before they’ve had their proper opportunity is just unfair.
Lamb is essentially a rookie this season. He appeared in 23 NBA games and played a total of 147 minutes last season, basically of them in garbage time. He’s been cast as a key role player on a contender, which means he isn’t being granted the gift of patience. He needs to be good now. The Thunder have staked a lot in him and his tiny head, so if he doesn’t produce immediately, it must mean they done messed up. This is a contender that has championship aspirations. And chancing that over a young talent with no experience is risky.
But this is an organization that lives and breathes patience, and that type of view has paid dividends with players like Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and… James Harden. So… yeah.
It’s hard to get adapted to the NBA. The speed of the game is hard to grasp and finding rhythm and confidence is difficult when things are buzzing by you and you’re trying to figure out how to make it all slow down. It’s just that those other players had the luxury of being given time to develop and progress without a spotlight of “They traded James Harden for this guy!?!?” beating down on them.
Is Jeremy Lamb going to be good? Is he going to validate Sam Presti? Can he be a suitable scorer off the bench? Will he ever make a 3-pointer? The questions are all fair and valid. It’s just way too early to try and answer any of them.