Lamb Continuing to Evolve into Well-Rounded Player
On Saturday night in Minnesota, he soared in to try to grab an offensive rebound, drawing a crucial foul and knocking down two key free throws. On Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, he came off a screen to make a left-handed bounce pass to Nick Collison for an easy bucket.
It seems that even with each extra quarter of playing, Jeremy Lamb’s game is continuing to expand. In back-to-back victories last weekend over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics, the second-year Thunder’ guard’s all-around game was on display.
In Saturday’s nail-biting victory at Minnesota, Lamb registered a career-high eight rebounds, five of which came in the 11 minutes and 32 seconds he played in the fourth quarter. On Sunday against the Celtics, it was his playmaking for others that kept the Thunder’s offense rolling as he racked up a career-high six assists.
Not just over the first two months of the season, but with his diligence in the gym over the past 14 months since he arrived in Oklahoma City, Lamb has made an impression on Head Coach Scott Brooks, earning minutes in the rotation and on certain nights, in crunch time. Not only has Lamb become more well-rounded on offense, his focus, attention to detail and pride on the defensive end has been the most important and rewarding aspect of his improved game.
“We take pride in getting our players better,” Brooks said. “He’s getting better, but you have to give him the credit. He puts the work in, he comes back the next day looking to improve his game every day.”
“That’s our focus on all of our guys,” Brooks continued. “He’s done a great job with that and he’s a guy that we want to keep improving in a lot of different areas. We don’t want him just to be a shooter. We want him to be a player. That entails playmaking, rebounding and defending. He’s done a good job so far in the start of the season.”
Coming into the NBA out of the University of Connecticut, Lamb earned a reputation as a smooth shooter, and he has lived up to that so far this season by shooting 47.2 percent from the field, including 40.2 percent from the three-point line.
The long, 6-foot-5 wing has shot a blistering 44.9 percent on above-the-break threes, and his mid-range game has been efficient as well, shooting 45.5 percent on shots between 10-and-20 feet. His reliability along the perimeter has earned praise from teammates both in the second unit where he’s meshed well with Nick Collison and Steven Adams, in addition to starters like Kevin Durant.
“I love everything about Jeremy and what he brings to the table for our team,” Durant said. “He can do it all. He’s athletic. He can pass, he can shoot and he can dribble. I like his intensity, I like his focus and his hard work. With all of that, anything can be done on the court by him. We just need him to keep getting better.”
As Durant explained, Lamb’s shooting is only a part of his effectiveness on the court. Lamb has handled the ball more for the second unit lately with Reggie Jackson moving to the starting lineup while Russell Westbrook has been sidelined with an injury. His ability to facilitate the offense and find shots not just for himself but for his teammates is a critical aspect of a playmaker’s repertoire.
Playing with absolutely no agenda, Lamb attacks with fluidity and precision, making the right play regardless of it’s a pass or a shot. Veterans like Kendrick Perkins took note of not only his six-assist performance on Sunday, but also the manner in which he was putting teammates in positions to take high-percentage shots.
“Easy shots are always a good thing,” Lamb said. “The more people are finding each other and making extra passes, that’s huge for the team.”
“He made some plays today that I thought showed signs of greatness,” Perkins said. “When a guy takes it to another level, it’s when he can make everybody around him better. I saw him get a lot of guys easy looks today off of plays that he did as a playmaker. To see that only in his second year, that showed a lot. I think he’s going to be very special in this league.”
That playmaking ability isn’t a new thing for Lamb, who has, according to Jackson, “the ultimate winner”. Whether Lamb has been the focal point of his team’s gameplan or he has been a role player within the teams’ scheme, Lamb has found a way to impact winning.
At Norcross High School outside of Atlanta, Lamb was a part of a team that regularly competed for state championships, then his freshman year in college, he came on strong in the NCAA tournament to help lead Connecticut to the national title. In ways beyond just scoring the basketball, Lamb has repeatedly made game-changing plays on both ends of the floor.
“He does a lot of things well,” Jackson said. “He just figures out a way to make winning plays and continue to compete. He’s one of those guys you love to go into battle with anytime. I’d take him on my team any day of the week.”
Through 34 games, Lamb has shown that propensity for impacting the game on multiple levels to help his team win. With averages of 10.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 21.2 minutes per game, Lamb has started to garner attention from opposing defenses.
Whether opponents begin trapping him off of pick-and-rolls or go under the screen to try to prevent him from using his driving ability, Lamb has had a chance to learn how to make the simple play by simply reading what the defense is throwing at him. From there, all he has to do is use his natural ability to execute the shot, pass or drive as a true triple threat.
“Now teams are playing me a little differently,” Lamb said. “I’m just trying to learn the game and get a feel for it, knowing when to shoot it and when to pass. As games go on, I’m starting to get a feel for it, starting to crash the boards and just do more things. Every night your shot isn’t going to be on, so you have to find other ways to impact the game.”