Jones and Lamb Preparing to Make an Impact

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

It was one of those February nights on the road in the NBA when nothing seemed to be going right for the Thunder.

Trailing by ten at halftime against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Thunder clawed back in the third quarter to tie the game, then scrapped its way to create a tight battle in the final two minutes of regulation. Trailing by two points at 95-93 with 1:38 remaining, Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson attacked the paint, and dished to an open Jeremy Lamb in the left corner.

Without hesitating, Lamb flicked his wrist and splashed the three-pointer, putting the Thunder ahead 96-95 with what would end up being the game-winning shot. The execution of the play was a sign of trust that even a second-year player like Lamb had earned the confidence of his head coach and teammates to come through in a tough situation.

 “‘I had just told Reggie, ‘They don’t respect me. They’re leaving me too much.’ Lamb explained. “(Reggie) said, ‘I’m going to find you.’ He got to the paint and he had the layup but he kicked it out and I was able to knock it down, so it felt great.”

For Lamb and fellow third-year man Perry Jones, the 2013-14 season was filled with big moments like that one, but also smaller, less noticeable experiences that have been instrumental in their continued development.

During the season, Lamb averaged 8.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in 19.7 minutes per contest, while Jones averaged 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds on 45.9 percent shooting in 12.3 minutes per game. Both players shot 36 percent from the three-point line while also making strides on the defensive end.

Although their time on the court peaked in February with Lamb and Jones playing 24.6 and 15.2 minutes per game respectively during the month, both stayed ready for when their number was called. The professionalism they both showed was enough to give Head Coach Scott Brooks the confidence to insert them into the lineup when needed. Their preparation was the key to putting themselves in a position to be successful, regardless of the number of minutes they earned.

“It was just practicing every day like I’m going to have at least 15 to 20 minutes per game,” Jones explained. “I just had that mindset every single game, so that if my number is called, I can already be ready. If my number is not called, at least I was ready. I never had any doubt in my mind.”

This offseason, both players have continued to work hard on their games to be well-rounded, impactful players on both ends of the floor. At Summer League in Orlando, Lamb had the sixth-highest scoring average out of all the players there, at 17.5 points per game, while also grabbing 5.3 rebounds, dishing out 1.7 assists and snagging 1.3 steals per contest.

Lamb still wants to work on his conversion rate in the lane and to find new ways to score the ball, but he is showing improvement on offense and defense heading into next year. If Lamb can round out his offensive arsenal and improve upon his jump shooting percentage, he can be a versatile asset within the team structure. On the other end, his length and leaping ability ensure he has the physical tools to execute as he continues honing the mental aspect of defensive coverages.

“I’m definitely putting in extra time, trying to stay focused and just finding other ways to score as well and little things to add to my game,” Lamb said. “I’m just having the mindset to continue getting better.”

“I’m trying to pick up full court and stay in front of my man,” Lamb said. “I think I’ve been doing that better. I’m getting around screens. Offensively I’m just attacking. I’ve been getting to the rim a lot better. I still have to work on the finishing part.”

Jones also showed some progression as a player down in Orlando, averaging 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game at Summer League. Perhaps most important, however, was Jones’ aggression and assertiveness. Not only was Jones not shy to let fly from three-point range, where he shot 47.4 percent in Orlando, but also to put the ball on the floor and attack. If Jones can keep defenses honest with his outside shot, it can open up attacking lanes for himself and teammates.

“It’s so I’m able to spread the floor out, make room for Russell and Kevin to drive and do what they need to do,” Jones said, explaining the reason why he’s developing his three-point range. “If they have a threat in the corner that can knock down the three, that’s one man out of the way. It’s four-on-four then. If they kick it out to me and I’m wide open, I can knock it down. You have to make them pay for it.”

Jones considers himself a “player” within the Thunder’s system, not pigeon-holed into a certain position, lineup or rotation. At 6-foot-11 and as one of the fastest players on the team, Jones has the physical tools necessary to keep up with players like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. With his size, length and leaping ability, Jones can guard at least three positions on the floor almost every night, giving Brooks and his staff flexibility to match him with the Thunder’s other high-level athletes.

“The length out there is crazy,” Jones said. “We can be all over the floor, cause a lot of mayhem and a lot of chaos. Offensively, with everybody’s scoring abilities, everybody is a threat out there. You can’t stick on one man or double-team one person.”

As the pair of third-year men embark on another season with the organization, both players feel more confident and comfortable in their roles and how their abilities can mesh with their teammates on the floor. On and off the court, Lamb and Jones have become a nice complement to the core group, and have helped continue to set the standards for work ethic that veterans like Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins have established.

Heading into the 2014-15 campaign, Lamb and Jones know that their relationships with their teammates will be critical, as will their ability to master both the physical and mental aspects of the roles they hope to fill.

“We’re always communicating, talking and hanging out off the court,” Jones said. “It helps you build a lot of chemistry. Once you’re chilling, hanging out or whatever, you’re going to start talking about basketball. Once the game comes, you’re going to know exactly what he’s thinking. He’s going to know what you’re thinking.”

“I’m just ready to go,” Lamb continued. “I’m ready to have a good season, ready to make a run and ready to get back out there with my brothers and fight.”