Lamb Thriving One Year After Injury

Tuesday was a significant anniversary for Jeremy Lamb, but the veteran Pacers guard had no idea.

At the start of his media availability following practice at the St. Vincent Center, Lamb was informed that it had been exactly one year since he torn the ACL in his left knee in a game at Toronto.

"What's the date?" a surprised Lamb asked, before being informed that it was, in fact, Feb. 23.

"Oh wow, that's crazy," he said. "The fact that you say that is crazy. To think back to that time last year, I was definitely in a lot of pain, couldn't move by myself. It's great to see how far I've been able to come. I'm still getting stronger, still working on it, but it's encouraging."

Lamb attributed his lack of awareness of the anniversary simply to the grind of the NBA season, saying he simply hadn't realized what the date was.

"With this schedule, sometimes I don't know the day of the week," he quipped. "I just get up, play basketball, and whatever. I don't always know the date."

Nonetheless, Lamb has done plenty of reflecting on how far he has come in the past year. He said that when he received his initial diagnosis in the days following his injury, doctors told him that it would be nine to 12 months before he could return to game action.

He made his season debut on Jan. 20 against Dallas, just under 11 months after the injury, and has played in 16 straight games for Indiana since returning to the court.

"I didn't really look ahead," Lamb said of his mindset at the start of his rehab. "I didn't want to get my hopes up and think I could come back in nine months or nine-and-a-half months or ten months and then that day come and if I wasn't ready, I think I would have been frustrated. So I just took it one day at a time and just everyday tried to build to that goal of getting back on the court."

Since Lamb has gotten back on the court, he has played rather remarkably well, especially considering the long layoff. The 6-5 guard is averaging 12.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game. He is shooting 50.8 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range, and 92.3 percent from the free throw line, all of which would be the best percentages in his nine-year NBA career.

If Lamb were to maintain those percentages over the course of the season, he would set a new franchise record for single-season 3-point range, and rank fourth in franchise history in free throw percentage.

"Jeremy's come back and playing at a high level since literally the first game back, which honestly, I haven't seen," Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon said. "I think you rarely see that when guys come back, especially in the NBA after an ACL or something like that, and then come back and play the way he's played."

Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren, who happened to be in the arena a year ago on the night of Lamb's injury as an assistant with Toronto, has established a quick bond with Lamb.

"His character, his personality, I really get along with him," Bjorkgren said. "I really like the person he is and enjoy talking to him, enjoy coaching him.

"I've been, I don't know if surprised is the right word, (but) really proud and just happy to be part of (his return). He put a lot of work in to get back to this point."

For his part, Lamb attributed his strong play to a number of factors.

He said that while he was able to get a lot of shots up while otherwise immobile, he thinks his excellent shooting percentages are more a product of work that he has done on his mental strength, trying to stay confident and "have a short memory" when he misses a shot.

He also said that his time away from the game made him realize how much he loved basketball and he has relished the chance to be back on the court playing. Brogdon has also noticed the joy that Lamb displays now on the court and even cheering his teammates on from the bench.

"I think there are times as NBA players we get caught up in – this grind is really stressful, this job is really stressful, the traveling is a lot, now we're quarantined and we can't do anything," Brogdon said. "We get caught up in all the stuff that doesn't matter when really, there's so much good in it. Being able to play the game at the highest level against the other best players in the world, that's the biggest blessing in and of itself."

While Lamb looks as good as he ever has on the court, he still has room to grow. He said he still doesn't have the same explosiveness at the rim that he did prior to his injury and continues to do exercises from his rehab designed to build and maintain strength in his left leg.

Still, Tuesday was a significant milestone in his recovery, even if he didn't realize it.