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Jeremy Lamb: SG's Development Critical for Thunder Justifying James Harden Trade

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Jeremy Lamb: SG's Development Critical for Thunder Justifying James Harden Trade
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

Lost in the mass hysteria involving the Oklahoma City Thunder's trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets is the fact that, you know, there were other players involved in the deal.

Outside of Harden, Houston's haul included a mishmash of Kanye-shruggable players, including Cole Aldrich and Daequan Cook. 

The Thunder, meanwhile, received Kevin Martin, who will ostensibly take over Harden's sixth-man role, and Jeremy Lamb, who is easily the most important player in the trade from Oklahoma City's perspective.

In fact, it's not exactly a reach to say that the No. 12 pick of this year's draft becoming a Harden-lite type player is the only way general manager Sam Presti can justify this trade long-term. 

Obviously, Lamb is not going to provide Harden's level of production this season. 

However, very few remember that Harden struggled mightily for the first year and a half of his NBA career. There was even some level of bust talk about the young shooting guard.

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What allowed Harden to blossom into a star was both the Thunder's patience and ability to allow him to grow at his own pace. It's highly unlikely that the team can be as patient developing another shooting guard this time around. 

It's impossible to ignore the fan factor here, as well. During Harden's slow-developing period, Oklahoma City was still in a honeymoon phase with the team. Anything even remotely positive was treated with soccer-mom levels of enthusiasm. 

After an NBA Finals appearance and a trade that was polarizing, to say the least, it seems unfathomable that the fans will afford Lamb the same leeway.

For better or worse, Lamb's arrival will forever and always be tied to Harden's departure. That means incessant comparisons beginning opening night and only ending when either the Thunder win an NBA championship or Lamb departs town. 

One could theoretically try to throw Martin into the equation, but for this purpose, he's essentially irrelevant. He's a one-year stopgap player who will be plugged into the sixth-man role and will almost certainly leave via free agency in the offseason.

Lamb is the only tangible get in this trade. The Thunder can speak of the first-round picks and financial flexibility, but fans won't give two jackrabbits about those pieces if the Los Angeles Lakers are playing in the NBA Finals in June. 

What's more, it also stands to reason that Lamb was not Presti's first choice. There is an infinitely higher possibility that his wish list started with names like Klay Thompson and slowly trickled down to Lamb.

That's in no way meant as an insult to Lamb. Nearly every trade in all sports involves both sides settling for less than what they truly wanted.

But these factors speak to the fact that Lamb's development will have to be expedited for the 20-year-old to avoid any undue criticism. 

As for how Lamb will fare in this situation? That obviously remains to be seen. 

In my pre-draft evaluations, I had the former UConn star pegged as a "consistent scorer who vacillates between sixth-man and starter roles."

My evaluations aside, Lamb is a player that some ranked ahead of Bradley Beal on their overall board.  To me, that's blasphemy, but it shows Lamb's potential is nearly limitless.

An explosive athlete with an absolutely beautiful jumper, he's very comparable to Harden in some ways. In others, especially ball-handling, Lamb has a ton of work left to even approach Harden's level.

However, to justify this trade, Lamb does not have to become James Harden. What he has to do is become a good scoring option coming off the bench and learn to create his own shot well enough to mitigate the effect when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are off the floor. 

All of that is infinitely easier said than done at the NBA level.

Just know that Lamb's progress as a player will ultimately be the difference between the Thunder competing for championships over the next five years or the Harden trade going down as the deal that possibly killed a dynasty.

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