When James Harden was traded away from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Martin filled in the role as a sixth-man scorer. But now that Martin has also departed, who is going to fill that void?
For the Thunder, there are essentially two options: Reggie Jackson or Jeremy Lamb. While both have their cases for the sixth-man spot, they are also fairly different in their playing styles.
Lamb was brought in along with Martin from the Harden trade, most likely as a fallback since Martin's contract was expiring. Due to Oklahoma City's limited budget for spending on free agents, Martin decided to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves for a more lucrative deal (4 years/$28 million).
This was disappointing for the Thunder, but it was also not very unexpected. Martin had a solid season last year in the sixth-man role, averaging 14 points on 45 percent shooting and a career-high 42 percent shooting from three-point range.
Those numbers, in addition to his track record of being a starting-caliber scorer, were more than enough to parlay Martin some interest from other teams like Minnesota, which offered more money with a bigger role, too.
Acquiring Lamb was preparing the Thunder for this scenario, but they may have wanted maybe another year or so to ease him into playing an important role. As of right now, Lamb has been generally untested in big-league play, participating in just 23 of Oklahoma City's games last year and playing only an average of 6.4 minutes in those contests.
When he wasn't in OKC, Lamb was playing for the Thunder's D-League Affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. Obviously the level of competition isn't nearly the same in the D-League as it is in the NBA, but Lamb made the most of his situation and managed to post averages of 20.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
Those stats give us a little insight as to what Lamb has the potential to be for the Thunder. His offensive skill set consists of some silky (albeit streaky at times) shooting, as well as an ability to finish around the rim with his ridiculous wingspan and athleticism.
In terms of potency on offense, Lamb has the best chance of anyone on the Thunder bench to even partially replicate what James Harden brought to the table as a sixth man.
However, Lamb also lacks a lot of the experience possessed by his competitor, Reggie Jackson. Much like Lamb, Jackson started his NBA career playing sparingly for the Thunder and spending a good amount of time with the 66ers.
Oklahoma City's technique of easing players into the rotation eventually paid off this past season, as Jackson showed vast improvement in his game, allowing him to win the backup spot at point guard over Eric Maynor.
In a culmination of Jackson's efforts, he was also called upon to start nine games this past postseason when Russell Westbrook suffered a season-ending meniscus tear in his right knee. Jackson answered the call, averaging 13.9 points, 3.6 assists and 4.9 rebounds. Not to mention adding some Westbrook-esque excitement to the game with some wild plays.
Jackson's game differs from Lamb's a bit, since Jackson has a pretty ineffective perimeter game. However, both players also have the length and explosiveness to finish at the rim, which is how Jackson gets a majority of his points.
Even with Jackson's helpful postseason contributions, the Thunder ultimately fell short to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round due to the loss of Westbrook proving too much to overcome. However, the third-year player from Boston College had a strong showing in the Thunder's summer league recently, proving that he may still be improving.
In Oklahoma City's comeback effort over Detroit, Jackson dropped an Orlando Summer League record-tying 35 points, 23 of which came in the fourth quarter.
So both Lamb and Jackson have had some big performances against lower competition, but who has the edge as OKC's go-to man off the bench?
Due to his superior experience and extended playing time with the Thunder's starting lineup, my answer right now would have to be Reggie Jackson.
Not only has Jackson demonstrated his ability to play in the starting five or off the bench, but he's also shown that he still has plenty of room to grow into an even more significant player. His jump shot is less than impressive, but that's something that can be worked on throughout the season.
Additionally, Jackson has the necessary size to fit into the Thunder's oft-used two-point guard lineups, either with Jackson and Westbrook or with Jackson and Fisher. Having another guard who can shoot and score next to him allows Jackson some freedom to play to his strengths and attack the rim.
While I do think that Jackson is ready right now for the sixth-man role, that could also change dramatically depending how well Jeremy Lamb performs in the early parts of the season. Lamb's potential to be a great scorer could be realized sooner rather than later, but his general inexperience as well as how important each game is for the Thunder means that Jackson will likely get the nod.
Perhaps if OKC was in the midst of rebuilding its team, then maybe Lamb would be seeing big minutes right away. However, the fact is that the Thunder are looking to win a championship, and it's crucial that they maximize their chances at a No. 1 seed during the regular season.
Jackson's game isn't perfect, and Lamb is unproven, which puts Oklahoma City in a more uncertain situation than they've been in recent seasons. However, both guys are young and oozing potential to be big contributors, so it really is a win-win situation for the Thunder.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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