Jeremy Lamb has tantalized NBA scouts for three years, but his time is now—especially if the Oklahoma City Thunder want to win it all. It may sound strange to pin the hopes of a championship contender on a backup shooting guard, but Lamb's development will make or break the Thunder's season. He doesn't have to be James Harden or Kevin Martin; he just needs to hit three-pointers.
It used to be Harden, who was outstanding in his own right and has now taken his talents to Texas to form his own superstar duo. Last year, it was Kevin Martin, who actually was a better fit for the offense with his stellar three-point shooting.
This season, it's Jeremy Lamb, who steps in as the backup 2: a young and unproven guard who has the potential to be a great two-way player. But can he do it this year?
In a summer where other teams in the upper echelon of the Western Conference added major pieces (Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Doc Rivers), the Thunder's only change was losing Kevin Martin. General manager Sam Presti chose to bank on the development of his young talent rather than bring in outside help.
It's a move that bodes extremely well for the future since Lamb and rookie Steven Adams look like they could be major contributors soon, and they need minutes to develop.
But Kevin Durant wants to win now. That means Jeremy Lamb has to step up.
No pressure young fella.
While it is incredibly unfair to Jeremy Lamb, he will be measured against both of his predecessors. He will probably always be compared to James Harden, forever linked due to the circumstances of the trade. Whether Lamb can replace him remains to be seen. The more important question, however, is does he need to?
Reggie Jackson is more than capable of being an aggressive scorer, facilitator and leader of the second unit. Once Russell Westbrook returns—which should be pretty soon, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports—Jackson will assume the role of sixth man:
That means that Lamb won't need to replace the production of Martin, and certainly not that of Harden.
Jeremy Lamb has one major responsibility this year: Hit three-pointers. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to do it so far.
Martin's scoring ability was important last season, but it was his three-point shooting that made the Thunder unstoppable. Martin was 11th in the league in effective field-goal percentage, and he drained 43 percent of his three-point attempts.
While Harden wasn't as good, he could still knock down threes with the best of them. Lamb? Not so much—at least not yet.
Through the preseason, he shot just 14 percent from beyond the arc.
OKC was the third-best three-point shooting team in the league last year, but it certainly won't be ranked that high if Lamb doesn't improve his outside stroke.
With their brand of isolation basketball, Durant and Westbrook need perimeter shooters who can spread the floor and knock down the many open shots that opposing teams will give up in their efforts to corral the two OKC stars.
Right now, the Thunders' best three-point shooter not named Durant is Thabo Sefolosha, who knocked down 42 percent of his treys. If Lamb wants to get significant playing time, he has to start knocking down three-pointers.
He doesn't need to be Harden or Martin this year. He still has a couple of years to validate the James Harden trade, but he does need to hone his outside shot as quickly as possible if the Thunder are going to achieve their goals.