Jeremy Lamb had a lot of people worried with his less-than-stellar preseason, in which he shot 37 percent from the floor and a whopping 17 percent from deep, but he’s dispelled those doubts nicely to this point in the season.
Lamb is averaging 10 points per game on 58 percent true shooting and 41 percent from three. Look just at the month of December, and his production jumps even higher—he’s scoring 11 points a game on 63 percent true shooting and 44 percent from three. Pretty good numbers for a guy who played roughly 10 significant NBA minutes last season.
Lamb’s panning out quite nicely for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it’s safe to say he’ll be a big part of their future moving forward. Let’s take a look at how he’s been doing it.
The number one thing Lamb brings to the Thunder is spot-up shooting, which is fortunate considering how desperately OKC has needed it this season—the Thunder rank 25th in the league in three-point percentage.
Kevin Martin took a lot of shooting with him to Minnesota, and aside from Kevin Durant, OKC’s designated shooters have really struggled. Thabo Sefolosha is taking far fewer threes than last season (he’s on pace to shoot nearly 100 fewer) and is hitting just 28 percent of them, while Derek Fisher is just plain missing them, shooting 20 percent from outside.
Thank god for Lamb, who’s taking more than three shots from deep a game (and 5.5 per 36 minutes) and is hitting them at a 41 percent clip. Unlike Sefolosha and Fisher, Lamb has a lightning-quick release, and he’s not afraid to pull the trigger even if he doesn’t have much room, two big keys to being an elite shooter.
Lamb’s doing most of his damage with spot-up jumpers—they make up nearly a quarter of his offense, and he’s hitting 44 percent of them, per Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required). However, it’s worth noting that the way he’s doing it is a bit unusual.
Unlike most elite outside shooters, Lamb has been terrible from the corners. Just look at his shot chart (via NBA.com). He’s shooting a cool 49 percent on above-the-break threes (the best of any player with at least 50 attempts from there) but just 23 percent from the corners, including a perfect 0-of-10 from the left corner, per NBA.com.
That's almost definitely an outlier and should correct itself as Lamb takes more shots from the corners, but it’s a bizarre trend that’s worth keeping an eye on.
Lamb hasn’t done it all with threes—he’s also hitting 54 percent from inside the arc. Lamb is very good at moving without the ball, and the Thunder have designed a few plays to take advantage of that. It’s actually more like one play that has multiple variations, but as simple as that sounds, defenses just haven’t been able to figure it out yet.
The play almost always starts with Lamb on the wing and a big (usually Nick Collison, though it’s been done with Steven Adams, another solid passer) with the ball near him. In the first variation, Lamb will simply cut toward the basket (sometimes looping around the big, using him as a screen) and receive a pass, usually with plenty of room to throw up a floater or really attack the rim, depending on what the situation calls for.
The second (and my personal favorite) variation of the play again features Lamb around the wing. In this one, Lamb will start to loop around his big, but instead of cutting to the rim, he’ll simply stop behind him, get a little handoff pass and launch a three. Defenders almost never try to go over the screen, so it’s usually totally uncontested.
The final version has Lamb in the corner. Lamb will fake at his big (as if to run one of the first two variations of the play), and then dart baseline toward the basket where he can get an easy shot at the rim or dump it off to another player (as seen below).
Again, this stuff is really basic, but it’s worked wonders for the Thunder. This obviously isn’t all Lamb does, but it makes up a hefty chunk of his offense, and it really showcases how well he moves without the ball.
With all of that being said, it’s not as though Lamb can’t create his own offense. While he may not be the elite shot creator Durant and Russell Westbrook (and increasingly, Reggie Jackson) are, Lamb’s shown a lot of potential in the pick-and-roll.
Lamb’s currently the league’s second-most efficient scorer in the pick-and-roll, and he shoots 56 percent out of pick-and-roll sets, per Synergy Sports Technology. He’s unlikely to sustain that kind of play for the entire season—he takes a lot of pull-up jumpers out of those sets—but there’s no reason he can’t be pretty efficient.
Lamb rarely turns the ball over in the pick-and-roll, and he’s an able passer in it, often skipping passes between defenders to a rolling big. He’s also got a ton of moves at and around the basket—floaters, runners, high-arcing layups, etc.—that he’ll bust out at a moment’s notice.
That’s not to say Lamb should have the ball in his hands way more, just that he can generate his own offense with some solid efficiency. Jackson is still a better option to handle the majority of the OKC bench’s offense because Lamb has one big flaw—he doesn’t earn free throws.
Lamb has yet to miss an NBA free throw, but that’s not as impressive as it sounds because he virtually never gets to the line. He’s taken just 13 freebies this season, and the list of guys who have taken as many shots and as few free throws is not long.
In fact, just five players in NBA history have put up the per-36-minute scoring numbers (on a reasonable number of shot attempts) that Lamb is projected to and gone to the line so infrequently. And none of those guys played anywhere near the number of minutes Lamb will by the end of this season.
As I said, Lamb has a ton of different shots around the basket, but he’s actually relying on those floaters and runners a little too much, avoiding contact to the extent that he’s getting to the line at a historically low rate. To be fair, that’s fine for the role Lamb is in—he’s hitting those shots at high percentages, per NBA.com. Plus, his free-throw rate almost has to increase at some point.
Still, it’s definitely worth watching—if Lamb focuses on attacking the basket a bit more, he could develop into a big-time player. On the whole, though, Lamb has been a nice surprise as a pick-and-roll scorer and playmaker.
The final way in which Lamb is panning out for OKC is defensively. Lamb’s not a wing stopper, but he’s been solid, and most advanced metrics rate him around average on that end.
That may not sound great, but considering how dreadful Martin was defensively last season (and really, how poor most off-the-bench scorers are on that end), it’s an encouraging sign. Especially since even when Lamb struggles defensively, he always gives a serious effort.
Lamb’s quick enough to stick with most players off the dribble, and he contests shots really well. He also hasn’t gotten abused on the low block as you might expect from someone that thin, even though he’s essentially split time between the 2 and 3, per 82games.com.
Lamb is a great fit in terms of OKC’s general defensive dynamic—wall off the paint and disrupt opposing teams with athleticism and length. Lamb’s essentially a mini-Durant build-wise, and he’s also shown good instincts when it comes to reading passing lanes—when he gambles on a steal he almost always ends up getting it.
Of course, Lamb does have some problems defensively, as most young players do. He sometimes gets lost in the pick-and-roll, doesn’t know when to rotate on switches, and he bites on pump fakes too frequently. But these are all fixable things that get learned over time, and overall, Lamb might even be a little ahead of schedule on the defensive end.
Lamb’s fit in perfectly with the Thunder to this point, and he’s shown enough flashes to think that he might be able to take on an even bigger offensive role in the future. OKC is scoring like crazy when he’s on the floor, per 82games.com, and his off-ball movement is just another thing that defenses have to worry about on top of Durant, Westbrook, Jackson and so on.
It’s early, but the Thunder couldn’t have asked for a better start from Jeremy Lamb.
All stats accurate as of 12/17/13 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.