People love their long and athletic wing players. Yet, too often their athleticism gets overemphasized over actual skill and ability. From 2013 until this season, the Hornets' Jeremy Lamb fit this description. Lamb came into the league as a somewhat-raw 20-year old who was 6'5, and capable of playing either shooting guard or small forward.
The Houston Rockets made him the 12th pick in the 2012 draft, and sent him along with Kevin Martin to Oklahoma City for James Harden. Now, just because a player was drafted in the lottery doesn't automatically mean that he's good and entitled to playing time, but seeing few minutes behind Martin made sense on a win-now team.
After a rookie season that saw subpar production in just 6.4 minutes per game, Martin left for Minnesota, leaving a void at the shooting guard position. As the Thunder auditioned players to put between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Lamb made a solid case for himself: 8.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game in 19.7 minutes. Lamb's efficiency also ticked up with more playing time, making him a viable option off of the Thunder bench.
Unfortunately for Lamb, his third season in the league didn't go as planned. Lamb spent the early part of the season dealing with a back injury, but returned to start eight games for the Thunder. Not that it's a terrible thing, but Lamb also spent stretches of last season in the D-League, too. Despite playing just 47 NBA games, Lamb still produced at a comparable level to the prior season.
After three seasons in Oklahoma City, we didn't really get a lot of answers about who Lamb was as a player. He was still young, and had fine production, but couldn't separate himself from Andre Roberson. Was that because of injury or ability? We had no idea. So when the Hornets gave him a 3-year/$21 million extension before the season, we thought they were mad.
As it turns out, there's a reason that Richard Cho is running an NBA team, and we're not. Lamb has been a pleasant surprise in this young season.
Lamb Has a Very Modern NBA Shot Selection
A big reason for Lamb's 54.7 percent field goal percentage is the fact that he's shooting incredibly well at the rim. According to Basketball-Reference, Lamb is taking 24.6 percent of his shots at the rim and converting 88.5 percent. Now, that's likely to come down for a number of reasons -- he's only played 11 games and he's taking more shots at the rim -- but not by much. In 2014-'15, Lamb took 16 percent of his shots between 0-3 feet of the basket and made 75 percent. Continuing to shoot 88.5 percent is unrealistic, but he's very good once gets into the lane.
The fact that he's also shooting nearly 60 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line is also, unsustainable, but the majority of his shots have come from the rim or behind the three-point line.
Speaking of the three-point line, Lamb hasn't been great or terrible; he's been perfectly average, as he has been his entire career. Lamb is taking 3.8 threes per game and making a respectable 35.7 percent of them, but that's better than hoisting a slew of midrange jumpers.
For a player who is still just 23 years old, still improving, and possessing a strong shot selection, $7 million could wind up being a steal of a price tag.
Keeping Your Lamb Locked Down, Your Lamb Locked Down
Not only has Lamb's shot selection been terrific, so has his defense. Opponent's are shooting just 32.6 percent with Lamb defending them-- which is roughly 13 percent below average per Stats.NBA.com. Having all of that length and being able to use it to pester opponents from all areas of the floor is a valuable asset, especially coming off of the bench.
The Hornets have been +4.0 points per 100 possessions better with Lamb on the floor than off of it. Not only is Lamb averaging 1.31 points per possession (the same as Nicolas Batum), but he is also not giving that back on the defensive end, and the Hornets stand at 6-6.
A Little Bit of Everything
Throughout the team's first 11 games, Lamb has also contributed in a couple of different areas: rebounding and facilitating ball movement.
For a player that is hoisting nearly four threes per game, Lamb's usage rate sits just a couple points above average. For a shooting guard, Lamb accounts for 10 percent of the team's assists on the floor, and is averaging 2.1 assists per 36 minutes. Far from blow away numbers, but they're still something, and he helps the team by not being a black hole.
On the glass, Lamb grabbing 18.6 percent of available defensive rebounds, and 10.4 percent of total available rebounds. The interesting this is that Lamb has most frequently guarded players within six feet of the basket, but is also averaging 6.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. Wing players, shooting guards in particular, aren't historically strong rebounders, but good for Lamb and the Hornets.
The early returns on the Lamb extension seem to be very good. For a three-and-D player whom you only had to give up Luke Ridnour for, what we've seen from Lamb is exceptional. You never know if a player is secretly bad despite their athleticism, or if they just need the minutes. So far, it seems as if the latter was the case for Lamb.
It's not uncommon for players do fair better with a higher number of minutes. Some players can adapt to playing sparingly, but a lot of guys were the go-to guy and need steady minutes to get in rhythm. Lamb appears to be one of those guys, but he has also earned as many minutes as he's playing.
This isn't to say Lamb will be a star, but he's on his way to being a bargain for the Charlotte Hornets.