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2016-17 Player Preview: Jeremy Lamb

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Lamb looked to be a Most Improved Player candidate early last season but his performance took a nosedive and he fell out of the rotation. What happened, and how can Lamb find consistent minutes this year?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 Key Statistics: 18.6 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 1.2 APG, 3.8 RPG, 45.1 FG%, 30.9 3P%, 72.7 FT%

When the Charlotte Hornets acquired Jeremy Lamb from the Oklahoma City Thunder less than day before the 2015 NBA Draft, it looked like they might have finally found a good, young shooting guard to pair with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing.

Lamb, then 23, was selected with the 12th pick in the NBA Draft just a few years prior. He played with Hornets guard Kemba Walker at Connecticut and won a national championship in 2011. Walker was undoubtedly the leader of that squad, but it was clear that Lamb was the heir apparent. When Walker left, the Huskies would become Lamb’s team. They did, and Lamb’s numbers skyrocketed.

There was never any doubt about Lamb’s talent. Standing at 6-5 with a 6-11 wingspan, Lamb looks the part of an NBA shooting guard. His shooting stroke is smooth and fundamentally sound. Scouts have lauded his work ethic in the past.

Why, then, was Lamb unable to find consistent minutes on the Thunder? And furthermore, why was he unable to find consistent minutes on the Hornets?

Those are difficult questions, and there are a multitude of reasons Lamb hasn’t quite found his role in the NBA.

Generally speaking, young players understand that they are competing against savvy, polished veterans for playing time. The ones that don’t are quickly ostracized and tend to fall out of the league. As mature as most young players are — something they’re not given enough credit for, honestly — it is incredibly difficult to know your place in the pecking order and feel wanted at the same time.

And for Lamb, what appeared to be a starting job in Charlotte turned into a bench job just hours later when it was announced that Nicolas Batum was traded to the Hornets that same night. After being little more than a table lamp in the Thunder’s luxurious living room, Lamb found himself in a similar situation in Charlotte.

With sporadic minutes and the anxiety any 20-something-year-old deals with, Lamb’s performances were unpredictable. Some nights, he’d drop 20 points on 10 shots. On others, he’d struggle to score five points on the same 10 shots. It was difficult to predict which Lamb the Hornets would see on a given night.

That is, until Hornets head coach Steve Clifford basically said screw it and Lamb dropped out of the rotation altogether. So what needs to change for Lamb to find success this season?

“Sustained consistency,” Clifford told the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell last week.

That’s much easier said than done, but all indications are the Lamb’s taken the task very seriously. He met with the Hornets’ coaches and training staff and was told to reset his habits and said in the summer that his biggest goal is to find minutes and bring energy every night.

“If I do those things, I'll be able to be on the court,” Lamb told Bonnell. “If you’re missing shots, you’ve got to keep shooting. If you don’t get a stop, believe you’ll get a stop next time. Help your teammates. Do all the little things that keep you positive.”

Fans often like to put constraints on players, suggesting that they’ll only be good if and when they add a certain skill to their game. These are empty platitudes and wholly neglect the mental side of sports, which is often more important to a player’s success than the development of certain skills.

There’s no doubting Lamb’s talent; we’ve seen him shoot 40 percent from behind the arc, rack up steals, and play excellent defense in both team and man-to-man settings. The trick will be pulling that effort and confidence out him consistently, and while the Hornets can offer him a warm, fostering environment, ultimately, that’s going to have to come out of him.

And I’m pretty sure he has it in him.