No player took the Charlotte Hornets more by storm at the beginning of the season than Jeremy Lamb. Other players may have had a bigger impact, but Lamb’s emergence felt significant because coming into 2015-16, few had any idea of what role he would play in the rotation.
The Hornets seemed sold on him by pre-season, offering him a three-year, $21 million extension that was both praised and criticized. On the one hand, signing him early put him on a team-friendly contract in case he had a breakout season that upped his value (and with the rising salary cap, $7 million per season is going to be on the lower end of contracts handed out). The counter argument of course, is that Lamb hadn’t proven he even belonged in the league after three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sure, the talent appeared to be there, but he never broke into the rotation, and the Thunder were more than willing to trade him away.
After the month of November, Lamb’s contract looked like a great piece of business. Lamb was averaging 12.9 points, and 5.3 rebounds per game, shooting 52.3 percent from the field, with a True Shooting percentage of 59.9, and an offensive rating of 112. While shooting just 33.9 percent from the 3-point line, Lamb was shooting efficiently from mid-range (58.6) and at the rim (70.6). In the below highlights against the Dallas Mavericks back in early November, Lamb showed the ability to score in a variety of ways -- from floaters, to drives to the rim, and from long-range. What’s apparent is the high level of confidence he was playing with.
Today, this feels like a forgotten dream. The promise Lamb showed early in the season slowly faded after the new year as his production stalled, and by season’s end he was no longer a part of the rotation. For the season, here is Lamb’s shot chart.
There’s a lot of colors, but not enough green. He was strong from mid-range, and a little above league average at the rim, but he was mostly ineffective from beyond the arc. However, shooting 45.1 percent from the field for the season isn't bad when considered his 30.9 percent shooting from the 3-point line.
To call Lamb’s season disappointing though might be a bit unfair. The expectations for Lamb were small compared to those of Nicolas Batum, or Jeremy Lin, and his numbers on the season (8.8 points in 18.6 minutes per game) were up from the previous one. What is concerning however, is that Lamb ended the season playing only 66 games, and most of his DNPs were Clifford’s decision rather than due to injury, though the shoulder injury he suffered could partly explain why his shooting numbers dropped. By comparison, this season mirrored Lamb’s 2013-14 season, when he played in 78 games, averaged 8.5 points in 19.4 minutes per game. While his shooting percentages aside from 3-point shooting were career highs, the numbers suggest that Lamb only marginally improved as a player, and remains an unknown entity.
Interestingly enough, Lamb’s defensive numbers weren’t as bad as you’d expect, at least from an on-ball standpoint. Lamb held opposing players to 41.4 percent shooting from the field, down slightly from the 43.6 percent this culmination of players shot on the season. He was best at defending the 3-point line, where shooters only made 30.6 percent against him. However, he did struggle guarding players closer to the basket, as opponents shot 58 percent against him from within 10 feet, and 70.4 percent from within six feet. Defensive field goal percentages also don’t account for bad rotations, which Lamb had a tendency of doing.
Considering the way Lamb fell out of the rotation, the decision to sign him before the season doesn’t look as great a move at this point. The contract remains team-friendly, but had he not signed, he would likely be low on the team’s list of free agents they want to retain. Not bringing him back at all would have been reasonable given the way things ended, and that would have made $7 million available for the team’s own free agents and others.
Lamb is under contract however, so the questions now are, can he become a part of the rotation again, and if not, will the team move him? The numbers from November (and most of December) suggest he can be an effective rotation player, particularly as an off-the-bench scorer. He doesn’t have to average nearly 13 points per game (at the time that was more than any player who hadn’t started a game), and it would be unfair to expect him to shooting up 50 percent from the field. Averaging 8.8 points per game would be fine if that were sustained over the course of the season, and if he could increase his 3-point shooting percentage to around 35-36 percent, it would force opponents to defend him at the 3-point line, which would open up driving lanes for him much like it did for Walker this season.
At this point, it’s likely Lamb will be back next season, and will be given a shot to be part of the rotation again. It’s unlikely that every upcoming free agent will be retained, which would mean a spot in the rotation for Lamb. There’s always the chance he could be included as part of a trade, but that’s assuming Charlotte even looks to make a deal this summer.
Ultimately though, it’s almost as if we’ve gone full circle with Lamb. He started out an unknown entity, then had a prolific month and a half that pointed to a breakout season, only to struggle and be fazed out of the rotation, leaving many still wondering just what impact he could have for Charlotte moving into next season.