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The evolution of Jeremy Lamb

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Jeremy Lamb is the most improved player on the Charlotte Hornets. How he changed his game and why he deserves to be the starter going forward.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Disappointment and injury have marred the Charlotte Hornets this season. Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb, Michael Carter-Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have all missed multiple games. Add it up, and you get a 9-16 team coming off two bad losses at home and facing some tough decisions. Bright spots have been rare, but if you look close enough, there is one.

Jeremy Lamb has broken through and has provided a glimmer of hope for a franchise that desperately needs it. Lamb has always had the talent, but added strength, and improved 3-point shooting, passing, and defense has rounded out his game.

Batum's injury leaves the door open for Lamb to prove he is the Charlotte Hornets future starting shooting guard. If Charlotte opts to rebuild, they could make trades at the deadline. While almost anyone could go, Lamb should stay.

Last season, Lamb averaged 9.7 points and 1.2 assists per game, shooting just28 percent from 3. This season, he is averaging 14.8 points, 3.1 assists on 34 percent shooting from 3. Quite a transformation, though room for improvement remains. The important thing is as his usage has gone up, so has his efficiency on the offensive end. Lamb is taking four shots more per game, and his field goal percentage has slightly dropped from 46 percent to 44 percent. He has made up for it by increasing his 3-point percentage on 3.6 attempts per game, and he is also getting to the line a career-high 3.3 times per game and making 86 percent of them.

Lamb's usage is at 23.3 and has a career-high PER at 17.55, a true shooting percentage of 55.1 percent, and an assist ratio of 17. He does much of this by it by scoring out of the pick and roll. According to Synergy Sports Lamb ranks in the 72nd percentile with a 44 percent score frequency and 47 percent adjusted field goal percentage. Lamb is slippery in the pick and roll, patient, and now strong.

Lamb comes down the court and gets a screen from Zeller at the top right of the key. Notice his patience; he takes an extra hesitation dribble so he can wait for Zeller to get more contact on his defender. Once Lamb gets separation he takes two dribbles and then a step into the paint where he drops in a nice floater of the help defender. This play shows Lamb’s enhanced feel for the game and his ability to finish with tough.

Foul drawing and finishing through contact have been the most significant change. According to cleaningtheglass.com, Lamb is fouled on 11.4 percent of his shot attempts. He can finish through the contact as well. Lamb makes 25.7 percent of his And-1 attempts — a well above average mark among wings. He is one of the reasons Charlotte leads the league in free throws attempts per game.

Lamb has gotten better from deep, but there is still work to be done. He only takes 27 percent of all his shots from 3, a low mark for a two-guard. More corner 3’s would be preferred. He only has taken 14, despite making 64 percent. He is also better as a catch and shoot player than a pull-up shooter — He only makes 27 percent of his pull up 3’s, compared to 38 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities. It’s normal for catch-and-shoot percentages to be higher, but it also speaks to Lamb taking less pull up 3’s and for the Hornets to find him more catch and shoot opportunities.

Lamb is just as deadly in spot-up situations. He ranks in the 67th percentile overall, with a 40 percent score frequency and a 57 percent adjusted field goal percentage. When Lamb spot up it opens up his excellent midrange game, where Lamb can unleash pull-ups, slippery drives, and floaters or it gives him opportunities to make quick, crisp passes. Passing is where he honestly has improved the most. First, let's talk about Lamb's midrange game. Lamb loves the midrange; he shoots 49 percent on all midrange shots, and 58% on shots in between 4 and 14 feet. His pull up jumper may not be there from three, but inside the arc it's deadly. Watch this play!

Lamb gets the pass from Kemba and immediately goes on the attack. Two dribbles to the right above the free throw line, stop, elevate and nails a pull-up jumper. Great balance, footwork, and aggression.

Back to passing. Lamb has assisted on 19.2 percent of his teammates made baskets this season. When Lamb passes, he passes on target and on time, and it usually leads to a score for his teammate. Last year, Lamb couldn't even make the simple extra pass. Now, he does it routinely. Look at this pass.

Frank has the ball in the mid-post and kicks it out to Lamb. Lamb immediately swings it to Malik Monk at the top of the key for an easy three. Looks easy, but last year Lamb would have shot or drove. He saw this pass coming and delivered it on target and on time. The ball is not sticking to Lamb this season.

Okay, so Lamb has become more efficient and can pass now, but has he improved his defense? The quick answer is yes, but there is work to be done. Overall, Lamb ranks in the 72nd percentile on defense, a nice mark. He is at his best defending spot-up action, where he ranks in the 78th percentile. Where Lamb struggles is defending the pick and roll, where he ranks in the 37red percentile. Part of the reason he has a negative defensive RPM of -0.43. That is what you get with Lamb on defense, some good some bad.

The good news is he is trending up. For one, he helps Charlotte maintain its identity as a great defensive rebounding team. Lamb ranks fourth on the team in defensive rebound percentage. He is also a solid sixth in defensive rating. His steal percentage is low, and he fouls at an above average rate, but his block percentage is very high at 0.9 percent. Lamb also gets those crazy where did he come from blocks that can ignite a team. Watch this play!

P.J Tucker looks like he has an easy top of the key three until Lamb comes out of nowhere and gets a piece of it. Dwight gets the ball and throws to a sprinting Lamb, who gets an easy dunk. Big time play by Lamb.

Add it up, and Charlotte is slightly worse with Lamb on the floor at -0.7 points per 100 possessions.

Context is everything. There have been lots of mismatched lineups that have put Lamb in positions he probably doesn't want to be in. Opposing teams free throws, effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounds and effective field goal percentage all go down with Lamb on the floor, so there are positives. His main negative is defending the pick and roll, but he gives energy. Lamb is tied for second on the team in deflections, first in contested threes and third in loose balls recovered.

Right now Lamb is an average defensive player, but the arrow is pointing up. Remeber, he is only 25. What's more important is can Lamb in a team context.

Of Charlotte's top five defensive lineups that have played at least 15 minutes together, Lamb is in four of them. He is a good team defender, and gives effort every night. Big picture, Lamb's stats have improved, but does he help the team win? Looking at lineups by net rating Lamb is again in four of the top five lineups. Charlotte's best lineup this season has been Dwight Howard, Frank Kaminsky, Treveon Graham, Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker.

Batum may never be 100 percent healthy this season, so Charlotte is going to get a good look at Jeremy Lamb. Whatever happens, they need to find out how he works with Walker. Of two-man lineups that have played at least 20 minutes together, Lamb and Walker are fifth in net rating at +10.2. They are fifth in both offensive and defensive rating. So its safe to say they can play together.

Compare that to Kemba and Batum who are only +4.1. Lamb has been far better than Batum this season, and it's not that close. Batum may not be traded due to his contract but if he keeps playing Lamb should start over him. That will allow Batum to come off the bench, where he is more effective with Cody Zeller anyway.

Going forward, Lamb has two years left on his deal, and the Hornets should not trade him. He continually improves and has not reached his prime yet. Lamb has rounded out his game to be a complete player, and right now he is better than Batum at the two guard spot. This season has been a disaster, but Jeremy Lamb gives hope. Reward him for his success Hornets, because his best is yet to come.