Jeremy Lamb is almost there. Where “there” exactly is still remains to be seen, but the 2016-17 season was Lamb’s strongest yet in numerous categories, and at only 24 years old, it feels as if Lamb is painfully close to becoming a truly dangerous shooting guard in the NBA.
The tremendous combination of length, athleticism, shot-making skills, explosiveness and court IQ that Lamb possesses all serve him well and give him the potential to be a true threat to the league, but Lamb hasn’t been able to break double-digit scoring averages for a season yet in his five years in the NBA.
Claiming that a player has hit his “ceiling”— that he’s plateaued in terms of skill and production — after five or so years in the league is a pretty common presumption from fans and front office personnel around the NBA. It’s not a crazy thought — five seasons in the pros seems like a feasible amount of time to judge a player — and there are many instances of players finding their rhythm and identity and settling into their niche after four or five full seasons in the association.
That’s not to say the players don’t try to improve areas of their game throughout the entirety of their careers, but finding athletes in any sport who make extensive statistical leaps after five-plus years in their respective leagues is a rather tough thing to do. It does happen, though, and Hornets fans should be more cognizant about that than anyone. It took Hornets point guard Kemba Walker until his sixth season to fully evolve into the stone-cold three point shooting and ankle-breaking killer that he was this season.
Marvin Williams was often viewed as a draft “bust” but came alive in his eleventh season and has become an integral part of the Hornets starting five. At just 24 years old, Lamb has all the makings of a high-level shooting guard, and taking the leap from the 18-minute a night roll player he is now, to a key guy who can truly help this Hornets team reach the heights they intend to reach, is one that Lamb absolutely has the potential and tools to take.
Lamb averaged a career-high in points this season (9.7 a game) after posting a then-career high 8.8 last year. Rebounding was also up for the 6’5 shooting guard, as he hauled in a career-best 4.3 boards a night.
He shot the ball more efficiently than he ever has before, finishing the season shooting 46 percent from the field. That stat is even more impressive when you consider he shot a career-low 28 percent from the 3-point line. The emergence of Lamb’s mid-range game was the main factor in helping him shoot the ball at a higher overall rate than he ever has before.
With a wingspan of about 7’0, Lamb has incredibly long arms. He has always done a good job of utilizing those long arms along with his slender, athletic frame when it comes to finishing over defenders at the rim or changing his shot at the last second, and this year was no different. Lamb shot an impressive 69.9 percent within three feet of the rim, converting 79 of 113 attempts from in close. Lamb was a 48 percent shooter from 3-10 feet away this season, which is a career high for him. His array of floaters, contested layups, and impressive finishes was definitely more utilized this season, and he looked more comfortable using them to boot.
Lamb has always been a solid finisher, though, and multiple times in his career has he put up similar numbers to the ones he did this year in terms of scoring from in close. The change in Lamb’s game this season becomes much more evident when you back up from the hoop a few feet.
During the 2014-15 NBA season, Jeremy Lamb shot 7-27 (25.9 percent) from 10-15 feet away from the basket. In 2015-16, Lamb’s attempts and percentages were both up from the year before (19-50, 38 percent) but were still not particularly good. This season, Lamb went 39-81 from 10-15 feet away — that’s 48 percent, six percent higher than he has ever shot from that distance.
In just two years, Lamb transformed from a player who had virtually no mid-range game at all, to a guy who is shooting a better percentage from 10-15 feet than James Harden (41 percent), Russell Westbrook (42 percent), Steph Curry (45 percent), and Lebron James (42 percent). Talk about improvement.
Take a few more steps back, though, and we start to see possibly why Lamb hasn’t been able to truly develop into the consistent player he has the skills to be. In 2015-16, Lamb shot a very respectable 47.9 percent from 16-22 feet, but that number dropped off spectacularly in 2016-17, as Lamb was down to barely 40 percent from that distance. For some reason, Lamb can’t seem to be a consistently good jump shooter from more than one or two spots on the floor per season, and this season that very odd trend stayed true.
As talented of a shooter as he has proven to be, he won’t be able to make the last jump in his career until he finds out how to shoot well from all different areas on the floor. For instance, Lamb’s best three point shooting season was by far 2013-14, when he was hitting 35.6 percent of his longballs. That same season he hit just 37.9 percent of his shots from 16-22 feet. Fast forward to 2015-16, where Lamb shot the 3-pointer at a very unimpressive 30 percent. His percentage from 16-22 feet that season? 47.9 percent (INSERT CONFUSED EMOJI.)
Lamb apparently can’t focus on more than one area at a time. When his midrange game is working well, his longball suffers, as was the case this season. When his three is functioning, he seemingly can’t hit a midrange shot to save his life.
While the consistency is still not quite there for Lamb, the skill obviously is, and he showed flashes of brilliance on many occasions this year. Lamb scored 15 or more points eleven different times throughout the season and eclipsed the 20 point marker in three games.
A few of his best performances of the year include a 26 point outburst in Charlotte against the Bulls on March 13th, and a 21 point, nine rebound game where he shot the ball very well (7-11) in a win against the Grizzlies. Lamb also had one of the best rebounding games amongst all guards when he pulled down 17 to go along with 18 points against the Knicks on November 26th.
Jeremy Lamb will probably not come into next season and average 20 points per game. What he can do, though, is continue to work on his already vastly improved midrange game, find his 3-point shot over the summer, and hopefully get them to work in harmony. If he can figure out how to do that, Jeremy Lamb might just be the breakout player the Charlotte Hornets have always wanted him to be in 2017-18.