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Jeremy Lamb could be on the verge of a bigger role, but questions remain

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A reportedly great offseason has many hopeful that Lamb will step up, but doubts will remain about his 3-point shooting and defense until he shows otherwise.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Lamb is a quintessential flirt. His athleticism and length are eye candy, and his flashy layups and occasional breakout games are enough to grab your attention. He strings together enough good performances to suggest he’s ready to become the player you think he can be, but then never follows through; leaving you frustrated, confused, and unsure as to whether this relationship is going anywhere.

Lamb has teased fans for two seasons since joining the Charlotte Hornets via trade in 2015. He was arguably the most efficient shooter in the league his first month and a half, shooting well above 50 percent and averaging more points per game than any player coming off the bench. However, by the end of the season his efficiency had plummeted, his defense was poor, and he was essentially out of the rotation. Last season was his best statistically, but his shooting percentage fluctuated and his 3-point percentage finished at 28.1 percent. His defense remained inconsistent, and likely contributed to Charlotte’s poor overall bench defense. All that said, Lamb still has the tools to be a solid 6th man, but we’re still waiting for it to come together.

But recent reports suggest it might finally happen. Speaking with Rick Bonnell last month, Steve Clifford praised Lamb’s offseason work:

“I’m really excited about what he’s done and where he’s at,” Clifford told the Observer of Lamb

[...]

Clifford said the focus Lamb has demonstrated this summer in workouts has registered on his teammates and the coaches, and could lead to a more prominent role in the 2017-18 season.

Could is the key word here. I have no doubt that Lamb has put in the work this summer. Clifford doesn’t hand out praise unless he feels it is due; if he says Lamb has had a strong summer, I believe him. But until he shows it for most of a full season rather than in parts, I remain skeptical.

Lamb faces competition for minutes this season. His years in the league and with the Hornets give him the early advantage over the likes of Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon, and Treveon Graham, but at this point it’s his spot to lose. Failure to show improvement, or the emergence of one of the aforementioned trio could mean less minutes.

To avoid that, Lamb has to show improvement as a perimeter scorer. He’s proven to be solid attacking the rim and hitting from mid-range, but his 3-point leaves a lot to be desired. His career percentage is just 32.4 percent, which in today’s NBA is not nearly good enough. Kemba Walker has shown that poor outside shooters can dramatically improve, but he’s probably an outlier. That said, it isn’t too much to ask for Lamb to shoot somewhere between 34-36 percent, is it?

Lamb showed a glimpse of improvement in March of last season. In 16 games he shot 40 percent from the 3-point line, attempting 2.2 per game. However, that percentage dropped to 20 percent in April, although his overall field goal percentage rose to a season high 51.8 percent.

The key is to keep defenders honest. A semi-threatening 3-point shot should open the other parts of his game, and make him more reliable on offense overall.

On the other end, Lamb needs to show overall improvement as defender, both on and off the ball. He tends to get punished more often than not when screened, which, as our own Renis Lacis wrote about last May, happens for a couple of reasons:

[...]keeping opposing players away from the middle can be a troubling task. He tends to struggle with navigating his way around screens and in result gives up too many drives to the middle. Sometimes Lamb doesn't expect screens at all, which stop him dead in his tracks.

[...]

However, being ready (or rather not being ready) for them isn't necessarily the sole problem with Lamb. At times, even when he knows the pick is coming, he can get too jumpy and still get faked out of his shoes. Lamb will try to deny one lane and end up giving up the other one by being overly eager.

[...]

One has to assume that the somewhat skinny Lamb just isn't built for getting through screens. Even though a lot of this still can be executed by a savvy defensive player, bigger guards tend to have an easier time tracking players through picks.

The combination of poor awareness and lack of strength is less than promising. But Lamb does have one advantage—length and athleticism. With a 6’11 wingspan, Lamb can deflect passes and recover quicker. It’s something, but certainly not enough. Better defensive awareness should help compensate for a lack of strength, but its important that he also sticks to Steve Clifford’s defensive principles of limiting second-chance opportunities and preventing transition shots.

And the thing is, the potential to improve remains. 25 years old doesn’t make him a prospect, but there’s still time to figure out the parts of his game that need work. If his summer has gone as well as reported, maybe this is the season it happens.