Jeremy Lamb played so well during the first half of the season that he got benched. Read that sentence, again. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present your 2018-2019 Charlotte Hornets.
The drop in performance of the team when the bench took the court led Coach James Borrego to reassign the seven season vet and make him the leader of the second unit. This allowed rookie, Miles Bridges to bring energy into the starting unit and bring Lamb’s leadership to an otherwise lost bench.
Despite that demotion, Jeremy started a career record 55 games, and that is not the only career record he set. Lamb averaged 15 ppg, 5.5 rpg all career highs and kept up his averages while taking more shots. But all that information you can look up on basketballreference.com like I did. What you won’t see there is that a player, in a contract year, playing the best he has ever played, took that move without complaint. He was told that it would help the team win and he adapted to his new role (I’m calling that the reverse Carmelo).
The question is, did moving Lamb to the second unit help the bench and, as a result, improve the team? The answer is a resounding kind of. Before the move, the second unit (T.Parker, Monk, Hernangomez, MKG, and Bridges) had an offensive rating of 115.6 and defensive rating of 98.3. The Lamb led unit accounted for 115.5 and 126.7 respectively. Does Lamb’s improvement in rebounding account for the jump in defensive rating? You got me. But I can tell you other effects of the move.
A few caveats of those numbers: first defensive and offensive ratings are not the end-all-be-all of team performance, simply one measurement of efficiency. Second, I used lineups where no starters were involved. In the modern NBA, instances of such are rare, and on the 2019 Charlotte Hornets, it didn’t happen much so the sample size is small.
Also, the effect of taking Lamb out of the starting unit was hard on their one other playmaker: Kemba Walker. With Lamb out of the lineup the offense turned into give Kemba the ball and pray he can score. It was reminiscent of the Steve Clifford Hornets and not the promised pace and space, high energy offense of the James Borrego administration. That may have been the way things were going anyway, but it didn’t help not having Lamb there to make a play every now and again
A review of Jeremy Lamb’s season would be incomplete without mentioning his pension for dinosaur hunting. Not once, but twice Jeremy pulled up from long range and ripped victory out of the reptile-like jaws of defeat. The Toronto Raptors season may end in a finals run (though I doubt they get past big T-Giannis-Rex), but they got sent back to the Jurassic twice by Jeremy Lamb performing in the clutch.
What a narrative it would be if we left it at that. A young player, disregarded by the team that drafted him, finds a team that invests in him both monetarily and emotionally and makes good on all their faith. Wake up Dorothy, because his career numbers came this particular year for a reason. The 2018-2019 season was the last year of Lamb’s contract, more commonly known as the contract year.
In contract years, a player’s performance may elevate in hopes that potential suitors might give him a bigger contract. Erick Dampier is the classic example, but the studies done about this in sports are largely inconclusive. What is conclusive is that players have outlier seasons and then regress back to the mean, and, for Jeremy Lamb, this past season was an outlier season.
The other side of that argument is that Lamb is 26 years old. Which is insane to think about, if like me, you remember him 6 years ago in OKC getting yelled at by Russell Westbrook. So, he could be just entering his prime. Could he be a starter for a playoff team? Could he be a sixth man for a championship team? I want to be clear when I answer... Eh, maybe.
The current finances of the Charlotte Hornets and the projected cap for next season make it hard for them to compete with an attractive offer from another team. Obviously, as in all things Hornets, it really depends if Kemba signs his deserved super max. But if they choose to pitch to Jeremy, they will have one arrow in their quiver that no other team will. The Hornets invested in Lamb when there were fewer suitors. The Hornets saw potential in him before the stats were on the board and that’s not nothing. I tend to doubt that the 2018-2019 season is repeatable for Lamb. I tend to doubt that the Hornets will resign Kemba and him. But, Jeremy Lamb had a great season and it was exciting to watch, whether you were in the stands or on the bench.