Throughout the early stages of Thunder training camp, continuity has been a commonly used word.
OKC returns 12 players from last season's roster, a conference-best 86.5 percent of its minutes. And of the two rookies — Steven Adams and Andre Roberson — neither is expected to immediately play.
So the projected rotation is filled with multiyear guys who have already played crunchtime minutes together in Thunder blue.
That is, except for slender sharpshooter Jeremy Lamb, a second-year shooting guard by definition but an essential rookie by on-court experience.
Lamb played 147 minutes total last year. Kevin Durant surpasses that number before each season is two weeks old. Derek Fisher has eclipsed that minute mark in 14 separate postseasons during his 17-year career.
But Lamb's lack of NBA experience won't last long. He's about to get thrown into the fire.
Already slated to slide into an important bench role, Lamb is now the team's likely Sixth Man. Russell Westbrook's injury and early season absence should bump Reggie Jackson into the starting point guard role, meaning Lamb will serve as the second-unit's primary scoring option.
“(Lamb's play) is going to be a little bit more magnified now that Russ is out,” Durant said. “But he's ready. I know he's ready.”
Maybe so. Durant has seen plenty of him behind the scenes.
But for those who follow and cover the sport, Lamb remains the big unknown, a 21-year-old question mark on a team with legit title aspirations.
In a way, he's been in this position before.
Lamb showed up at UConn in 2010, a highly touted four-star recruit out of Georgia getting ready to play for one of the country's best teams.
But Lamb struggled early on, his wiry 165-pound frame still adjusting to the physicality of the college game. By midseason, Huskies coach Jim Calhoun had limited his minutes and openly questioned his strength.
But as the season progressed, Lamb became more comfortable, allowing his smooth offensive game to shine through.
Starting with an efficient 19-point performance on 7-of-11 shooting in the Big East Tournament opener, Lamb strung together 11 straight double-digit outings to close out his freshman season.
It coincided with one of the most surprising late-season runs in NCAA history, an 11-game win streak that included both a Big East and national title for UConn.
Kemba Walker was the breakout star, but Lamb was his uber-efficient wingman.
In the tournament, Lamb shot 36-of-62 (58 percent) from the field and a ridiculous 12-of-19 (70 percent) from three. He torched San Diego State for 24 points in the Sweet 16, including UConn’s final seven points to close it out (shown below).
In the title game against Butler, he had 12 points and seven rebounds, numbers that are far more impactful when considering the final score was only 53-41
“Being able to play in big games like that and being able to perform gives you confidence, gives you experience,” Lamb said recently.
As a sophomore, Lamb grew into his own, averaging 17.7 points per game, earning All-Big East honors and securing a spot in the NBA lottery. Also, he was kind enough to deliver us this ridiculous highlight dunk:
In the 2012 Draft, Lamb went 12th overall to the Rockets and was expected to immediately contribute. But days before his rookie season was to begin, the blockbuster James Harden trade hit and Lamb was off to Oklahoma City (“It was a shock,” he remembers).
Suddenly on a loaded Thunder roster, he was relegated to bench duty and occasional appearances in the D-League.
It was a productive year, but a frustrating one, he says.
“That just inspired me to work harder,” Lamb says. “Nobody wants to sit on the bench, so I was just doing what I could to get off of it.”
Lamb’s work was done primarily out of the spotlight, in the weight room and on the practice court.
But when in Tulsa, he was extremely impressive, consistently standing out among the NBA hopefuls and assignees, including the 30-point, 9-rebound and 8-assist performance shown in the video below.
“That just helped me put my workouts that I was doing with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it helped me put it in a game-like situation,” Lamb said.
Will that smooth offensive game translate to the NBA, where defenders are bigger and faster? Can he improve his questionable defense enough to avoid being a liability on that end? We'll see in the coming months.
But apparantely he's already done enough to convince the Thunder decision makers, who have, with their offseason inactivity, all but guaranteed Lamb a vital role on this year's team.
“He's looking good,” coach Scott Brooks said. “He's nowhere near the player he's going to be at the end of the year … He has a lot of skill and we want to continue to get that out of him on both ends of the floor. We're excited about his potential, but we're also excited about what he's bringing to the table now.”