All offseason, when it became increasingly clear that Jeremy Lamb would slide into a crucial role for the Thunder, his defensive ability was thrown into question.
But through three preseason games, including the Thunder's dominant 109-81 drubbing of Denver on Tuesday night, defense hasn't been much of an issue.
Lamb has been disruptive on that end, using his 6-foot-11 wingspan to tip, pick, deflect and distract opposing offenses, compiling eight steals and four blocks in three preseason games.
“People try to say I can't play D and all that. I don't really listen to that,” Lamb said. “I work hard on defense, work hard to get steals, work hard to make it tough on my man.”
But his surprising work on that end has been overshadowed by his struggles on the other, where his feathery shooting stroke — the talented second-year player's most appealing quality — has suddenly left him in the early stages of the preseason.
On Tuesday night, Lamb went 3-of-12 from the field. In three preseason games, he's 9-of-33 (27 percent) overall, including a rough 1-of-13 clip from deep.
“I gotta get back to the drawing board and trust the work I've put in,” Lamb said.
Because it's still preseason, and still such a small three-game sample size, his teammates and coaches refuse to panic.
“They're not falling right now,” Scott Brooks said of Lamb's shot postgame. “But there's no reason to not believe that they will.”
And Tuesday's game against Denver might have been the best evidence of that.
Unlike against Philadelphia last week, when he was forcing 3s and firing up off-balance jumpers, Lamb made a concerted effort to get to the rim against the Nuggets.
One game after taking and missing eight triples, Lamb only shot one, instead flashing his controlled handle and ability to weave through traffic.
Problem was, he missed a few makable layups and misfired on a couple of in-rhythm midrange jumpers.
They were shots he wants. They were just shots he's struggling to make right now.
“I shoot every day with him for pre-shootaround gamedays and it still amazes me to this day, he has one of the prettiest shots around, smoothest shots,” point guard Reggie Jackson said. “It might be trouble if I had that shot. He's going to have to keep shooting for us. He gets open, he's going to have to keep putting it up in the air and eventually they're going start falling down.”
The Thunder can only hope that time comes by the end of this month, when the 21-year-old is set to embark on a crucial year in his young career, serving as a vital cog to OKC's second-unit, both defensively and offensively.
“He's such a great shooter, he's going to have a night where he goes 8-of-6 (from the field),” Jackson joked. “I know it probably doesn't sound possible, but hey, when a shot is that pretty. …”