Having played nice minutes throughout the preseason, including a 12-point, eight-rebound performance against the Thunder, Jeremy Lamb was starting to feel comfortable with his impending role for the Houston Rockets.
He was finally adapting to professional life in a new city.
Then, without warning, the 20-year-old rookie was relocated again, shipped to his second franchise in his second city before his first official game.
“It was just a big shock to me really,” Lamb said of the infamous James Harden trade that sent him to Oklahoma City just four days before last season. “I was surprised. I didn't know what to expect.
When Lamb arrived in OKC, the personal stresses of another move awaited him. And so did a stacked roster.
Whereas he was likely to get minutes, opportunity and freedom on the rebuilding Rockets, Lamb was suddenly buried beneath a veteran Thunder backcourt built for a title run.
“I wasn't frustrated, I was just lost,” Lamb admitted. “It was like I was starting all over, meeting new teammates.”
But as the season progressed, Lamb got a better grasp of his new life. And the practices and training sessions began to pile up. But the minutes did not.
The highly touted rookie out of Connecticut played only 147 minutes last year, or about the equivalent of what fellow rookie Damian Lillard compiled every four games in Portland.
“Of course, going through the season, it got frustrating,” Lamb said. “That just inspired me to work harder. Nobody wants to sit on the bench, so I was just doing what I could to get off of it.”
That included long hours in the gym with assistant coach Rex Kalamian and enough successful assignments to the D-League that he was named to its All-Star team.
And whatever he did behind the scenes this offseason, it was enough for the frugal Thunder front office to forget about the open market for a Kevin Martin replacement, instead opting for Lamb as an in-house promotion.
“The trust came with all the work that he put in last season,” coach Scott Brooks said. “When you don't play as a rookie, you have a choice to make, you can either pout or get better. He chose the (right) one.”
And for both he and the Thunder, it's certainly paid off.
Through 23 games in essentially his second rookie season, Lamb is averaging 9.8 points on nearly 49 percent shooting. Martin shot 45 percent a season ago.
And Lamb's been particularly hot of late, making 63 percent of his shots in the past four games and 55 percent in a red-hot December, which has seen him hit double-digit points in six of the past eight games.
“He's getting more confident each and every game,” Reggie Jackson said of Lamb. “That's my guy on this team. That's like my right-hand man, him and Perry (Jones), we always hang out, so I'm always happy to see those two doing their thing.”
Lamb, of course, is still an infant by NBA standards. And with this Thunder team in essential title-or-bust mode, his contributions will carry much more weight come playoff-time, in a high-pressure environment he has yet to face.
But the early signs have been nothing but positive, and the offensive ceiling looks limitless. He just needed the chance.
“He's coming along at a nice pace,” Brooks said. “He's still developing, still evolving into the player we want him to become. But I think he's got a chance to be a really good player in this league because of his work ethic.”
That effortless looking jumper and rare length and athleticism don't hurt, either.