With a smooth shooting stroke and a frail frame, Jeremy Lamb has never been one to confuse his strengths and weaknesses on a basketball court.
He’s a gifted scorer with a natural feel for the offensive end. But defense? That’s a different story.
“At first,” Lamb admitted of his initial NBA days, “I didn’t care about defense at all.”
In Year 2, Lamb showed a ton of promise. Starting the season in the rotation, he burst through as a reliable bench scorer. At the All-Star break, he was averaging double-figures in 22 minutes per night.
But as his offense slumped late in the year, his playing time diminished. No longer shooting at an efficient enough rate, Thunder coach Scott Brooks couldn’t justify leaving his defense on the court.
The positives on one end no longer outweighed the negatives on the other. Lamb was forced to sit back and watch. And as he did, the 22-year-old started to realize how important it is to be a two-way player.
“Seeing these players that lock you up, then go score on you, that motivates me,” Lamb said, identifying Russell Westbrook as a guy whose defense taught him a ton.
“People really be scared to handle against him,” Lamb said of Westbrook. “Or scared to make a soft pass. They’re always looking over their shoulder, seeing where he’s at. That’s aggravating to the players that he plays against. He’s one of the players that really inspired me to play both ways.”
So Lamb has vowed to come back a better defender. To work out this offseason with an eye on improving his on-ball defense. To get stronger and sturdier.
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Lamb said of individual defense. “Playing one-on-one, you really help your defense; helping keeping people in front of you.”
Lamb will train in Oklahoma City for parts of the offseason. He’ll compete in summer league. But at some point, the plan is to head to New York for workouts against different players across the league.
And while he’s there, Lamb plans to go one-on-one against guys like Kemba Walker, his former college teammate who is one of the league’s tougher guards to cover.
“He’s real low to the ground,” Lamb said of Walker. “I used to play him one-on-one in college and playing him now, he’s real quick. He’s strong. So that’s a real small guard that’s tough for me to keep in front of. So playing people like him really challenges me and really helps me a lot.”
Despite the late-season slump, Lamb has proven to be a capable scorer in the NBA. Plus, he’s an above average rebounder for his position and an underrated thief, averaging nearly a steal per game because of his length and ability to jump into passing lanes.
So there are already ways he helps on the defensive end. But individually, he was continually bullied by bigger guards and exploited by quicker ones, leaving his teammates to either overhelp off their man or watch a parade of buckets flow through.
Moving forward, it remains an area of concern. But unlike when he first entered the league, he’s fully aware of that fact.
“I definitely will work on my defense and come back a much better defensive player,” Lamb said. “When you disrupt on both ends of the floor, I think that’s huge.”
And for Lamb, that’s the next step.