At various times this season, nearly every Thunder bench player has experienced a period of rotation hibernation.
Perry Jones will play 30 minutes one night and none the next. Andre Roberson has gone from Tulsa 66er to NBA starter on three separate occasions. Even Nick Collison’s court time has fluctuated.
Of late, Jeremy Lamb is latest casualty in this numbers game.
For the season’s first 60 games, Lamb was a regular — a second-unit staple and double-digit scorer for one of the best teams in the NBA.
He’s had a 19-point outburst against the Blazers, a 22-point explosion against the Rockets and played a crucial role in the Thunder’s win down in Miami. At one point between early December and late January, he played 20 or more minutes in 25 of 26 games.
But that guaranteed time is no more.
Lamb’s minutes have been severely cut since the All-Star break, whittled down to basically nothing the past two games. He only played three minutes on Tuesday against the Rockets and seven — all in mop-up duty — on Thursday against the Lakers.
“We have a lot of good players and sacrifices have to be made,” Scott Brooks said. “Right now, he’s not playing as many minutes as he has in the past.”
And three factors play into that.
The first, and most obvious, is the signing of Caron Butler.
At a time when Thabo Sefolosha is out with injury, you’d expect Lamb’s playing time to rise. But Butler’s insertion has nullified that and then some.
In the five games since his signing, Butler has played 137 minutes, while Lamb has been limited to 50.
And beyond Butler, the other two contributing factors to Lamb’s diminished role have been a pair of slumps — his and the team’s.
Lamb’s best basketball attribute is his shot. But he’s currently in an extended slump.
In December, he shot an impressive 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. But since then, his shooting metrics have rapidly dipped. Since the start of February, Lamb has made just 34 percent overall and 29 percent from deep.
And while he has struggled, so has the team. The Thunder is just 5-5 since the All-Star break. And the issues have been primarily on the defensive end.
Despite Lamb’s rut, OKC has been scoring plenty. But it hasn’t been able to stop anybody on the other end.
So in search of more defense, Brooks has upped the playing time of Jones, his rangy “utility defender,” and Roberson, his defensive-minded rookie.
And Lamb has suddenly morphed into the odd man out, a development he didn’t seem too pleased about on Thursday. In postgame, Lamb was asked six questions, all about his shrinking role. He used only 17 words to answer them, carrying a vibe that hinted frustration.
“He’s a player that we love and that we’re going to keep working with and he just has to stay ready,” said Brooks, who added that Lamb had been handling the recent demotion fine. “There are going to be opportunities down the road.”
That may come as early as Sunday against the Mavericks.