The Thunder has cultivated an expanding history of talented back-up shooting guards, guys who could start on most other teams, but instead serve as the offensive centerpiece of OKC’s second-unit.
James Harden created the role, branded it and eventually outgrew it. Then, Kevin Martin tapped in as a one-year stopgap, filling in admirably before bolting for more minutes and shots in Minnesota.
And now, lanky second-year guard Jeremy Lamb has slid into that all-important slot. But don’t compare Lamb to his predecessors.
He’s less established and, for now, far less feared on the offensive end. Lamb hasn’t put up nearly the points (or shots) that Harden and Martin did in OKC.
But what he lacks in numbers, résumé and reputation, Lamb has recently made up in efficiency and versatility.
Lamb is shooting 47 percent this season. Martin shot 45 percent last year. Harden only eclipsed either of those marks once in his three Thunder seasons (49 percent his final year).
But beyond the shooting metrics, Lamb brings a more diverse package to the table. At 6-foot-5, with a 7-foot wingspan and 38-inch vertical leap, his bouncy athleticism has made him a disruptive defensive pest and plus-rebounder for his position.
In Tuesday’s Oklahoman, Darnell Mayberry wrote about this topic (which you can read here). But I thought I’d add some visual context to the subject. Here’s a breakdown in our latest edition of the Thunder Film Room:
Kevin Durant was the clear star of the Thunder’s recent win in Minnesota, dropping 48 points on a wild array of unguardable shots. But down the stretch, Lamb made as many — if not more — big plays. And a majority of those were on the glass. Check out this trio of videos below, featuring three of his career-high eight rebounds. The first is a crucial help-side board over Kevin Love (who’s a pretty good rebounder in his own right). The second, coming moments later, is a clutch rebound-putback, flying in to give the Thunder the late lead. And the third is an example of both his wild athleticism and reckless willingness to hit the glass. All three came in the game’s final three minutes. And all three were rebounds Kevin Martin wouldn’t even attempt to secure. Lamb has a pair of pogo sticks for legs.
Down in Houston, James Harden has been getting killed for his defense. And entering the season, that was a legit concern with Jeremy Lamb. But he’s proven more than capable on that end. There are still times when a bigger guard exploits him, posting up that wiry 185-pound frame. But overall, he’s been solid on the ball (shown in the first video below) and instinctive off of it. He jumps passing lanes, regularly strips ballhandlers and contributes an occasional blocked shot (Lamb has 12 blocks this year, Martin has 10 combined the past two years).
Before the season, in a casual conversation about Jeremy Lamb, Sam Presti told me: “You’re going to be surprised at how well he passes the ball”. About a month in, there wasn’t much evidence to back that up. But Russell Westbrook’s latest surgery changed that. It bumped Reggie Jackson to the starting lineup and altered Scott Brooks’ rotation. Suddenly, Lamb was in the game a large chunk of the time with a second-unit that features Derek Fisher at point guard. And at this stage of Fish’s career…well………he’s not a point guard. So Lamb has been left to serve as the primary playmaker. And he’s looked great doing it, highlighted by his career-high six assists against Boston on Sunday. Check some of them out:
After the game on Sunday, Kendrick Perkins was asked about Lamb’s recent play. Perk’s response: “He made some plays today that I thought showed signs of greatness…I think he’s going to be very special in this league.” At this point, it remains a bit premature to project greatness for Lamb. But the early signs are certainly encouraging. With each added opportunity, he continues to peel back new and appealing layers to his expanding game. For Thunder fans, that has to be exciting.