I don't know how you could complain about this Thunder team right now. On Tuesday night, they managed to easily destroy a Nuggets team that gave them fits earlier in the year with great performances on both ends of the ball. Over the past few games, the team has either been able to shoot a ridiculously high percentage, push the pace to force lots of shots, or get to the line a whole lot. Defensively, they've done a great job keeping the rim well guarded and forcing the other team to create offense on the perimeter. The result has been a run of epic proportions, with only one team (the Magic) even threatening to win over the past 7 games.
But before you forget, a huge part of this run is the contribution of our bench. And one player has managed to make a huge step in terms of his offensive efficiency. That man is Jeremy Lamb. In 23 games last year, he only managed to shoot 35% from the field. This year, he's shooting 48.5% against much better competition. That fact alone might be shocking to anyone that looks strictly at the numbers.
However, when you look at him play in games, the reason is apparent. In the past, he was being groomed as a replacement to James Harden, or somebody who could be the featured back of the Thunder's second unit. But the emergence of Reggie Jackson and Lamb's struggle to fill such a role so early in his career has changed that approach this year. Now, Lamb benefits from the work of other scorers on the team, and does a great job of taking advantage of lax defense on the weak side.
Tonight wasn't an especially good night for Lamb, but he still did work. His final stats posted 9 points on 4 of 9 shooting, went 1 of 5 from three, grabbed 6 rebounds, dished three assists, stole the ball twice, and blocked a shot. I thought tonight's performance would be as good as any to delve into what exactly this guy can and can't do. So without further ado, let's take a look at his shots and hustle stats from Tuesday night.
This is a perfect example of how the Thunder use Lamb. Reggie Jackson sets up a basic pick and roll with KD on the right side, while Collison waits in prime offensive rebounding position near the baseline. Meanwhile, Lamb and Fisher hang out on the perimeter, spacing the floor and waiting for an open shot. The defense collapses on Jackson and Durant, while someone has to stay home on Collison. This gives Reggie Jackson room to make a long pass to a wide open Jeremy Lamb. Lamb misses the three here, but that shot will go in more frequently with time.
This is an example of Lamb trying to do a bit too much. Jackson sees that Lamb has a mismatch with Lawson down the floor, but Lamb bobbles the pass and has to reset near the three point line. Seeing his advantage, Lamb simply rises for the shot. It was a bad decision, because Lamb was pretty clearly out of rhythm. He had done two complete 180s shortly before taking the shot, and Lawson was right there to defend it. I'm a big proponent of re-setting the offense if you've lost the ball or lost your balance rather than taking the shot. But Russ and KD are big fans of off-balance shots, so I can see why Lamb is attempting them as well.
Simple and sweet out of bounds play. Collison, Jackson, Jones, and Lamb are all lined up in a box. Reggie Jackson goes back to the perimeter to provide an emergency option, while Lamb, Collison, and Jones form a triangle. (This play has nothing to do with the Triangle offense, though.) Lamb sets a fake screen for Jones, who runs out to the mid-range area as if going for a shot. While Lamb's defender is momentarily occupied, he uses the moment to take a quick screen from Collison on the other side of the triangle, freeing him for the open shot.
This is another example of great weak-side play, but it's also a textbook two-man game play. Reggie Jackson appears to be setting up a play on the strong side, but before PJIII can set the pick, he dishes off to Lamb, who has a clear 2 on 2 situation with Collison. The Nuggets use their trademark "ICE" pick and roll defense here, committing the big man to the ballhandler while leaving him deep enough to defend against any Collison roll to the basket. Sadly for the Nuggets, the one fatal flaw of the ICE defense is that it gives up wide open pick and pops. Lamb reads that correctly, and dishes it out to Nick Collison for the easy assist.
This is a play where Lamb serves as the team's "emergency button". Basically, he's there to take a relatively low-percentage three if the team runs out of options. Again, I'm not sure what to call the play that the team attempted to run, but it's usually set up so that Kevin Durant can get the ball near the top of the key and play some two man game with Westbrook. Here Jones acts as Durant and Jackson acts as Westbrook, and the play simply doesn't go anywhere. Ibaka fails to set a screen for Jones coming out of the paint, and Jones fails setting his first screen for Jackson. By the time Jones gets open, Jackson has already committed to passing to Lamb, who takes the bad three and misses. Considering there was 5 seconds left, you wish he could have done something more, but meh.
This is Lamb simply using his speed, athleticism, and length to grab a nice block. The Nuggets set a simple screen for Fournier, and Lamb is sent reeling. Fournier somewhat unwisely charges at the basket in the midst of a bunch of defenders, but before any of them can do anything, Lamb catches up to him and cleanly tips the ball away. He then has a Sefolosha-like run out, where he keeps control of the ball down the floor, stops in the post, and throws an easy pass to KD.
This play is kind of similar to the HORNS pindown that KevinHFY discussed in his recent article, but it doesn't include any of the prior misdirection that those plays had. Instead of dishing it to the big man first, Reggie Jackson takes a pick from one of them (in this case, Collison). The screen distracts the defense, and Collison gets space to work more of the two-man game with Lamb. Simple pick and hand off for an easy shot that Lamb misses. Again, his threes aren't as consistent as you'd like them to be, but that comes with time.
Now here's an example of the player that we WANT Lamb to be, and the flash of brilliance that would lead you to believe that he can, one day, become a focal point of our offense. Lamb, who's guarding Wilson Chandler, helps guard Mozgov in the post. Mozgov tries to get it back to Chandler, but Lamb has the passing lane covered. Lamb then shows the presence of mind to slow it down and set up the offense.
Once everybody gets up the floor, Westbrook sets up a simple screen and roll with Adams on the weak side. Nothing comes of it, so Lamb receives a pass on the wing. He uses his quick first step to get his foot past chandler, already giving him a clear line to the rim. He gathers the ball and holds it high before Nate Robinson can affect the play. Lastly, he launches an in-rhythm floater about six feet from the rim, before his post defender can get to him. Amazingly, it goes in, and Lamb successfully dominated three defenders. That's a KD-like play if I ever saw one.
This is Lamb simply being used as a floor spacer once again. Simple pick and roll gets Westbrook to draw the defense, and he kicks it out to Lamb for an easy three that basically seals the game.
Again, floor spacing. Simple Westbrook and Durant pick and roll, Ibaka gets a wide open three, passes on it, and gets it to Lamb for a shot. Ibaka waits too long here, while Lamb takes a shot that probably won't go in. It's fair to say that they both are at fault, but Lamb still needs to get a better idea of the shots that he can take and make.
This play is super-cool, because it showcases Lamb's super-star like ability. I mean, really, how many times have you seen a player reach behind another player's back, not get called for the foul, and actually successfully steal the ball?
A simple Lamb assist in garbage time, so I wouldn't read too much into it. Westbrook manages to get open because nobody's defending him, and Lamb passes to him for an easy shot.
This play is basically a Lamb isolation. Yes, it occurs with the game already over, but it's just another indication of what he can be. He literally faces up a quicker defender in Ty Lawson, creates some space, and uses Lawson's own teammate as a screen. He then charges towards the basket looking for a foul, pumpfakes while airborne, and nails a really difficult floater. Here's hoping it's a sign of things to come.
- Jeremy Lamb has a few plays drawn up specifically for him, and he's an excellent secondary offensive option when the initial play doesn't work.
- He also doesn't have a great deal of offensive responsibility. There are very few plays where he's not given the ball already in a position to score, so he doesn't have to worry about doing too much at once.
- He's a great weak-side attacker, and is most effective when he's given space to work.
- He has almost zero ballhandling responsibility beyond the two man game, but he's getting a nice sense of where other players are in the offense.
- He's already as good as Sefolosha at running fast breaks, and may soon be just as good of a defender.
- He's prone to jack up a three whenever he gets space, and we know he can hit it from really deep. But he still needs to work on what's a good shot and what's a bad shot. Still, if the worst case scenario is a night like tonight, then I'm not complaining.
- He's developing an isolation game, and he's got a great touch near the rim. There's definite flashes of brilliance that could one day become the norm.
- He's the floor spacer we've always needed. Daequan Cook, eat your heart out.
- His arms are loooooooooong.