2013-2014 Thunder Player Grades: Jeremy Lamb looks for his role

The face of the future, or the face you soon won't recognize? - Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Lamb had an up and down year for the Thunder, but did he even get a chance before he was cast aside? We take a look.

Full Name: Jeremy Emmanuel Lamb

Nickname: "The Shepherd"

Years in NBA: 3

Contract Status: Signed through 2014-15 (2015-2016 is a team option). He's still on his rookie contract, which was signed before the beginning of last season. Through the three first guaranteed years, Lamb basically made 2 million per. In the last team-optioned year, Lamb would make about 3 million.

Notable Factoid: He's never hit a gamewinner for the Thunder, but he has hit one while playing in the Summer Leaguewhile leading the 66ers, and while balling for Team USA.

Player History:

Jeremy Lamb got his start playing at Norcross High School, where he led his team to the quarter-finals of the 2010 Georgia State basketball tournament. Afterwards, Lamb ended up committing to UConn, where he proved to be a serious scoring burst to Kemba Walker in the 2010-2011 season. Lamb struggled with bouts of inconsistency throughout the season, but really proved to be a scoring rock in both the conference and NCAA tournaments. The Huskies won the title, and Lamb's stock was high as can be. Lamb would never see that level of team success again, but his game continued to improve.

Lamb's stock continued to increase when he played for Team USA's Under 19 squad in the Summer of 2011. There, Lamb led Team USA in scoring and stealing and was named to the All-Tournament team. However, the young dream team was an overall disappointment, finishing fifth after a quarter-finals loss to Russia.

Lamb's stats increased during his Sophomore year at UConn, and his consistency massively improved. UConn, on the other hand, tanked with the loss of Kemba Walker. Their fate was a first round NCAA Tournament Exit, after which Jeremy Lamb promptly closed the door on his college career.

His basketball career was far from over, though. He ended up being drafted 12th by the Houston Rockets, and promptly began his professional career in the 2012 Vegas Summer League. Lamb didn't pass the ball much here, but continued to prove himself as a scorer, finishing in the top 10 in PPG among all players. He also proved himself to be offensively consistent, never shooting below 35% in any performance.

That fall, Lamb entered training camp with the Rockets, who expected to be a playoff team at the time. Lamb got burn in all of the pre-season games, but failed to post efficient numbers or amazing stats. He wasn't exactly struggling (38% from the floor), but it's not inconceivable that his performance there could have played some role in the subsequent post-Halloween trade.

OH, by the way. That trade. We all know what happened. Moving on....

Lamb joined the Thunder, and he's instantly greeted to the warmest spot on Coach Brooks' bench. The Thunder were a championship-level team, and had a trio of players to fill their bench roles. Kevin Martin brought the scoring talent, Derek Fisher brought the experience, and Reggie Jackson brought the youthful athleticism. There was no room for Lamb, who spent the vast majority of the 2012-2013 season in the D-League.

There, he led the Tulsa 66ers to a spot in the D-League Semi-Finals. They might have gone farther, but Lamb was recalled to the Thunder in case of extreme emergency, and the 66ers folded without him. His accomplishments on the court during that season speak for themselves. He was 4th in league PPG, and 2nd in league PER. He also outperformed fellow Thunder teammates Perry Jones III, DeAndre Liggins, and Daniel Orton.

Speaking of the actual Thunder, Lamb's tenure there was nothing to speak about. He only got more than 10 minutes on four occasions, and never got serious minutes. His main garbage time success came in late-season meaningless bouts with the Kings and Bucks.

Over the Summer of 2013, Lamb continued to develop his game, playing for Oklahoma City in the Orlando Summer League. Lamb played the most minutes out of anyone on the team, appearing in four games. He was also the team's second best scorer. But overall, he was out shined by Reggie Jackson, who was rock solid in his two performances. Lamb struggled to score in two of his games and was mediocre in a third, meaning Lamb was named to the All-Tournament team mostly based on his one good game.

Pre-Season Expectations:

With Kevin Martin's departure and the lack of any major free agent signing over the off-season, it looked as if Jeremy Lamb was finally ready for his NBA debut. I don't think anyone expected him to be a James Harden immediately, or even a Kevin Martin immediately. Most would have just been satisfied with some solid production next to the more polished Reggie Jackson, along with a couple of highlight plays. Lamb's minutes mostly came with the bench and was surrounded by excellent scoring options, so efficiency shouldn't really have been a problem for him.

I will say that Jeremy Lamb is a player with great potential. He could feasibly reach an All-Star level if his career follows an ideal path, which is something I wouldn't say about PJIII or any rookie drafted by the Thunder in 2014. So what really matters at the end of the season isn't stats. Lamb's mostly single-digit contributions from the bench rarely had the potential to swing a game in the Thunder's favor. Furthermore, his success isn't as tied to the superstars of the team as some role players success might be. Really, we're looking for flashes of greatness and the continued development of his game. I'm talking highlight dunks, breakdowns of his defender, and certain performances that really make you turn your head. Ideally, you have a Reggie Jackson-level player 1-2 years down the line, and he's winning playoff games for you.

Regular Season Grade: C-

Jeremy Lamb's season is a long and complicated story. He began the season getting pretty comfortable minutes, averaging anywhere from 15-30 on any given night. Most of Lamb's minutes game in the second and third quarters, with rare flashes of Lamb occurring during crunch time. It was a really relaxed role for Lamb to ease into, as he was only the teams' 5th best scoring option, played regularly against role players, and had Reggie Jackson commanding his own brand of attention. Open shots were easy to come by, confidence soared, and it looked like Lamb was well on track for an ideal future.

Then, Russell Westbrook has surgery after the Christmas Day game against the Knicks, and Lamb instantly gains a ton of responsibility. Reggie Jackson's steady hand would now be required to lead the starters, while Lamb became the bench's greatest scorer. He didn't have anybody to set him up, either. Derek Fisher has always been a point guard in name only, and Perry Jones III isn't exactly the classic definition of an off-the-dribble player.

Under the increased responsibility, Lamb was reasonably successful. Lamb's best performance from this era was probably a really awesome 22 point display against Houston on December 29th, though his 8-11 shooting against Portland on February 11th was equally huge. Lamb also had a few extremely efficient performances in blowout games, making a huge difference for the team in the second quarter. But a few of Lamb's games were padded by garbage time, and there were other instances where he really struggled. For instance, a couple of back to back sub 30% performances against Denver and Utah on January 7th and 9th probably cost the Thunder two victories.

At this point, Lamb looked to be exactly on track with where he needed to be. He had some understandable growing pains, but he was showing some serious growth over the course of the season, and appeared to have the talent to eventually handle that responsibility on a regular basis. So when Russell Westbrook eventually came back, it was expected that he'd handle the smaller role with greater ease.

Unexpectedly, Jeremy Lamb hit a wall once Westbrook returned. In Westbrook's first game back Lamb took advantage of the Heat in garbage time, but Lamb was straight garbage over the next four games. He shot only 5-19 over the course of those games, and only managed to log more than 16 minutes once. The result was a panic move by Thunder management in the signing of Caron Butler, who promptly replaced Jeremy Lamb's role in the rotation.

With Lamb, Butler, and Fisher now populating the bench and Sefolosha and Westbrook inhabiting their usual starter slots, there wasn't much time left for Lamb. He was pretty much relegated to the 10th-11th man role, constantly fighting for minutes and occasionally not getting to enter games at all.

Post-Season Grade: D+

Up until his appearance in the San Antonio series, Jeremy Lamb's few playoff minutes aren't even worth mentioning. Lamb sat while those ahead of him put in countless lackluster performances, and we all questioned where the Jeremy of a few months ago had gone. As we all know, Serge Ibaka's injury at the start of the Spurs series prompted some buzz about dusting off Lamb.  However, Scott Brooks simply chose to give increased minutes to the rest of the active rotation. Thus, Lamb was relegated to garbage minutes in Games 1 and 2.

Game 2 presented a real opportunity for Lamb, though. Amidst an absolute creaming, Jeremy Lamb was able to make the most of his time in the fourth quarter of a lost game, shooting 6 of 8 for 13 points. The performance must have inspired some confidence in Brooks, who immediately ditched the struggling Collison and Sefolosha for Lamb's talent, giving him regular minutes in Game 3. The cover story is that Derek Fisher had to exit the game because of a head cut and Jeremy Lamb was there, but I'm not sure how much I buy that.

During Game 3, Lamb nailed a couple of shots that came within the flow of the offense during the second quarter, rebounded well for his position, and didn't embarrass himself on defense. It was part of a titanic OKC victory in the wake of Ibaka's return. You'd think this would have earned Lamb a regular spot, but he only appeared to get into Game 4 due to Reggie Jackson's minor ankle injury in the early second quarter of that game. Lamb was a big part of the Thunder's defense turning into offense during that game, and kicked in a ton of flow with his three separate steals in a four minute stretch. His overall numbers from that game weren't great, but he did manage to positively effect a victory and seemingly carve out a regular role.

Or not. Game 5 didn't see Lamb take a shot until the game was all but over, and he still managed to look uncomfortable in his garbage time minutes. He might have made a positive impact had he been inserted with the regular rotations, but Brooks seemed intent on trusting other players. Game 6 figured to be more of the same, but to all of our surprise, Caron Butler was finally benched. Lamb came out during the second quarter, but it was apparent that he just wasn't ready for the big stage. After a couple of quickly hoisted threes, he was largely replaced by Derek Fisher, who would be playing in his last NBA game. Lamb would have to wait his turn, which will hopefully come next season.

That seems to be the story with Jeremy Lamb so far. He has flashes of greatness, but he's just never been given the luxury of settling into a consistent role. It's hard to tell how much of Lamb is hoop and how much of him is hype, but I can only fault management for his current predicament. It's about time this man got to control his own destiny.

Most Memorable Moments:

What did you think of Jeremy Lamb's season? Let us know in the poll and comments!

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