Like every Thunder fan, I approached the 2012-13 season with high expectations. After an exciting run to the 2012 NBA Finals I was shocked the day I turned on the TV and saw an image of James Harden wearing a Photoshop-ed Houston Rockets jersey and read the caption: Thunder Trade Harden!
That was October 28th, 2012, definitely not what one would term a banner day if one is a Thunder fan.
In return, the Thunder received Kevin Martin, two first round picks and a second round pick, and Jeremy Lamb.
With obvious reservations I have always defended that trade but when the Thunder dumped Lamb for a second round pick and a player they will cut immediately, Luke Ridnour, my resolve took a big hit.
Martin was clearly a one year rental, but going into the 2013 NBA playoffs with the #4 rated defense, the Thunder looked poised to hoist the O'Brien trophy after a near miss the year before. An unfortunate injury to Russell Westbrook's meniscus in the first round to Harden's Rockets derailed those playoff hopes and the Thunder were unable to get past Memphis in the second round.
When Martin bolted to Minnesota, many believed Lamb was a natural to develop into the vacant 6th man role. Selected 12th in the 2012 draft and after leading Houston's summer league team with 20 points per game, the Thunder had high hopes for the UConn shooting guard. Following the Thunder's second round loss to the Grizzlies, SBNation's Jonathan Tjarks wrote this about the expectations for Jeremy:
As painful as the Harden trade was, the upside is pretty tremendous. The Thunder won 60 games this season, their three best players are all under 25 and they are adding a guy who could have been a top-five pick to their rotation.
In fact, many believed that had circumstances not forced Lamb to leave school a year early, his draft stock may have risen to a top 5 prospect in the 2013 draft.
Once the 2013-14 season started, Lamb was a regular part of the Thunder rotation and seemed to improve as the season went on but Lamb's efficiency plummeted after the All Star break . I have always held the opinion that Lamb hit his proverbial "rookie wall" at that point. The Harden trade occurred just before the 2012-13 season began and Lamb only played 147 minutes that year.
I also believe that when the Thunder acquired Caron Butler and Lamb continued to see his minutes dwindle it seriously effected his confidence. However, the onus of Lamb's failure to reach his potential in Oklahoma City falls solely on his shoulders. It is up to the individual player to do whatever they must to earn playing time. Off the court, the NBA is quite charitable, but on the court, it is a dog eat dog environment where only the strongest survive.
Did Presti ignore some warning flags about Lamb? When researching this post I found an old post draft report that listed Lamb as a probable bust in the NBA.
Off of the dribble, Jeremy Lamb is virtually unstoppable. He has the length and athleticism to finish above the rim and quickness to separate himself for a jump shot. Upon doing so, that J will fall nine times out of 10.
Unfortunately, Lamb just doesn't know how to handle the big-game situations.
The UCONN star was consistently a non-factor in the second half of tournament games. Between his inability to create open looks without the ball in his hands and his tendency to watch plays develop, Lamb is bound to struggle at the NBA level.
While it's easy to see why he could end up as one of the draft class' better players, the mental struggles could hold him back tremendously.
Ironically, the same report placed Perry Jones in the same dubious company as Lamb. Both players have teased us with flashes of potential but inconsistency has prevented either from securing a spot in the regular rotation. Lamb is now gone and Presti is actively shopping PJ as I write this.
On a team with the Thunder's depth of talent, Lamb simply wasn't up for the challenge, not consistently. There were flashes and a specific stretch of games this past season sums up Jeremy Lamb's tenure in a Thunder uniform pretty well.
The Oklahoman ran an article on November 25th, 2014 that was less than complimentary about Lamb and his future in Oklahoma City. I don't know if Lamb ever reads any of what the media says about him but the next night against Utah Jeremy came off the bench like a man possessed. I do not think that I have seen him play that aggressively either before or since that game. The Thunder had fallen behind by double digits early in the 1st quarter and a seventh loss in a row appeared inevitable until Lamb came out and erupted for 9 points in the first, 21 point in all, 7 for 8 from the floor including 3 for 3 beyond the arc.
The momentum from that game carried over to the next 3 and it looked like Lamb had turned an important corner but it didn't last. Within 2 games he was not playing as aggressive and within a month, for all intent and purpose, Jeremy Lamb's Thunder career was over.
Make no mistake, Lamb has talent. However, he apparently lacks the type of toughness and unquenchable desire necessary to succeed in this league.
In other words, "mental struggles".
I had hoped Lamb would thrive in Billy Donovan's spread pick and roll system, but apparently the Thunder felt they had better options.
Good luck Jeremy.