The kind of talent and athleticism Jeremy Lamb possesses conveys second and third chances, sometimes fourth and fifth chances, in the NBA.
By his own admission during the preseason, Lamb needed a do-over from his first season as a Charlotte Hornet. What started as the makings of a most-improved-player campaign devolved into a guy barely on the fringes of the playing rotation.
Lamb had never played regularly before as a pro. He got sporadic opportunities during his first three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The chance for a steady, significant role was his to grasp with the Hornets.
Instead, he let it fall to the ground.
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So he said he’s devoted himself to more professional habits: Get plenty of sleep. Eat healthier. Daily dips in the cold tub to reduce inflammation.
It’s only a two-game sample, but something sure is different.
After missing 10 games with a hamstring injury, Lamb has excelled. Against the New York Knicks on Saturday, he totaled 18 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. Monday in Memphis he scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds during an impressive 104-85 victory.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he’s likes the “purpose” with which Lamb is playing. That word – purpose – is something Clifford values highly.
Lamb is playing with energy and aggression, and the Hornets particularly need that right now with power forward Marvin Williams out. He’s snatching rebounds away from bigger, heavier opponents because he’s such a graceful leaper.
Lamb always had the tools to be a successful NBA player, from his jumping ability to his 3-point shooting range. The issue was how he applied himself and how well he asserted himself. The past two games felt like a statement.
Clifford says any NBA player can have a couple of dominant games and many can go several weeks at that level. The trick is to sustain a bottom line for most, if not all, of a season.
Lamb admits he wasn’t ready for that new, larger role last season. He believes he learned from that experience and is far more prepared now.
Lamb and Marco Belinelli can be the bedrock of a dynamic Hornets bench, particularly when Williams (hyperextended knee) is recovered, allowing Frank Kaminsky to return to the second five.
Bench play is extra important to this team because, while the starters are talented and smart, they don’t just blow away opponents. They need support, or at least a bench that doesn’t make things worse when it takes over.
I was surprised last fall when the Hornets signed Lamb to a three-season, $21 million contract extension just weeks into his time as a Hornet. I understand why general manager Rich Cho wanted to lock down young talent before the salary cap skyrocketed last summer. Still, it seemed like an awfully quick decision.
Maybe Saturday and Monday say that extension was a solid investment. If nothing else, those games suggest Lamb has found a home after spinning his wheels most of the time with the Thunder.