If attitude really is everything, then Jeremy Lamb might be on to something in regard to reinvention.
His first two seasons as a Charlotte Hornet, guard-forward Lamb wasn’t bad and he wasn’t particularly good. He was just there, looking to figure out how best to contribute on a sustained basis.
Something changed over the summer, before Lamb’s fifth NBA season. Instead of just doing what he was told, he took a more active role. And his coaches took notice.
“It used to be I’d text him, and I’d kind of have to wait (for a reply). Or we’d say we’d work out at 10, and he’d be there at 10:05 or 10:07,” said Hornets associate head coach Stephen Silas.
“Now he’s responding early to a text, he’s in the gym on time, he’s come a long way. It happens for some guys sooner than later. If it happens too late, they’re out of the league. For him, he’s starting to get it and it’s fun to see.”
The Hornets opened training camp Tuesday at Spectrum Center. Coach Steve Clifford singled out Lamb’s offseason preparation in comments to the Observer several weeks ago. If you know anything about Clifford, false praise is counter to everything he values.
So, there’s sincere belief Lamb might be ready for a breakthrough season. That doesn’t mean he’d start, but it does mean Clifford is disposed to finding ways to feature him more off the bench.
That wasn’t so much the case previously. When Lamb first arrived, in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder the summer of 2015, he was somewhat frail by NBA physicality standards. As point guard Kemba Walker, who played with Lamb at Connecticut, said: “He looks awesome. ...He’s not the little, skinny kid I knew from college.”
He seems different, too, in personality and focus, as he’s more assertive, more vested in his own career.
“I asked him what he wanted to work on,” Silas said, “and he gave me a lot of things he wouldn’t have given me in the past.”
Specifically, Lamb asked Silas to concentrate on defensive tactics, such as close-outs. Typically, players – particularly natural scorers like Lamb – want to put up shots in the offseason and call it a work day. Lamb wanted to address his weaknesses, and defense certainly was among those.
This is a time when the Hornets’ second unit is under scrutiny. The starters were good at building a lead last season; the reserves were lousy at preserving those leads, particularly on defense.
The Hornets used their two draft picks on players at Lamb’s positions. First-rounder Malik Monk plays shooting guard and second-rounder Dwayne Bacon plays small forward. So Lamb, 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds, had to improve, or he might have fallen to the fringes of the rotation.
“This summer, I just tried to get my mind right,” said Lamb, who averaged a career-high 9.7 points last season, but shot only 28.1 percent from 3-point range.
“I think last year I didn’t shoot the 3 like I wanted. Some of it was my mindset, some of it was maybe I wasn’t getting good shots. This summer I looked at a lot of film: When I missed (a 3-point shot), (checking) where my feet were and where my release was.”
Not all the change was tactical: Lamb took a hard look at what he eats, how much he sleeps and things like going to the cold tub to reduce inflammation and keep his body fresh. He’ll never be muscular like teammate Dwight Howard, but Lamb no longer looks like the 150-pound string bean he was in college.
How does he view his role?
“Basically, whatever the team needs: to come in defending or getting some rebounds. My role could be scoring. We have a lot of versatility on this team, a lot of guys who can do different things.”
Versatility was not something you’d quickly associate with Lamb. Perhaps that’s the change he so badly needed to make.