- Jeremy Lamb is having a breakout season for the Charlotte Hornets, averaging career-highs in nearly every major statistical category.
- After playing limited minutes off the bench the first five years of his career, Lamb spent nearly the entire offseason working feverishly on his game.
- The hot start has shown Lamb has another level to his game and could alter the course of his career.
Jeremy Lamb and Stephen Silas both point to the same stretch of games that led to the most work-intensive summer of Lamb’s life.
With the Charlotte Hornets out of the playoff picture last April, Lamb, a reserve guard-forward, got a chance to play extended minutes, and produced, averaging 13 points per game on 50% shooting.
It was something of a revelation for Lamb, encouraging him that if he put the work in, he could continue to thrive for the Hornets.
“You go into the summer with that in your mindset and knowing that you have a role and can flourish,” Silas, the Hornets associate head coach, to Business Insider. “That’s usually when guys lock in and hopefully kinda turn the corner, and that’s what he’s done so far.”
Lamb, 25, is in the second year of a three-year, $21 million contract extension that raised some eyebrows when he signed it in November 2015. Lamb had shown flashes of being a long, versatile guard capable of scoring in bunches, defending, and finding the open man, but had never done it with much consistency. He has career averages of just 8.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game in limited minutes. Last season, Lamb had moments where he fell out of the Hornets’ rotation altogether.
“It is tough sometimes when you wanna play and stuff, but you just gotta stay the course,” Lamb told Business Insider. “You gotta be ready when the opportunity presents itself. So that’s what I tried to do.”
However, his strong finish to the season encouraged him, and Silas and the team gave him a distinct set of goals for the offseason: improve his shooting, improve his defense, and get stronger.
Lamb took it to heart and began a grueling offseason regimen. His daily routine included a morning shooting session, followed by work in the weight room, then game-speed simulations led by Silas. At times, he would return to the gym at night for more shooting work.
“He was super diligent, was in Charlotte all summer,” said Silas, letting out a laugh, knowing Charlotte is not the premier offseason destination for most NBA players. “Took a week off here, a week off there, but always wanted to get in early and get his work done.”
Silas praised Lamb’s more “serious-minded” approach to the summer. He told The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell in September: “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. Now he’s responding early to a text, he’s in the gym on time. He’s come a long way.”
Through 19 games, Lamb is averaging 15.9 points per game on 45% shooting, 37% from three, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game – career-highs across all categories except for field goal percentage.
In preseason, Hornets starting guard Nicolas Batum tore a ligament in his elbow, sidelining him for 8-12 weeks. Lamb suddenly found himself in the starting lineup.
He immediately showed off the hard work he put into his offseason. His handle and shot creation has improved.
After shooting 28% from three last season, a career-low, Lamb and Silas sought to improve his stroke, not just on simple catch-and-shoots, but on the move, off bad passes, and more.
But where Silas sees the most improvement is in Lamb’s strength. “You can really see it in his game, he’s driving the ball into the paint, he’s bouncing defenders off of him, he’s getting to the free throw line more. He’s really playing well with his body.”
Lamb is now coming off the bench since Batum’s return to the team, but he’s kept the same mindset that powered his strong start to the season.
“I’ve been coming off the bench my whole career, so for me, it’s keep doing what I’m doing,” Lamb said. “Stay aggressive, keep making plays for me and my teammates … I know my role. My role is to come off the bench and bring a spark.”
The Hornets coaching staff is appreciative of the jump Lamb has taken and he now adds firepower to a relatively shallow team.
“It means a whole bunch to us. Because we really didn’t know what we were gonna get [when Batum got injured],” Silas said. “[Lamb] came in and played great and proved he can be a reliable scorer and part of the team with his starting. Then with Nic coming back, now he has the confidence that he’s done it as a starter and we have the confidence in him that he can finish games and play in big parts of the game.”
Lamb won’t be a free agent again until 2019, but this season is shaping up to be a career-altering year. Wings who can shoot, defend, and attack close-outs are in high demand, and Lamb is proving that he’d be a fit on any team. He may not be a superstar in the making, but any team would gladly take what Lamb is giving the Hornets this season.