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My Sophomore Crush: Jeremy Lamb

With the 2013-14 NBA season on the horizon, we’re taking this week to look at the players we love who are headed into their second year in the league. For most, if not all, of these players, expectations are either sky high or at rock bottom. And at the end of the year, what we know about them will likely be far removed from what we thought headed into this season.

Believe it or not, but I wasn’t elated when I woke up to the news on October 28th, 2012 that James Harden had been traded to the Houston Rockets. But maybe it’s worth explaining my Rockets fandom before I get to the reason why.

See, when my favorite player of all time, Tracy McGrady, made Houston his home back in 2004, I became a Rockets fan overnight. It was the first professional sports team that I followed religiously, which, as an overseas fan, destroyed my sleeping pattern. It was like puppy love. I would wake up at 3:00 AM to watch their Playoff games against the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz and as soon as their games were over, I’d mosey on to the shower to get ready for a gruelling day at school. I also shed a little tear when they lost by four points to the Utah Jazz in game seven of the 2007 first round series against the Jazz, which I tend not to admit to people, but I guess I was just that crazy about the Rockets. My parents even bought me a return flight to Houston to attend two Rockets games as a birthday present one year and I somehow ended up being a ball boy for their games against the New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns. (That’s a story for another day, though). But in 2008, when McGrady was shipped off to New York, I was left standing at a crossroad in the rainy Belgian weather having to decide which route to go down: the “I’ll just love any team Tracy McGrady is a part of” one or the “CLUTCH CITY ‘TILL I DIE!” one.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but McGrady’s career was starting to dwindle down so my loyalties stayed with the Rockets. However, with T-Mac’s departure, I was dying for a skilled shooting guard/small forward to don the red and white again. Trevor Ariza didn’t fill that void, and neither did Kevin Martin nor Courtney Lee. But then, they drafted Jeremy Lamb in the 2012 draft – a young, gifted scorer who I took a liking to during his two years at UCONN. Now, I’m no college basketball fan, but I happened to follow Lamb during run to an NCAA championship and I took a liking to him right away.

So I guess this takes me back to the start of this post: why wasn’t I over the moon with the James Harden transaction? Well, if it wasn’t clear by now, it’s because they had to part ways with Jeremy Lamb.

The odds of you feeling bad for me at this point are pretty slim, but I’m not really looking for your sympathy. Instead, I just want you to know that I’m big on Jeremy Lamb from a talent perspective. I was excited when the Rockets drafted him in 2012 and although I was bitter that they parted ways with him, I’ve come around since then because, well, James Harden is amazing. But I also love the situation Lamb is in with the Thunder, as I believe he could be a big threat for them on both ends of the court. However, in saying that, I’m worried people are expecting a little too much from him straight out of the gates.

Obviously without Westbrook for the first two months of the season, the Thunder are in a pickle because they’re missing someone who is good for 20 points and seven assists every, single night. Since James Harden isn’t around anymore, there really isn’t anyone left who can take the load off Kevin Durant’s shoulders, at least until Russell comes back. But with Lamb in the picture, people have looked for him to pick up the slack, which may not go as well as we’d all hope.

Let’s be very clear here, Jeremy Lamb is essentially still a rookie. Last season, he only played in 23 games with the Thunder and racked up a measly 147 minutes. That’s nothing. Instead, he spent most of his time in the D-League where he put in work and helped the Tulsa 66ers upset the higher ranked Canton Charge in the first round of the playoffs.

While the D-League was a great place for him to build his confidence and work his game, he still hasn’t had much experience against NBA competition, so it’s going to take him time to get his feet wet and there are going to be nights when he looks all out of sorts, which we’ve already caught glimpses of. For example, in the 2013 Orlando Summer League, Lamb averaged 18.8 points per game, yet shot a woeful 39.1 percent from the floor. He’s also been limited to 34 points in 120 minutes of game time on some concerning shooting numbers (13-for-43) so far in four preseason games.

In saying that, Lamb does have the tools to have a James Harden-esque impact off the Thunder’s bench. It may not be to the same extent, yet he is capable of heating up like a skillet, creating shots for himself off the dribble, spotting up in the corner to complement all the wizardry that Durant and Westbrook conjure up on a nightly basis and finally, he can get down and dirty on the defensive end. But patience is key. The pressure is on Lamb to perform right away, but it will likely take him time to settle into his role and feel comfortable in playing his style of basketball. And when he does get to that level, well, then maybe you’ll love him as much as I do. But if you can’t wait for him to put it all together, Oklahoma, feel free to send him back to Houston for anyone not named James Harden, Patrick Beverley and Chandler Parsons. At least I’ll be a happy camper.

Scott Rafferty