Charlotte Hornets: Will This Be Jeremy Lamb’s Final Season with the Team?

Jeremy Lamb is an under-the-radar impact player on Charlotte’s roster, and he’s entering the most critical season of his career in 2018-19. Lamb is on a contract year, and it comes on the heels of an impressive 2016-17 campaign – easily his best. Another season of improvement from Lamb could put the Hornets in a tough situation heading into the summer of 2019 when Lamb will become an unrestricted free agent entering the prime of his career at age 27.

With all the chatter in the Queen City circling Kemba Walker, the vital season for Malik Monk, and how new head coach James Borrego will set the chess board for this roster, there’s been little attention on Lamb. That’s probably a mistake. If Charlotte drastically improves their 36 win mark of last season and returns to the playoffs, Jeremy Lamb will undoubtedly be a big reason for that.

LAMB’S IMPROVEMENT

Three-Point Shooting

Following a very inconsistent first five seasons shooting the ball from deep, Lamb turned a corner last season, posting a career-high 37 percent mark from three-point range.

Lamb tends to over-dribble, and although he slightly improved that trait last season, it will always be a part of his game. Where Lamb significantly improved as a shooter last season was on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Per NBA.com/stats, Lamb cashed in on 38.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts last season – up from 32.6 percent in ’16-17 and 31.3 percent in ’15-16.

Nothing drastically changed with Lamb’s shot motion. He became more aware of being shot ready away from the ball and starting catching passes on the hop from behind the arc, allowing him to transition into his shooting motion easily.

If Lamb can continue to shoot the ball at the clip he did in ’17-18, or even improve that number; he’ll begin to realize his full potential offensively. Three-point shooting was always the great white buffalo of Lamb’s potential as a player and last season provides real hope that his development is far from over.

Improved Playmaking Ability

Playing with a bench starved of offensive creators last season, Lamb was forced to quarterback the second unit regularly, finding offense for himself and others. He averaged a career-high 2.3 assists per game, which is far from a transcendent number, but the eye test suggested Lamb had made it a point to understand where his teammates were.

On that second unit, Lamb and Frank Kaminsky created a nice synergy with the pick-and-pop. Per NBA.com/stats data, 23.6 percent of Lamb’s passes last season were to Kaminsky, who converted on 38.2 percent of his three-pointers following a Lamb pass.

When the first option wasn’t available, Lamb kept the ball moving, avoiding the over dribbling that had plagued him in season’s past. He also doesn’t get enough credit for the accuracy on his passes. Watch Lamb catch Bradley Beal napping and whip a skip pass right into Kemba’s shooting pocket.

Lamb is far from an exceptional passer and likely never will be, but he made simple reads that led to open shots regularly last season. That matters, especially in an offense that was barren of offensive creation outside of a Kemba Walker pick and roll.

Insert Tony Parker into the second unit and the game should become much more comfortable for Lamb, allowing him to make more complex reads against a scrambling defense. Parker will temper the playmaking responsibilities for Lamb and will enable him to act more like a second side option, where his strengths are best utilized.

Rebounding Prowess for a Guard

New head coach James Borrego has already made it clear that he wants Charlotte’s offense to pick up the pace. Jeremy Lamb’s ability to rebound at an elite level as a shooting guard will accelerate Borrego’s offensive transformation. Lamb is not a quick twitch athlete, nor does he blow by many defenders, but his capability to grab a defensive rebound and immediately advance the ball up the floor as a ball-handling guard is an essential piece to an up-tempo offense.

Lamb averaged 4.1 rebounds per game last season in 24.6 minutes a night – a solid mark. According to SportVU tracking data, Lamb had a 58 percent adjusted rebound chance percentage – effectively meaning he grabbed that percentage of available rebounds within 3.5 feet. That number was good for 11th among qualified shooting guards.

Borrego will push Lamb to be more creative when playing with the ball on the break. His long strides and wingspan allow him to finish at the rim with a head of steam against a defense on its heels, but setting up teammates in these situations has been a struggle. Solution: Quicker decisions – hit-ahead passes, drag screenplays high above the break, and having more of his teammates sprint to the corners quicker. All things Borrego will work hard to implement in Charlotte.

Offensive Creativity

As previously mentioned, Lamb isn’t an explosive athlete. He’s a smooth offensive player that is on balance and in control when attacking the basket. Lamb’s length allows him to be a crafty finisher in the paint – he doesn’t have to get all the way to the rim to finish.

According to NBA.com/stats, Lamb shot 48.4 percent in the paint (non-restricted area) – good for 6th among guards that attempted at least one shot in this area per game. Lamb’s ability to finish in traffic with length and a soft touch is his most redeemable offensive skill at this stage.

With a greater emphasis on spacing the floor in Charlotte’s offense under Borrego, Lamb can hopefully expand his ability to get into the painted area by kicking it out and creating more opportunities from behind the arc.

IS THERE A PATH FOR CHARLOTTE TO RE-SIGN LAMB?

For Lamb and the Hornets, this season might be a bit awkward. Charlotte traded for Lamb in the summer of ’15 in what was mostly a salary dump for Oklahoma City and then extended his contract for three years, $21 million just four months later. At the time of the extension, most Hornets fans were a bit perplexed, as Lamb had only played two games for his new team. The move ended up being a bargain, but now how does Charlotte retain Lamb beyond this season?

The Hornets have Lamb’s full bird rights, so they can technically go above the tax line as far as they’d like to bring him back. Full bird rights on a player is a crucial tool, but not when a mediocre roster is up against the tax.

Unless Kemba Walker takes significantly less than market value next summer, it’s difficult to envision a path for Charlotte being able to bring back Lamb. After factoring in salaries for the Hornets 2019 first and second-round draft picks, the team could squeeze out roughly $26 million in room below the tax line by not extending a qualifying offer to Frank Kaminsky and waiving Dwayne Bacon before his August 1 trigger date. That just isn’t enough for players of Walker and Lamb’s stature to share.

Barring a salary dump trade for Charlotte soon, they’d probably be smart to shop Lamb for a pick at the trade deadline. A disappointing end to what was a smart gamble to extend his contract and a player development success story.

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