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Any time a player gets sent to the D-League, it’s seen as a demotion. It’s natural. The D-League is down. The NBA is up.
Especially when the player is someone drafted in the lottery, with legitimate expectations and potential. So with Jeremy Lamb being assigned to the Tulsa 66ers, there’s a little disappointment bouncing around about one of the pieces the Thunder got back in the Harden trade.
Lamb obviously has some offensive skill, and actually is a little better defender than I figured he’d be. But he’s very clearly a rookie that forces things and looks a bit overwhelmed on the floor. The best way for any rookie to learn, adapt and adjust to the speed of the NBA game is to play. And Lamb wasn’t seeing any time other than mop up duty.
That’s how Kevin Durant developed. That’s how Russell Westbrook developed. That’s how Serge Ibaka developed. They got out on the floor, played big minutes and weren’t worried about what their playing time was going to look like. So with Lamb essentially stuck in neutral behind Kevin Martin, Thabo and Durant, it was either let him sit in a warmup and wait for 20-point blowouts, or send him to Tulsa to let him play some.
“I think it’s going to be great for him to get on the court and play,” said Scott Brooks. “That’s the great advantage that we have in Tulsa. One, it’s right down the road, northeast. So we get to follow them and they do everything we do. And Darko [Rajakovic] does a great job. I’ve seen him in action, so [Lamb is] going to get great work on the practice floor and game floor.
Now, yes, playing in the D-League is a lot different than playing in the NBA. But with the Thunder’s stature, they don’t exactly have the luxury of lending big minutes to a developing rookie. It’s unreasonable to carve out 20 minutes a night for Lamb if he’s not ready. If the Thunder were headed back to the lottery, absolutely. But this is a contending team that has playoff seeding, homecourt advantage and bigger things on their mind.
Lamb showed off his pure stroke Wednesday against the Rockets, swishing two catch-and-shoot 3s with little effort. He’s a smooth scorer, but one that definitely needs a little refining. He can spot-up, but if he’s going to be a future impact player for OKC, he needs to improve as a ball-handler, as a creator, as a defender and as an attacker.
“We like what he does. He has a very high skill set,” Brooks said. “He definitely needs to continue to develop his body and his game, but that’s a great position for him to be in.”
Being sent to the D-League isn’t some kind of NBA death sentence. Unlike a lot of other teams that would just let their rookie sit and watch, the Thunder take full advantage of their D-League affiliate. They send players down, bring them back up and use it as much as a develop tool as they would practice. In Tulsa they run the same system, operate the same kind of practice, use the same terminology and play the same kind of style.
Lamb was traded into a great situation with the Thunder because he was going to have great players to learn under and a supportive organization that’s not in a hurry with him. But at the same time, with OKC’s depth, he wasn’t going to have the opportunity to get time on the floor.
With the trade, it was pretty clear the intention was to have Martin for the short-term, and hope Lamb blossoms into something for the long-term. And if not, that’s where the picks and cap flexibility come into play. But as is the usual, the Thunder aren’t in any kind of rush right now.
On Westbrook in the post: “Russell has improved every year in the post. I think he’s more comfortable this year. I also think it’s natural. He’s been working on it three or four years now. I still think we can get him down there more.”
On if Westbrook makes his teammates better: “I think he has. Like all the great players they have the ability to score and they have the ability to help their teammates score. And he’s doing that at a high level this year. His passing has improved. But not just him, our team has improved. Our spacing, our basketball IQ level has gone up because of all the work they’ve put in … I think our team is seeing defenses much better this year.”
On how long Lamb will spend in Tulsa: “Don’t know that. Don’t know that yet. Some time.”
On what he’s looking for in the pick-and-pop with Ibaka: “It’s usually two people on me, so somebody’s open. If it’s two people on me somebody else is open and you just got to find the open guy.”
On if he has a goal this year with his passing: “No.”
On his mindset as a creator: “You just got to play. Play off instinct. If somebody’s guarding you, then pass it. If not, then make a play.”
On if he goes to the post enough: “Not enough. I will though. I will though. I gotta find a way to get down there.”