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Sports

Remade Jeremy Lamb roars into prominent role with Hornets
Offseason rigor translates to improved play
 
Published Wednesday, November 22, 2017 11:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Jeremy Lamb is playing with a renewed sense of purpose.

Improvements in defense, strength and consistency have taken the Charlotte Hornets guard’s game to a higher level as a professional.

“I think it’s a confidence level,” coach Steve Clifford said. “He’s worked hard. He’s paid his dues. He’s watched good players, and he feels like this is his time to play well. He’s in a good place. He’s delivering. That’s what he’s doing.”

Said guard Kemba Walker, who played with Lamb at Connecticut: “He put in lot of work. He was here as much as anyone [in the offseason]. He spent a lot of time in the gym. It’s showing, even now. Every morning he’s in the gym shooting. He’s in the weight room lifting.”

Lamb, who laughed about how his Oklahoma City teammates emphasized the importance of the cold tub to him as a rookie, has passed that down to Hornets rookies Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon. An increase in playing time has forced Lamb to take his own advice and spend “even more time” using the dreaded recovery method. He arrived for preseason with a noticeably more muscular upper body—a result of offseason training.

“If you talk to the strength coaches, they’ll tell you the same thing,” Clifford said. “Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a guy who wasn’t working. We made the trade for him [in 2015]. He was working out in L.A. I told him, ‘I think it would be better if you were working out here with our guys.’ Kemba called him, he’s here. He’s worked from day one. He’s taken it to another level. I think the strength game is a major part of it.”

Said Lamb: “I was really small. It was hard for me to guard. It was hard for me to get open. I definitely needed time to develop and work on my game. Now I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity. I still work on my body. I still have to get stronger. I still have a lot to work on.”

Lamb came into his third season with the Hornets expecting to lead the second unit. However, starting shooting guard Nic Batum’s sprained left elbow moved Lamb in the starting rotation. While Batum has returned to the starting five, a left elbow contusion in Charlotte’s 129-124 overtime win against Washington could put Lamb back in the first rotation.

“Hopefully he’s good,” Lamb said of Batum. “I think it was just a little sore. It got hit a couple times. Hopefully he’ll be back sooner than later.”

Last season, Lamb averaged 9.7 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game, but his defense did little to help the Hornets. That version looked like a distant memory as Lamb made what Clifford called the “biggest play of the game …with a blocked shot, and then the coast-to-coast drive” to put the Hornets ahead 121-116 in overtime. He finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

“That’s what it takes to be a good player in this league,” Walker said. “You have to be consistent in your work.”

A change in mental approach highlights Lamb’s greatest improvement, which reflects an average of 16.5 points per game, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Charlotte (8-9) needs his consistency.

“The culture around here has changed him,” Walker said. “It wasn’t like that when he first got here. It took him some time. For the most part when we talked, it was more about him understanding his role on this team. He’s never, since he’s been in the league, really been counted on as much as we count on him. He kind of had to realize that. It took him a little bit of time, but when he got it, you can see that now. We expect a lot from Jeremy.”

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