ATLANTA — Jeremy Lamb was traded on the eve of opening night a year ago and spent part of his rookie season demoted to the NBA Development League.
The former Norcross and University of Connecticut standout has seen things go a lot smoother in his second year with the Oklahoma Thunder, though.
“He’s getting opportunities,” coach Scott Brooks said. “Last year it was more just developing.”
Lamb, still just 21 years old, learned his lessons well and is now averaging 9.0 points per game in about 20 minutes per game as a key reserve for the Thunder, one of the top teams in the NBA’s loaded Western Conference.
The 6-foot-5 guard had 11 points in 22 minutes, making 5 of 9 shots, as Oklahoma City (16-4) defeated the Atlanta Hawks 101-92 on Tuesday night at Philips Arena.
“We like the growth that he’s had,” Brooks said. “He has the ability to make shots, he has the ability to put the ball on the floor and he has the ability to defend. There are still some things to work on defensively, but I think he’s improved in that area more than I thought he would at this point.”
Going to the D-League can be quite a comedown for someone two years removed from winning the NCAA title, but Lamb made the most of his time with Tulsa, averaging 21 points in 21 games.
“Last season was a huge learning year for me,” said the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft by Houston. “The NBA is very competitive. I’ve always been told to work hard and focus on my game. If you do everything will work out.”
Lamb got into just 23 games with Oklahoma City — mostly in mop-up time — and averaged 3.1 points in 6.4 minutes per game while shooting 35.3 percent.
This season Lamb is shooting 45.6 percent overall and hitting 38.6 percent from behind the 3-point arc. He has reached double figures nine times in 20 games, with a high of 16 in the second game of the season against Minnesota.
“My teammates trust me, my coach trusts me,” Lamb said. “I have no choice but to get more comfortable and get more confident.”
“Experience is the best teacher,” said Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who scored 30 points against the Hawks (11-11). “He’s going to take his bumps and bruises, but he’s a smart, smart player.”
Lamb is also a late developing one.
Lamb, who played with older brother Zach at Norcross on a state championship team, had a growth spurt before his senior year and went from a marginal recruit to a prime prospect.
Connecticut swooped in and soon benefited, with Lamb playing the second lead to Kemba Walker as a freshman as the Huskies won the NCAA title.
Lamb, who had a 38-inch vertical jump and 6-foot-11 wingspan, averaged 17 points as a sophomore during a difficult follow-up season and declared for the NBA draft.
Houston took him with the 12th pick, but made him part of the package that landed James Harden from the Thunder just before the season. Kevin Martin came with Lamb in the deal, but he’s gone now, too.
Martin’s departure as a free agent meant a big role for Lamb and fellow guard Reggie Jackson. They have taken advantage, combining for 32 points per game.
Lamb hit a fade-away jump shot seconds after entering against the Hawks in the first quarter and followed with a lay-up within a minute. He had nine points in 15 minutes by halftime, his only two misses coming on a trio of three-point tries.
“Any time you hit your first three shots it feels good,” Lamb said.
It was the second game back before home fans in Atlanta for Lamb, who scored five points in five minutes of action last December in a Thunder victory.
This time — and this season — he has a much more prominent role.
“The more you play, the more comfortable you’re going to get,” Lamb said. “I’m still learning game by game.”