Is Jeremy Lamb Worth $21 Million Over 3 Seasons?
Despite the blistering heat of an early evening in late June, a group of Charlotte Hornets fans huddled closely together around a television at Rooftop 210, a bar in uptown Charlotte.
The ninth pick of the 2015 NBA Draft was about to be announced, and there was still some solid talent on the board. But when Frank Kaminsky name was announced as the selection as opposed to a Justise Winslow, the reaction was subdued.
Why would they pass on the sure-thing wing?
Fans clearly viewed Winslow as the lesser risk of the two, with Kaminsky potentially being lumped into the long list of Charlotte big men that have fallen short of expectations (Sean May, Emeka Okafor, Tyson Chandler, Byron Mullens, Bismack Biyombo and Noah Vonleh to name a few).
But when the Hornets gave Jeremy Lamb a 3-year, $21 million contract extension earlier this week, the Hornets' strategy began to make a little more sense to those on the outside.
Why Not Wait?
To this point, Lamb, a former 12th overall pick, has yet to prove he can show up consistently as a scorer or facilitator. There has also been skepticism about his abilities on the defensive end. With those factors in mind, it’s completely fair for the casual observer to ask either of the following questions: Why does Lamb deserve a three-year deal and why not wait to re-sign him?
The first answer is that perhaps he doesn’t, but Charlotte is taking the preemptive approach and wagering on his production with him getting a steady allotment of minutes. They’ve been high on Lamb’s potential in the past, so there’s no question he’ll get his chances this season if he remains healthy.
Because making a major leap would almost certainly translate into Lamb getting a bigger offseason deal, the Hornets didn't want to wait. Considering the current free-spending landscape and that it could spike even more with a new deal in place, it made sense to commit.
Also, it wasn’t the worst thing to get another wing player locked in for the future. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will miss most of the season due to injury and is always an injury risk, while Nicolas Batum could bolt this offseason in free agency.
$21 million isn’t chump change, especially for a player who holds career averages of 7.0 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 15.7 minutes per game. But when considering the future salary cap increases and his potential, it’s not so bad.
When Lamb’s deal kicks in next season, the salary cap is expected to grow closer to $90 million, making the $7 million number more of a mid-level contract.
When it balloons to an expected $116 million in 2016-2017, Lamb’s deal could become superb bargain. It also shouldn't hinder the Hornets from a flexibility standpoint this offseason.
They will be well equipped to negotiate with Batum and upcoming free agent Al Jefferson, should they have the inkling to bring them back to the fold.
Early Returns and Outlook
If the first four games are an indication of how this move will play out, then Hornets fans have to be excited. Lamb has come out firing, averaging 14 points per game in 20 minutes, while shooting at a 60 percent clip from the field.
He’s been particularly deadly in the two games since signing his extension, knocking down 16 of 21 shots in games against Chicago and Dallas. More importantly, those stellar performances helped Charlotte get their first and second victories of the season.
His raw efficiency numbers are surely not sustainable but are very impressive. He is currently ranked 22nd in the league with a 10.0 nERD, a numberFire metric which measures a player's overall efficiency. He’s currently third in the league in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) amongst players having played at least 80 minutes. His 30.2 number trails only Stephen Curry’s 47 and Blake Griffin’s 31.9.
And while Winslow has looked steady and capable early on in his career, he’s in no way ready to produce at this rate, regardless of role.
This pace of production, both from an efficiency and volume perspective will definitely level out, but it’s got to be encouraging for Hornets management to see Lamb’s positive response to the commitment.
As previously mentioned, Lamb will have to prove he can consistently perform at a higher level. As it stands, the case can still be made that the organization made an overly optimistic investment in a low-end player. Will Lamb end up being a guy just willing to take whatever stability and security he could get? Or is he a budding starter or rotation staple that just needed the right opportunity? From what we’ve seen so far, it won’t be long before Hornets fans will be saying “Justise who?”