With the Toronto Raptors wrapping up their maiden NBA championship, the time has officially come for the entire league to turn their undivided attention toward the offseason frenzy. The Minnesota Timberwolves have a dearth of cap space, so naturally, the draft has taken center stage, but it’s always worth looking at what they can bring in the free agency period.
Luckily for the Wolves, the Mid-Level Exception (MLE) will be a surefire way to grab some veteran talent. The MLE is essentially a present handed to teams by the league, which varies depending on the league salary cap number and whether a specific team is over or under the luxury tax apron. This season it is predicted to be around $9.2 million and can be either split and used on multiple guys, or completely dedicated to a single player.
Unless Gersson Rosas and his front office cohorts make some drastic moves to clear some cap space, the MLE will be their biggest asset in free agency negotiations, so it’s extremely important that they use it wisely.
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Previous Contract: 3-Year, $31 Million
Traditional Stats: 15.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG. 2.2 APG, 44% FG, 34.8% 3PT
Advanced Stats: 55.2% TS, 109.4 ORTNG, 108.9 DRTNG, +0.5 NETRTNG, .113 WS/48, +1.2 VORP
Analysis and Fit
Despite falling under the umbrella of the poor supporting cast around Kemba Walker in Charlotte, Jeremy Lamb quietly had his best year as a pro last season. He finished his seventh season with career-highs in points, rebounds, and steals per game, as well as 3-pointers made and a bevy of advanced numbers.
He has become a silky smooth scorer from all three levels. He isn’t going to overwhelm defenses in any one area, but he is a threat to get buckets in a variety of ways — something the Timberwolves could really use in their second unit, or their starting lineup for that matter.
Lamb’s slight frame has prevented him from becoming a consistent finisher at the rim. He took a sharp downturn there this season, finishing just 54.5 percent of his shots in the restricted area. Of the 155 players who attempted more than three shot attempts from the RA this season, only 15 players converted at a lower percentage than Lamb.
However, he offset that flaw by becoming an excellent finisher with floaters and mid-range jumpers. He is an underrated mover with the ball and effectively finds his way into the floater range very often, where he can use his stop-and-pop right-hand teardrop in order to avoid contact with bigger, stronger defenders. This year, he connected on 63-130 (48.4%) floaters of all varieties.
The former lottery pick has also become quite the mid-range master and a streaky-yet-dangerous shooter from long-range. He shot a very respectable 46.2 percent from the mid-range area, while still avoiding over-reliance on a shot that has become dreaded in the analytic department (1.9 attempts per game).
From behind the arc, Lamb regressed from his impressive 37 percent clip from 2017-18 but remains a player that can’t be left alone from downtown. He is very capable of making triples while spotting up, coming off screens, or in isolation play.
With a 38.5 percent catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage, he would be a good fit on Minnesota’s perimeter. Of Minnesota’s regular rotation, only Karl-Anthony Towns, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington connected on a better C&S clip.
Too often last season Towns kicked out perfectly placed bullets to shooters whose man had come to double the big man, only to watch them brick the shot.
Most importantly, Lamb is an above average shot creator, something Ryan Saunders and Co. desperately crave. Andrew Wiggins struggles to drive and lacks an effective floater or mid-range jumper. Covington, despite all his wonderful traits, struggles when he is forced to put the ball on the floor. And Josh Okogie’s overall offensive flaws have been well-documented.
With Derrick Rose, who was often the only perimeter creator last season, likely to walk in free agency, Lamb would be an ideal replacement while still giving Tyus Jones the chance to play his natural role as a full-time lead guard.
The stigma associated with Jeremy Lamb has long been that he is a talented scorer but leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end of the floor. He hasn’t got much credit for it this season, but he has steadily become a plus defensively.
He has become a lot more aware off the ball, keeping his head on a swivel and limiting his lapses. No longer do opponents constantly find easy lanes while Lamb is ball watching. He has also become more alert and active in zoning off his man helping his teammates out.
As you can see below, he is quick to read how the play is unfolding and sharply comes off his man in the corner to get a hand in and force a valuable live-ball turnover.
This kind of off-ball chaos-causing has become a calling card for Lamb. He is extremely underrated when it comes to digging in and getting a stray hand on the ball and forcing it out of a drivers hand.
This is one of the key reasons why he improved the Charlotte defense when he was on the floor. Over the course of the 39-win regular season, the Hornets were 2.6 points per 100 possessions better on defense when the 27-year-old was out there.
There is no need to cherry pick defensive stats with Lamb either. He ranked as a top 15 shooting guard in both defensive real plus/minus and defensive player impact plus/minus, two of the most reliable defensive metrics we have.
He has turned his 6-foot-10 wingspan and above average lateral quickness into legitimate weapons defensively, allowing him to smother ball handlers and guide them into help defenders. He is also swiping more balls away, leading to his career-high steal numbers.
In this example against our very own Andrew Wiggins, he uses his quick feet to back up in transition, before pouncing on the rock as soon as Wiggins loses the slightest bit of focus.
Minnesota finished 24th in defensive rating last season, which is actually their best mark since the 2013-14 season. No more really needs to be said for how badly they need to recruit players who can positively influence their defense.
Lamb isn’t going to come in and dominate offenses in the mold of a Robert Covington, but he is certainly a step in the right direction. With any luck, the MLE will be enough to entice Lamb.
Lamb flew under the radar this season, but he could definitely be a slice of the winning pie. With multiple lottery teams becoming a lot better in the Western Conference, Minnesota needs positive assets. Now.