I always had a feeling, since very early in his recruitment, that Doron Lamb would wind up at Kentucky. When he announced his decision to play at UK during the second half of the of the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic, it just seemed a culmination of the inevitable.
Players from the New York area have had a huge impact on Kentucky basketball, both as reserves and as starters. The first player ever from New York at Kentucky State College (which would eventually become UK) was Claire St. John, who was captain in the second game ever between UK and Transylvania (then Kentucky University) just after the turn of the century in 1904. St. John was a transfer from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and the first UK player ever from Doron Lamb's home borough of Brooklyn.
Undoubtedly, the most meaningful player from New York ever to play at UK was Jamal Mashburn out of the Bronx. Mashburn was Rick Pitino's greatest recruiting success, and was instrumental in leading Kentucky back from the depths of NCAA probation to the lofty heights of national importance.
But more UK players hail from Brooklyn than any of the five boroughs of New York. Brooklyn produced Ed Davender, who played on the Elite Eight 1985-86 team. Andre Riddick (for whom my wife coined the profane nickname "F-ing Leaper!" after an amazing athletic play in a big game), another Bishop Laughlin product like Lamb, was famous for his athleticism, shot blocking, and bricklayer's touch. He also played an insignificant role in the Greatest College Basketball Game Ever Played, Kentucky Wildcats vs. Duke Blue Devils in the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1992.
Ramel Bradley, fan favorite, would-be rapper, and one of Kentucky's best players between 2004 and 2008, also originally hailed from Brooklyn. Bradley's nickname was "Smooth," a sobriquet that many have also assigned to Lamb.
Lamb has become the successor to all these players, and arguably the best among them. As of today, Lamb is 5th all-time in points in a season by a freshman, 2nd all-time in points in a game by a freshman (2010-11 vs. Winthrop), 1st all-time in 3-point FG% by a freshman in a season and 4th all time in a game.
This year, Lamb has become what talent evaluator Tom Konchalski called him back in 2010:
"He’s an assassin," Konchalski said. "A master of quiet domination."
That's absolutely one of the most apt descriptions of Lamb that could be made. Lamb is rarely flashy with his game, and rarely, if ever, takes a truly bad shot out of the offense. Lamb understands the difference between a good look and fool's gold, and that is what makes him so relentlessly efficient offensively.
Unlike many players in today's game, Lamb does not live and die by the three-point shot -- he gets almost as many of his points from 2-point range as he does from three. His offensive rating as of this writing is 137.5, 17th in the nation, and he is shooting 50% from the 3-point line. But those statistics are just a pale reflection of the overall quality of Lamb's game.
Lamb is a master of the timely shot. He has become the go-to scorer for this Kentucky team, not just because of his ability to get open on the wings and make the big three, but because of his quick first step and ability to slash past defenders who are guarding him tightly on the perimeter, and get into the 2-point area for his patented floaters or to the rim for layups or fouls. At the line, he is deadly at 83%, and gets over 20% of his points from the charity stripe.
Offensively, Lamb can hurt you in so many ways that he is often overlooked. He almost never tries the impossible pass, or the spectacular spin move. Lamb plays the game, "old school," which is to say he makes the simple play that is available, not the breathtaking play that has a 10-1 against chance of success. That's an underrated skill at any level of the game, and knowing how to play to his strength is what makes Lamb so effective.
Another part of his offensive game that is overlooked is his passing ability. Lamb's assist/turnover ratio is an excellent 2.3/1, and would be the envy of many point guards in America, particularly those playing at the highest level of basketball. Lamb can either play the point or off the ball and be effective, although he clearly prefers the 2 spot. But even there, Lamb is comfortable with the ball in his hands, and almost never gets stripped by even the quickest of defenders.
The biggest weakness in Lamb's game these last two years has been his defense, although that is improving game by game. Lamb is one of those players who is still learning to take pride in his defense, and that is something that he'll have to shore up even more before moving on to the next level.
This year, Doron Lamb is the quiet leader of this team, not just in scoring, but by example. If every UK player would learn the quiet competence that Lamb has consistently displayed this year game in and game out, Kentucky would never lose another game. On any other team in America, Lamb would be front-page news and get all the SportsCenter accolades. As a player for loaded Kentucky, he somehow manages to get overlooked and minimized in favor of the intense Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or the breathtakingly talented Anthony Davis.
But the guy with the ball in his hands when the chips are down, even though that has been relatively rare so far this year, has been Doron Lamb. There's a reason for that.