Jul 1, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings first round draft pick Ben McLemore holds up his jersey during a press conference at the Sleep Train Arena press room. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Royal Reflections: Kings fans need to reign in expectations with Ben McLemore

The general consensus around the basketball world is that the 2013 Draft is a weak class. A common belief is that, while deep in talent, the class doesn’t possess any star power. ESPN draft guru Chad Ford, in his yearly draft tier ranking, had no players in the top rank (Superstars) or the 2nd rank (All-Stars). If you’re hoping for a franchise player to emerge, it’d be a shock to most in the NBA community.

That doesn’t keep Kings fans from adoring Ben McLemore, though.

Aside from Cleveland’s top choice Anthony Bennett, McLemore was considered as the most likely to be an All-Star in a class with no likely All-Stars. His tumble to 7th was hailed as the steal of the draft, considering Sacramento was trying to trade up in the draft to snag him. The Kings fan base, already euphoric at the continued existence of the team, are mostly on cloud nine with McLemore – myself included.

Yet all didn’t get off to a rosy start in Summer League yesterday when McLemore shot 4-23 from the field. While I’ll throw out the obvious “It’s just Summer League” caveat, this is an excellent opportunity to step back and remember that McLemore is a young player and that expectations on his growth need to be kept in check.

A friend asked my expectations on McLemore shortly after the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade. My first reaction was around 14 points, 44% field goal clip and above-average defense—but I had to force myself to reconsider. Like many, I’m capable of letting my glee of getting McLemore cloud my immediate judgment. We don’t even know how Coach Mike Malone will use him yet – setting expectations at this point is folly.

The biggest danger for McLemore is Evans’ former enemy—fan expectations. After an elated rookie season, Evans’ struggles in his second/third years highly disappointed fans, who overlooked his growths and focused only on his negatives. To a certain extent, McLemore will face different expectations—he isn’t the face-of-the-franchise as Evans once was (not with DeMarcus Cousins in town) and he won’t be the squad’s top scoring option immediately. Heck, he might not even start if Marcus Thornton is retained. But when a top prospect such as McLemore falls to a talent-hungry fan base like Sacramento, you know there will be some overblown expectations.

With Evans off to earn his $44 million in New Orleans, McLemore will either start the season at the two-spot or be one of the first players off the bench. Either way, he’ll be expected to play a key role in Sacramento’s development this year as Coach Malone tries to instill a new system. As long as McLemore develops in the eyes of his team all should be well in Kings land—regardless of fan expectations.

Analyst Steve Kerr, who called yesterday’s Summer League matchup, had some interesting words regarding McLemore during the telecast. “I think everyone would have liked to see him play another couple years, not just basketball wise but life experience, grow a little bit, because he’s very young,” Kerr said. “Teams have described him after their interviews as naive, a great kid, but, you know, is he ready for what is really a dog-eat-dog world in the NBA, and that’s gonna be the challenge for him.”

Whether these team concerns were true or not (and Kerr seems to be the first to raise the “naïve” label), he did mention later that the most important thing for McLemore is that Sacramento reign in expectations and bring him about the right way. Even if Kerr was talking baloney with the naïve label, he’s correct about his second point.

Feb 06, 2013; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Ben McLemore (23) reacts against the TCU Horned Frogs during the first half at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

McLemore isn’t the most NBA ready talent in the class. He needs to become more comfortable at creating his own shots. He’s good at coming off screens, but he needs to develop more methods of getting open. His defense needs work, he’ll need to become better at reacting better when his man isn’t on the ball. He needs to work on his range and turn his pretty stroke into an NBA range pretty stroke. Mostly, though, he just needs to get comfortable with the “dog-eat-dog” world that is the NBA—and that won’t happen overnight. With his athleticism and fantastic shooting technique, he could become an All-Star – but that’s multiple years down the road.

McLemore may reach all the Kings fans expectations. He may end up a 20+ PPG scorer, play as an excellent second-fiddle to DeMarcus Cousins, excel as a defender, play consummate team ball and emerge as a stand-out shooting guard in a league weak at the position. Mostly though, it’ll take time.

What is most important is that McLemore has all the things in place in order to succeed. He has a (finally) stable organization, a (seemingly) competent head coach and GM with (hopefully) concrete plans. Now Kings fans just have to reign in their expectations through the growth of our newest star.


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