With the 7th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft the Sacramento Kings selected Ben McLemore out of the University of Kansas. At the time, Kings fans were ecstatic about the pick. However, over the course of last season that opinion sizzled out as McLemore struggled in almost all aspects of the game during his first NBA season. Fans were growing frustrated with McLemore, so much that some considered whether it was in the best interest of the team to trade the now 21-year-old shooting guard after just a one-year stint as a pro. Although such a decision may be seen as rash or impatient, some fans are still dissatisfied with the way McLemore played last season, and do not believe he is the answer to fill the Kings’ starting shooting guard position. However, when all is said and done, I believe McLemore will be the “complete” steal of his draft class.
There are many arguments that can be made that lean towards McLemore being a bust. However, I view McLemore as having tremendous potential, and that potential eventually being reached. Throughout this article, I will analyze the struggles Ben McLemore went through as a rookie and aspects of his game he needs to improve on. But ultimately, I will show why Ben McLemore is worth the wait for Kings fans.
Upside/Talent: Going into the NBA Draft everyone knew that McLemore’s ceiling was high, and probably the highest out of all the prospects in his draft class. When the Kings selected McLemore, Jay Bilas (ESPN analyst) was asked about McLemore’s upside. His answer was, “Yes, the highest ceiling in this draft. The guy, who from a talent perspective, is the most likely in my judgment to be an All-Star out of this NBA draft class.” McLemore possesses qualities that made him such an attractive prospect in his draft class. At full potential, McLemore can, and will, be an impact player for a competitive team
Shooting: What put McLemore on the map for NBA scouts was his ability to shoot the basketball with ease. His smooth shooting form, and the numbers he produced in college justified this. In McLemore’s first season with the Kansas Jayhawks, he averaged 15.9 PPG (points per game) while shooting 42 percent from three-point range and 49.5 percent overall. However, his production in college did not immediately translate to the NBA. McLemore struggled to find any rhythm, and he finished his rookie campaign averaging 8.8 PPG while shooting 32 percent from behind the arc and 37.6 percent overall. Although McLemore struggled greatly with the Kings, I do not believe his shooting struggles will last long. Fans were puzzled when McLemore was struggling to make shots because he was such a good shooter at the collegiate level and his shooting mechanics drew favorable comparisons to sharpshooter Ray Allen. I personally believe that McLemore’s shooting struggles were due to a lack confidence more than anything else. This lack of confidence also seemed to affect McLemore’s aggressiveness on the court compared to when he played at Kansas. Proof of this is shown after the Marcus Thornton trade, when Coach Malone began playing McLemore more minutes. His increase in playing time allowed him to gain more confidence. As a result, McLemore finished the season strong, particularly in his last game scoring a career-high 31 points. In the final month and a half of the season, McLemore averaged 11.7 PPG, while shooting 32.4 percent from three-point range and 41.4 percent overall. Obviously, these numbers won’t validate Ben McLemore having a successful NBA career or one Kings fans hope for. But, they do show signs of improvement, which is why I expect a consistent pattern of improvement as his career moves forward.
Athleticism/ Slashing Ability: Another attribute that made Ben McLemore such a hot prospect going into the draft was his freakish athleticism. McLemore definitely has Grade-A athleticism, and has ideal size (6’5” 189 lbs) for the two-guard position. Kings fans were able to see flashes of McLemore’s athleticism, as he was the beneficiary of many fast break dunks/alley-oops. This eventually resulted in him receiving an invitation to the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. Although we saw glimpses of his athleticism, it definitely wasn’t enough. With the athleticism that McLemore has been blessed with, fans were hoping to see him drive more to the basket (having a more complete offensive game), and also be a stout defensive presence. McLemore showed that he struggled in both areas. A big reason for McLemore’s inability to slash to the basket effectively was due to his porous ball handling. Going into the draft, one of McLemore’s main deficiencies was his ball handling skills. Obviously, it’s hard to use your athleticism to help get to the basket if you have a hard time dribbling. However, McLemore did show some improvement in his ball handling as the season progressed. This improvement lead to more attempts driving to the basket, and resulted in more points/free throw attempts per game. As McLemore continues to develop a more complete offensive game, it will lead to an increase in PPG and FG percentage.
Defense: An area where Ben McLemore really struggled last season was on the defensive side of the ball. With that being said, I also believe he will improve on this part of his game as well. In my opinion, the main tools one must have to become a premier defender are athleticism, intelligence and drive. McLemore without a doubt has the athleticism and the drive to become a good defender. McLemore seriously struggled on defense last season, but it wasn’t due to lack of motivation. To me, it was more of McLemore’s lack of feel for the game defensively. I’m not saying McLemore has a low IQ necessarily, but rather a low amount of playing experience. Remember, McLemore has only played one year in the pros and despite being a sophomore in college, only one year of collegiate experience. It’s also normal for rookies to struggle on defense their first year due to the fact that they’re playing against players that are bigger, faster and stronger compared to players at the collegiate level. Considering the fact that he is only 21 years old, McLemore has plenty of time to learn Coach Malone’s defense and to become a contributor defensively for his team. Once his understanding and experience on defense increases, so will his overall defensive game.
Character: Ben McLemore’s character is probably what I like the most about him. McLemore’s attitude and the way he carries himself shows how humble he is. Since entering the NBA, McLemore has shown he is extremely grateful to be a part of the Kings organization. What hits a strong chord with me about Ben is that he knows he has the potential to be great. However, what separates him from other young talents is he understands that he has a lot of work ahead of him to become the player he wants to be. There are many young and talented players who enter the league and think they are entitled to a certain amount of playing time right away. They believe that their accolades at the collegiate level justify this entitlement even though they haven’t proven anything at the pro level. Fortunately for the Kings, McLemore has a humble, yet hungry personality, and has shown that he is driven to improve his game. Ever since day one, coaches have raved about the work ethic McLemore exhibits and have called him a “gym rat” at times. I believe that if McLemore continues to put in hard work, results will eventually come.
Overall, I think the struggles that McLemore had last season won’t be as much of a common occurrence this upcoming season. I still think he will struggle in some parts of his game, but he’s still only 21, and we can’t expect him to be an elite player so quickly into his career. I see McLemore averaging more PPG next season because he should see more touches and his efficiency should improve from being a more experienced and aggressive player. I also see McLemore making huge strides defensively based on his athletic skills and determination to improve. When the Kings selected Ben McLemore in the 2013 draft I think fans had unrealistic expectations for the rookie. They expected an instant-impact player, when in reality he wasn’t fundamentally sound enough, nor had the experience to become that player yet. The Kings did select Nik Stauskas in this year’s draft. However, considering the Kings only had one shooting guard on their depth chart, it makes me think that the Kings have no plans to ship McLemore to another team. The Stauskas selection shows that the Kings just want to have good basketball players, regardless of the position. The front office and management have echoed these thoughts in the days and weeks following the 2014 draft. I believe McLemore will make big improvements next season in raising both his overall numbers and his efficiency. Right now, McLemore is a very raw player with tremendous upside, but understands he needs to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to reach his true potential. I couldn’t ask for a better approach from a young player. Kings fans need to remember that McLemore has the potential to be great, but it’s going to take patience. Hopefully, Kings fans will one day be as ecstatic about the former Jayhawk as they were when he was drafted.