Fixing Sacramento Kings’ Ben McLemore


Before these last five regular season games, few, if any, predicted Ben McLemore might average something like 5.2 points, 0.8 assists and 0.6 made three-pointers per game, all on 37 percent shooting in little more than 18 minutes.

It’s a stat line that screams “sub,” maybe something worse, though certainly not “starter.”

And the advanced stats aren’t much kinder. An offensive rating of 84 is the lowest of McLemore’s career; a defensive rating of 113 is his highest (like golf, not in a good way); and a true shooting percentage of .459 is another career-low, per Basketball-Reference.

Weeks ago, he, his team and its fans were riding a growing wave of optimism made possible by last season’s performance, which saw Ben grow in virtually every statistical category compared to his rookie year. Now, reason for optimism is context for disappointment–a puzzling reminder of what could have been.

Granted, we’re working off five games. McLemore is really just one piece to the unsolved puzzle otherwise known as the one-and-four Sacramento Kings, which actually sheds some light on his situationally-poor play.

Ben isn’t the only King struggling. Look no further than his position’s competition: Marco Belinelli has brought some shooting, sure, but only 35 percent of it from the field. And James Anderson, his Phoenix performance included, is still only making 33 percent of his overall shots, with an offensive rating of 88, per Basketball-Reference.

Basically, Ben’s struggles are indicative of his team’s struggles. He’s not operating in a vacuum. His issues derive from and more or less epitomize those of the Kings as a whole, and for that he has been, to some extent, the scapegoat of a larger problem.

It starts, unsurprisingly, with defense—or, more appropriately, the lack thereof.

On average, the Kings concede 41.4 opponent-made field goals per game, good for 27th in the NBA, per ESPN. For a team that seeks to run early and often in search of transition baskets, doing so usually requires a defensive stop, rebound and outlet pass. Since Sacramento can’t quite do the first part so well, those subsequent steps are left largely unfulfilled, as is the Kings’ ideal quota of points in transition.

Which is a shame for McLemore, in particular, whose elite athleticism would be best leveraged in transition situations. Put a high-flying, fast-footed, 6-foot-5 shooting guard on the attack against retreating defenders, and good things will happen. They sure did last year.

Transition offense alone cannot make up for one lacking a well-rounded offensive game, but if nothing else it could get Ben in rhythm, and kickstart other opportunities.

In the half court, couldn’t this kind of handoff action give Ben a straightforward opportunity?

Sub in McLemore for J.J. Redick and DeMarcus Cousins for Blake Griffin, and the Kings could have a potent little pick-and-roll handoff option of its own. By starting on the left wing, Ben could attempt a spot-up jump shot or a one-to-two-dribble pull-up jumper, though driving into the lane with his right (dominant) hand is just as much of an option. Should Cousins’ man overplay Ben, a simple pocket pass would give Boogie the ball inside the defense, with options to shoot or pass to an exposed shooter left from a defensive rotation.

Ben, Boogie or not, these are the types of plays the Kings should be running more of, regardless of personnel. Sets involving on- and off-the-ball screens generate more catch-and-shoot looks, clear driving lanes and defensive switches, leading to potential mismatches. This would promote a certain offensive rhythm and flow of movement, which the Kings are currently lacking.

While playing without it, the struggles of McLemore and others have been magnified.

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There are other, more indirect ways to lift Ben out of his slump. Even if he isn’t shooting or directly assisting baskets, just let him touch the ball.

In the Kings’ half court offense, too often is Ben simply stationed in the corner, acting more as observer than contributor. This wasted role of his can probably be attributed to both the individual and those around him: Ben needs to do better to move himself around, and the coaching staff owes it to him (and the team) to install a scheme where those movements are emphasized and well-defined.

Early in the shot clock, let him flash to the point and catch a pass from a teammate, if only to have him give it right back. Let him run around and through screens as his defender gives chase, to potentially catch a screener’s man caught sleeping. Let him set an off-ball pick himself, something Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver does with great effect.

“As a shooter, if I just kinda stand still I’m pretty easy to guard, but I feel like the more I can move around, the harder I am to guard,” Korver explains, via BBall Breakdown. “If the guy who’s guarding me is worried about helping after I set a screen, then it just gives me another opportunity to possibly get open.

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“It just makes me feel like I’m more a part of the game.”

Pretty much any NBA player’s success is reliant on that concept. McLemore must play in a team-scheme that fits his strengths; one that actively involves his efforts. What results is the feeling that his presence matters to the teams’s level of play, good or bad, in wins and in losses.

Because I’d bet that, right now, Ben feels his impact, whatever its size, doesn’t really matter much to the team’s overall performance. That’s the central issue here.

Next: Game Preview: Kings vs Rockets

Changing that requires improvement from more than one party. Mainly, it involves action from George Karl and the Kings—something more than simply wishing Ben would play better.