SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento Kings are taking another chance on a Kansas product with potential.
The Kings selected Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore with the seventh pick in the NBA draft Thursday night, the first major move under the new ownership and basketball operations team.
More than 2,000 fans inside Sacramento’s arena cheered when the Kings chose McLemore, though most of the purple-and-black faithful were just happy to be back in the building after the franchise almost moved to Seattle in May. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard gives the Kings an elite shooter and gifted athlete, though one whose ball-handling skills and ability to create his own shot have been constantly questioned.
McLemore comes to a Sacramento team coming off seven straight losing seasons but trying to rebrand itself under new owner Vivek Ranadive this summer.
“Seven is my lucky number,” Ranadive said moments after the team selected McLemore. “When I was at the Warriors we got (Stephen) Curry, (Harrison) Barnes at seven, my birthday is on the seventh, the Mayor (Kevin Johnson) was picked seventh, he wore the number seven and we got the best player in the (draft) at seven.”
The Kings also hold the 36th overall pick in the draft.
McLemore’s pick could be particularly useful if the Kings lose combo guard Tyreke Evans this offseason. Evans, the 2009-10 NBA Rookie of the Year who has been saddled with knee injuries and inconsistency ever since, is set to become a restricted free agent if he declines Sacramento’s qualifying offer as expected.
McLemore also could complement center DeMarcus Cousins – who is eligible for an extension this summer – on the outside. While he’s still an unpolished pro, McLemore has shown glimpses he could succeed at the NBA level.
The second-team All-American broke Danny Manning’s freshman scoring record at Kansas while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range. McLemore averaged 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and two assists on a team that went 31-6 and won a share of its ninth straight Big 12 title.
Most scouts expected McLemore to go in the top three. Even the world’s most well-known NBA player wondered what was up when McLemore began to slip.
“They sleeping on Ben McLemore. Just watch,” LeBron James tweeted.
The four-time NBA MVP also wrote that McLemore would fit perfectly with new coach Mike Malone and assistant Chris Jent, who were both on the Cavaliers staff when James played in Cleveland.
McLemore attended James’ basketball camps and said he has known the Miami Heat star since his junior year in high school. While he obviously hoped to be drafted higher, McLemore said he looked forward to coming to Sacramento’s re-energized fan base and proving the six teams that passed on him wrong.
“I want to come in and show everybody what I can do, because I know on the court I know what I can do,” said McLemore, who wore a sharp suit and bow tie in Brooklyn to shake NBA Commissioner David Stern’s hand on stage. “I can be an alpha dog and take over games and help my team win games.”
It’s the second straight year Sacramento used its first-round selection on a Kansas player, and new general manager Pete D’Alessandro hopes McLemore pans out better than predecessor Geoff Petrie’s previous pick. The Kings took Thomas Robinson fifth last June, but he struggled from the start and was traded to Houston in February.
McLemore was forced to redshirt during the 2011-12 season when he was declared a partial academic qualifier by the NCAA, but he made the most of his only season in Lawrence. With a dizzying array of dunks, a silky smooth outside shot and a boyish grin, he quickly became one of the school’s top players. He even graced a regional cover for Sports Illustrated prior to the start of the NCAA tournament.
The 20-year-old McLemore, whose rise from the neighborhood playgrounds in an impoverished St. Louis community has been well chronicled, perplexed some scouts with his inconsistency – starring one game, disappearing the next.
McLemore helped the Jayhawks advance to the NCAA tournament’s regional semifinals, where they blew a late lead and lost to eventual national runner-up Michigan. He scored 20 points in that game, and proved to have another trait that should come in handy in the NBA: a short memory.
He was 0 for 9 from the floor in his previous game, a win over North Carolina. Even still, the stage never seemed too much for McLemore to handle.
He hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime in a win over Iowa State, scored 30 points in a win over rival Kansas State and had a career-high 36 points against West Virginia late in the season.
“Everybody saw me play this past season,” McLemore said. “They’ve seen I’ve shown spurts, and I’m ready to head to the next level and do what I got to do.”