Should the Sacramento Kings Still Believe in Ben McLemore?

Apr 2, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 2, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings is a young, high draft pick who seemingly regressed last season.  This article takes a look into the struggles and what to watch for moving forward to see if McLemore is taking another step in his development.

Ben McLemore can be a source of frustration for Kings fans.  He was the 7th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft.  Playing for Kansas and being a high draft pick created expectations that he would develop into a core piece of the Kings franchise.  In 2014-2015, he showed signs of growth from his rookie season and many Kings fans were expecting another leap last season.  Below is a highlight video from that season to reminisce about.

Not only did he not take the next step last season, he regressed to below his rookie season in many statistical categories.  Let us examine McLemore closely to see what happened and if there is still hope that he becomes what Kings fans hoped for back on draft night in 2013.

Next up: Last Season’s Struggles

Apr 7, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) drives in against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) in the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Sacramento Kings 105 to 97. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 7, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) drives in against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) in the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Sacramento Kings 105 to 97. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Last Season’s Struggles

Ben McLemore just could not seem to find his footing last season.  He fought three different injuries missing the first 14 games of his career.  He, also, had problems jelling with Coach George Karl and his systems.  Throw it all in the pot and it caused McLemore to produce career low per game averages in minutes, points, 3 pointers made, free throws attempted, free throw percentage, rebounds, and blocks.  His game struggled all over and that is not something you expect from a player in their age 22 season.

Next up: Just a Matter of Playing Time?

Just a Matter of Playing Time?

Ben McLemore only managed to play 21.2 minutes per game last season.  That was the lowest per game average in his career by over 5 minutes.  Let us now examine his per 36 numbers to give us a way to view each of his three NBA seasons more systematically.

If you view McLemore’s production in per 36-minute averages his last two seasons almost exactly mirror each other.  View the chart below to see the differences courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

The minutes played seem to be creating differences between last season and two seasons ago.  That is still a disappointment in the sense that he did not improve on the prior season’s numbers, but having your minutes reduced and being injured for the first time in your professional career, probably damages your confidence a little bit.

Next up: McLemore’s Percentages Dropped

Jan 28, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) shoots the ball over New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won 114-105. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 28, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) shoots the ball over New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won 114-105. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

McLemore’s Percentages Dropped

Ben McLemore gets knocked for shooting poor percentages and having an inconsistent jump shot.  The field goal percentage of 42.9% and 71.8% free throw percentage last year were down numbers, but did the injuries play a factor?  According to Fox Sports, McLemore had a sore back on January 5th, 2016 and a sore wrist on February 1st, 2016.  Were these injuries bothering him for a while before he admitted to them and throwing off his shooting?  Nobody really knows, but Mister McLemore himself.

My colleague Rafe Wong wrote a great piece describing McLemore’s shot further here if you care to read about it.  I’ll just mention a few shooting stats that if McLemore attacks these areas more his offensive effectiveness would tick up.  According to Basketball-Reference, he is a career 67.0% shooter from 0-2 feet from the basket, but he only takes 22.5% of his field goal attempts in that area.  On corner 3 pointers, he shoots a career 40.0% but only takes 33.8% of his 3 pointers from the corners.  The Kings need to find ways to let McLemore attack the basket more and shoot corner 3 pointers.

Next up: Still Young and Defense

Feb 23, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) guards Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 23, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) guards Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Still Young

Let us not lose sight of the fact that McLemore is still a very young player.  He turned 23 years old in February of this year.  He was born in 1993, the same year as Buddy Hield, the 6th overall pick in this year’s draft.  McLemore is in fact only roughly ten months older than Hield.  They are different players, but nobody expects Hield to be done improving as a player or is writing off his career as an NBA bust.  We have seen McLemore in the NBA for 3 years, but he is still very young and has the potential to improve.

Defense?

Ben McLemore rates very poorly on defense.  Looking at his career numbers, he provides little in terms defensive rebounds (2.2 per game), steals (0.8 per game), and blocks (0.2 per game) for playing 27.2 minutes per game for his career.  His traditional defensive stats are lacking.

If you view his advanced metrics, the defensive stats are a mixed bag.  His career average defensive box score plus-minus is negative 1.3, but he has provided positive defensive win shares in each of his 3 NBA seasons.  All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

McLemore has the athleticism to be an adequate defender, but he needs to lock in.  He needs to commit himself on the defensive end and with the addition of Coach Joerger, who is known for being a defensive coach; I think McLemore’s defense will improve if he puts in the necessary work on it.

Next up: What to Watch For

Mar 30, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) shoots the ball against Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Washington Wizards 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 30, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) shoots the ball against Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Washington Wizards 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch For

Ben McLemore is the player I am most excited to see in camp and the preseason.  I see the talent, athleticism, and potential in him still, but can he put it all together?  It is a new coach, new system, and some new supporting cast members.  Early reports are that he is confident according to the Sacramento Bee and he worked hard all summer.

This could be the make or break season for McLemore.  If things finally start clicking for him, he can still realize his potential in Sacramento, but if not he will be out the door.  Things I will be watching for are reports from the coaching staff about McLemore, if he is getting the minutes in preseason games, and if he is producing not only stats but performing his offensive and defensive assignments.  The competition for minutes will be strong with the additions of Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, and Matt Barnes, so if McLemore is seeing big minutes on the court that will be the first sign that better things are ahead for him.

Next up: Summary

Dec 18, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) in the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 18, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) in the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Summary

Ben McLemore had a down season last year and it soured many Kings fans on his potential.  He struggled in almost every area last season, but his per 36 numbers were nearly identical to the previous season.  He is still just 23 years old and oozing talent, athleticism, and potential.

Let us not forget that growth for an NBA player is not always linear.  Some players have a bad season and the next season bounce back to new career heights.  I truly believe McLemore is capable of that.  He needs to prove to the new coaching staff that he deserves the minutes and produce when he gets them.

He may never become that superstar the Kings hoped for when they drafted him, but if he can be a starter or solid 20-25 minute per game rotation player for the next 10 seasons in Sacramento, then I would call his selection a success.  Ben McLemore can still reach that level, but now is the time he needs to step up and earn it.  Here is to hoping he takes a big leap this season and becomes a piece the Kings build around for the next decade.

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