As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.
In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
We now arrive at the cream of the KU crop. You could argue where each of the following players would fall in the rankings, but these are the five most talented Jayhawks employed by the NBA right now. Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best, though. We’re talking about which players you’re going to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).
No. 5: Markieff Morris — Washington Wizards
The starting power forward on a team expecting to make the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Markieff Morris seems poised for the best season of his NBA career.
Markieff (angrily) began 2015-16 playing for Phoenix, the organization that had just split him up from twin brother Marcus by trading his sibling away to Detroit. The Suns finally moved Markieff to Washington before the trade deadline this past February, but you got the sense he didn’t quite reach his full offensive capacity with the Wizards in the weeks that followed.
Upon arriving in D.C., Markieff certainly wasn’t bad. He averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds and shot 46.7% from the floor (far better than his 39.7% in Phoenix in the 37 games leading up to the move). But it’s easy to see him improving upon all his numbers during his upcoming sixth pro season. He’s not entering a team late in a campaign. The Wizards have a new player-friendly head coach in Scott Brooks. Markieff now has a better feel for playing with all-star point guard John Wall and should help the Wizards stretch the floor while center Marcin Gortat plays in the post.
Washington advanced in the playoffs two straight springs before taking a step backward and missing the postseason in 2016. If Markieff makes them better by maximizing his talents he will gain the sort of league-wide respect he has yet to attain.
No. 4: Marcus Morris — Detroit Pistons
You never know how a season will play out, but as 2016-17 begins, it seems Detroit, the team Marcus Morris plays for, is considered more of a sure thing in the East than Washington, current home of his brother, Markieff.
The twins play similar complimentary roles for their respective franchises but Marcus, unlike his bro, enters his sixth year in the league on the heels of his most impressive season since the duo left Kansas. A reserve the vast majority of his time in Phoenix, Marcus became a starter with the Pistons and responded by producing the best numbers of his career: 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists. He also shot 43.4% from the floor and made 108 3-pointers (36.2%).
Detroit point guard and leading scorer Reggie Jackson is out with an injury for a few weeks, so Detroit could start slowly, but some around the league think the Pistons could end up being one of the top three teams in the East not named Cleveland. Should Detroit pull that off, Morris’ role in that rise would be hard to ignore.
No. 3: Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings
Both of the Morris twins are more accomplished in the NBA than Ben McLemore, but the fourth-year shooting guard is entering the most important season of his professional career.
McLemore’s name has come up in Sacramento trade rumors for the past year of so, and that’s a trend that figures to continue in the weeks and months ahead. The Kings, per usual, have a new head coach, Dave Joerger. Just how McLemore fits into Joerger’s plans remains to be seen.
Early signs indicate McLemore, who averaged a career-low 7.8 points in 2015-16, won’t start for Sacramento any more, with Arron Afflalo playing 2-guard on the first unit. Can McLemore thrive as scoring sixth man? Are the Kings just diminishing his role because they plan on trading him away at the first possible chance?
Once next July gets here, McLemore will be a restricted free agent — regardless of which team he suits up for to close the season. So now would be the ideal time to make a leap in production and 3-point shooting (34.6% for his career). Maybe a change in scenery would help him reach that untapped potential.
No. 2: Andrew Wiggins — Minnesota Timberwolves
Already a highlight Vine waiting to happen, third-year wing Andrew Wiggins’ career trajectory should make another explosive leap upward this year as a rising star for the league darling Minnesota Timberwolves.
In his second season, Wiggins broke the 20-point barrier for his scoring average, putting up 20.7 a night, while complimenting future superstar big man Karl-Anthony Towns. We shouldn’t expect him to take that average to 25 this year or anything crazy. But you’d like to see him improve his shooting percentages: 48.6% on 2-pointers last year, and 30% from behind the 3-point line.
Assuming Wiggins can help those numbers out himself through shot selection and just natural improvement through development — the man hasn’t even turned 22 yet — he’s going to become a more dangerous offensive player in Year 3.
Even more fascinating, though, will be the impact new T’wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has on Wiggins. A defensive guru, Thibodeau could transform the 6-foot-8, high-flying forward into a monster on defense. And the more stops Wiggins and company get on that end, the more chances Minnesota will have to get out in the open floor and finish fast breaks with Wiggins jams.
No. 1: Joel Embiid — Philadelphia 76ers
Forget the qualification of Jayhawks in the league. Rookie center Joel Embiid is one of the most intriguing players in the NBA this season. Period. But you probably knew that before you clicked on this post.
For the love of all things basketball, injuries have deprived us all of watching Embiid’s crazy array of post moves and deft touch for more than two years. We’ve seen glimpses already in the preseason of the promise the big man from Cameroon showed in his abbreviated one-and-done season at Kansas.
Even though Philadelphia has limited Embiid’s minutes early on to make sure his foot problems don’t resurface, the early results have been spectacular.
He’s 7-foot-2. He can handle the ball. He can knock down jumpers. He can protect the rim. He has moves in the post to score over his defender. The potential for Embiid seems limitless. Then again, he should’ve been a rookie two years ago but his body didn’t allow it.
Can Embiid make it through a full season without suffering another major injury setback? If he does, his overall game and confidence will only skyrocket.
The coming months will determine where the Embiid story goes next. If he stays relatively healthy, he has as legit a shot as anyone at winning Rookie of the Year. And the seasons to come just might include all-star appearances, all-NBA teams and carrying a declining franchise back to its former glory.
Sure, the 82-game grind that is the NBA season barely has begun. But so far, there are some signs that third-year shooting guard Ben McLemore could be in for a disappointing season.
Really, issues began to emerge in the preseason, when the 2013 one-and-done lottery pick out of Kansas only hit 27 percent of his shots for Sacramento. That led to Kings coach George Karl saying in a post from Sactown Royalty that he wished McLemore would have played better.
“But he's a young guy that I think it's the first time he has a competitive situation for minutes. In the end, it will make him a much better player," Karl said. "He might not enjoy it as much if he doesn't play. I mean, he played 2,600 minutes last year. I don't think Ben is going to play 2,600 minutes on this team."
When the man in charge of minutes predicts a decrease in minutes, that’s kind of a red flag.
Sacramento improved its depth in the offseason, and with Marco Belinelli an option at shooting guard, it’s clear Karl won’t stick with McLemore just to see how it goes.
Karl also said before the season started McLemore could turn out to be an important part of the rotation. But the coach then basically said the 6-foot-5 shooting guard hasn’t picked up on all of the offensive concepts Sacramento uses.
"I think our style is to play random, equal opportunity, flow basketball and so maybe the veteran guys or the guys that have what I call savvy, knowing how to get open, when to get open, when to cut, when not to cut. I think Ben might be below the curve of that," Karl said. "But that's a young player searching for the betterment of his skills."
McLemore, who averaged 12.1 points, made 35.8% of his 3-pointers and shot 43.7% from the floor in 32.6 minutes a game last season, is off to a slow start in the 2015-16 campaign. While starting all four games at shooting guard, the 22-year-old has only made 2 of 7 (28.6%) from 3-point range and 6 of 21 (28.6%) from the field overall.
As a result, he’s averaging 4.3 points in 19.0 minutes a game.
In Sacramento’s most recent loss Tuesday night, versus Memphis, McLemore’s stat line looked like this:
- 2 points, 1/5 FGs, 0/2 3s, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 fouls, 2 turnovers, 20 minutes
A report Wednesday from KFBK radio cited sources around the team and said McLemore wouldn’t start the Kings’ next game.
There is plenty of season left, and more than enough time for McLemore to break out of his slump and get acclimated with Karl’s offense. But Karl wasn’t around when Sacramento drafted McLemore and has no incentive to play him more if he deems doing so is harming the Kings’ chances of winning.
This is a situation McLemore fans will want to keep their eyes on.
2015-16 ’Hawks in the NBA Season Previews
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
When you hear the name Ben McLemore and the word mixtape used together, you might assume a YouTube highlight reel awaits: 3-pointers, drives to the rim and dunks in transition.
However, SB Nation site Sactown Royalty reports McLemore has plans for a different type of mixtape this summer. The former Kansas shooting guard wants to release a mixtape of rap tracks.
Sacramento’s starting 2-guard already has two songs posted on YouTube — listen to them at SactownRoyalty.com (as long as you don’t mind lyrics that would come with a PARENTAL ADVISORY label).
McLemore told SB Nation’s Blake Ellington he began rapping while attending KU, in Lawrence, and he just considers it a hobby.
"I want people to hear my music to see what they think about it," McLemore said. "I've got some nice feedback."
The 6-foot-5 22-year-old certainly realizes basketball will take him farther than the rap game. He showed improvements in his second year in the league while also standing out as someone who gives back to the community.
I want to give a shout to @isgcamps for helping me out this week with my camp. It's been great the kids learned a lot, had a great time learning about the game of basketball. Also go follow @isgcamps and visit isgcamps.com to sign up for my upcoming camp in Lawrence, Kansas. #ISGCamps #benmclemore #SacramentoKings
A photo posted by Ben McLemore (@benmclemore) on Jun 10, 2015 at 2:26pm PDT
So don’t wrongly assume his passion for hip-hop means he’s putting hoops on the back burner.
"This upcoming year, I want to make another leap," McLemore told SB Nation. "I'm going to work hard this summer, it's just the type of player I am."
McLemore, who began playing for new Kings coach George Karl late in this past season, also said he’s excited about what will be his third year in Sacramento.
"I think my skill set and his system collapse together. It fits perfect in what he's trying to do with this program,” he told SB Nation.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
It can’t be easy playing for the Sacramento Kings right now.
An afterthought of an NBA franchise since the early 2000’s and the glory days of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, the Kings haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006. They went through another lackluster season (29-53) in 2014-15, marred by an organization-inflicted coaching carousel that forced the players to take the floor under three different leaders: Mike Malone (fired), interim Tyrone Corbin and late-season hire George Karl.
Amid all that, somehow, second-year shooting guard Ben McLemore found ways to improve.
The Kansas product mostly struggled through his rookie campaign, but looked more comfortable in Year 2. McLemore again played in all 82 games for the Kings, but unlike the previous season, when his role changed a few times, the 22-year-old high-flyer started every game.
Accordingly, the 6-foot-5 guard showed improvements in his shooting percentages and scoring.
Perhaps the best news for McLemore? He finished the season in impressive fashion.
His April included 20-point performances against Utah, Oklahoma City and Denver, and he put up 24 points in Sacramento’s season finale, vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his final nine games of the season — under the team’s presumably longterm coach, Karl — McLemore trended upward, averaging 16.2 points, 3.6 boards, 3.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers and 1.8 steals in 33.5 minutes. In April, he made 49.1% of his field goal attempts and 35.4% of his 3-pointers.
Karl has gone on record as saying no one on the team is untradeable, but if McLemore keeps showing new wrinkles, progress and improves defensively, he could be the kind of piece the Kings want to keep around for the long haul.
Just as impressive as his improvement on the court, though, have been his contributions to the people of Sacramento. The Kings named him the winner of their Oscar Robertson Triple-Double Award, given to the player who “exemplifies excellence on the court and in the community.”
Since joining the ranks of the best basketball players on the planet, McLemore has helped out not only in his NBA city, but also in his hometown of Wellston, Missouri.
“When I was growing up, my family didn’t have much, so it’s always been extremely important for me to give back and help wherever and whenever I can,” McLemore told the Kings’ website. “I cherish the opportunity to be a role model for young kids and to give back to Sacramento and the community in which I grew up in Missouri. I’m honored to receive this recognition named for an NBA legend and great humanitarian.”
McLemore also became one of the finalists for the league-wide Community Assist Award.
His nonprofit organization, All 4 Kids, provides meals for underserved and low-income youth and families in Wellston and surrounding communities.
Things weren’t easy for McLemore growing up, and it’s obvious he hasn’t forgotten that.
“Now it’s our time to provide for those who dream bold, too,” the young guard said.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Thomas Robinson subject of trade rumor with deadline approaching; and would Kings move Ben McLemore?
Believe it or not, sometimes life in the NBA isn’t easy. Especially if you’re a valuable asset when the league’s trade deadline approaches.
Just ask Washington’s journeyman power forward, Drew Gooden. Actually, BleacherReport.com did, given that the former Grizzly/Magic/Cavalier/Bull/King/Spur/Maverick/Clipper/Buck has played for 10 franchises and been traded on six separate occasions.
“I would say, where I’m at in my career, after numerous times going through a trade or the time or the window before a trade, I’m kind of numb to the feeling,” Gooden told Bleacher Report. “I know it’s a business, and I learned it early in my career. I wasn’t a guy who got drafted and stayed with his team for five, six, seven years and then got traded. I was a guy who played half a season in Memphis and got traded 50 games into the season.”
In his third go-round as a pro, Thomas Robinson hasn’t experienced all that Gooden has, but he can certainly relate. Drafted by Sacramento, traded to Houston as a rookie, then moved again to Portland before the start of his second year, Robinson could once again be on the move.
Robinson has turned in some positive moments in a Trail Blazers uniform this season, including a double-double in his first career start. For the most part, though, he has not been a factor or become a significant part of the rotation on a talented roster — Portland entered the All-Star break with a 36-17 record, good enough to tie Houston for the third-best mark in the volatile Western Conference.
The 6-foot-10 power forward from Kansas only has played in 32 of 53 games and averages 3.6 points (a career low) and 4.2 rebounds while hitting 51.6% of his shots in 12.2 minutes a game this season. He has DNP’s in three of the last five games.
Portland elected even before the season began to let him become a free agent this coming summer. So, as we wrote about before the season began, another Robinson trade long has been in play.
Now, with Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline getting closer by the second, the rumor mill churns away at a fevered pace, and Robinson’s name has emerged. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports the Trail Blazers offered the athletic backup big to Denver in an attempt to land Wilson Chandler.
“Portland has shown a stronger desire to make a deal with Denver for Wilson Chandler than Arron Afflalo,” Wojnarowski wrote, “partly because Chandler is under contract next season. The Blazers have made Will Barton and Thomas Robinson, as well as a future first-rounder, available in talks for wing players, but clearly would be more motivated to sweeten a package for Chandler than Afflalo, league sources said.”
Whether Robinson ends up in Denver or elsewhere, don’t be too surprised if he has a new NBA home by Thursday night.
Keep in mind: just because some other deal hasn't been rumored doesn't mean there isn't one, and some other trade package could materialize in the next few hours. You never know.
As a free-agent-to-be, another uniform change could be just around the corner for Robinson anyway.
Would the Kings move McLemore?
Speaking of young KU products with crazy bounce, Ben McLemore, in his second season with Sacramento, is averaging 11.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists, and making 44.4% of his field goals, 36.2% of his 3-pointers and 83.7% of his free throws.
The Kings — one of the league’s worst teams, at 18-34 — wouldn’t possibly consider moving a a 22-year-old shooting guard with upside would they?
ESPN insider Chad Ford conducted an online chat Wednesday and came up with a scenario that could entice the Sacramento brass.
The name Goran Dragic swirls prominently in the trade winds these days, and the Phoenix point guard has made it plenty clear he wants out. Dragic reportedly wants to play for the Lakers, Knicks or Heat, presumably because he’d like to sign with one of those teams as a free agent this summer. But Ford could see Phoenix moving him within the Pacific Division for the right pieces in return:
“The Kings are the team I like best as far as fit goes. And if the Suns could get Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas and a future No. 1 ... I think that would be a great deal for both sides,” Ford wrote.
This doesn’t even really qualify as a rumor, just speculation. However, Wojnarowski thinks Sacramento could be a serious contender to land Dragic. So stay tuned.
A McLemore trade would be devastating news for the Kings’ television analyst, who would no longer be able to offer up such gems as:
“Ben McLemore. How ‘bout Ben SplashLemore right there?”
The most interesting part of a McLemore-to-Phoenix move, of course, would be the Suns having him and the Morris twins.
According to veteran trade piece Gooden, it’s best to keep your phone handy near the deadline.
“Usually it’s a phone call from the GM. It’s a phone call from the agent. It’s a phone call from someone in our organization,” Gooden told Bleacher Report.
“I’ve been hearing some horror stories—which, thank God, never happened to me—about guys being in the airport, and they look at the ticker at the bottom of the screen and they see their name in a trade. There’s never a right way to tell somebody that they’ve been traded. Every place that I was at, I wanted to be there.”
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Rarely does the NBA spotlight shine toward small-market Sacramento. Right now, it’s pointed to the home of the Kings for all the wrong reasons.
What better time for second-year shooting guard Ben McLemore to help turn a negative into a positive?
Sacramento’s front office has been pummeled with scrutiny the past couple of days, and rightfully so. The Kings (11-13) fired their head coach, Michael Malone, Sunday night, with the team having lost seven of nine games. Keep in mind, Sacramento’s franchise player, center DeMarcus Cousins, missed each one of those with viral meningitis.
It’s a raw deal for Malone, for sure, and multiple reports indicate the move was more about a difference in philosophies between the coach and the front office, which used the skid as an excuse to give the coach the axe.
The Kings will play their first game since the dismissal Tuesday night against Oklahoma City — 9:30 Central tip, on ESPN. So McLemore and his teammates have a chance to shift the focus toward the promise this team has going forward under interim coach Tyrone Corbin, with Cousins reportedly returning later this week.
The franchise’s decision-makers might act a tad wacky from time to time (Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported owner Vivek Ranadive wants to employ a cherry-picking strategy). But the decision-makers at least have shown patience with McLemore, who didn’t assimilate too quickly his rookie season.
The former Kansas standout has made strides as a sophomore, thus far avoiding any serious slump, with the most promising evidence for improvement showing up in his shooting percentages.
|BEN McLEMORE —
YEAR 1 VS YEAR 2
|2013-14 (82 games)||26.7||.376||.32||.804||2.9||8.8|
|2014-15 (through 24 games)||32.7||.468||.412||.821||3.1|
Bleacher Report’s Sim Risso detailed McLemore’s development in a feature, and the 21-year-old said much of it has to do with confidence.
"I’ve just continued to believe in my shot and believe in my game. My teammates are doing a good job with that. My coaches have been running early plays for me and getting me going early."
As Risso points out, McLemore’s usage percentage has gone up with Cousins out of the lineup. The athletic second-year guard with the smooth shooting touch (42-of-102 from 3-point range) said Cousins did a good job of finding him for open looks, and Rudy Gay and Darren Collison continue to do the same.
McLemore is averaging 13 points a game in December, and scored 21 against Houston on TNT last week.
The Kings looked like a surprising playoff contender in the treacherous Western Conference before Cousins’ illness. We’ll see if McLemore and his teammates can rally around this shakeup and get back in the mix.
They enter Tuesday’s game tied for 10th place in the West with their opponent, OKC.
On a much lighter note, McLemore had a productive day off Monday. He took a group of Sacramento kids out shopping for holiday presents.
There’s proof: Not everything is negative in Sacramento.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Hunker down, get hydrated and tell your loved ones you will see them next spring.
Hopefully that’s not your mindset, but people should be warned: The at times seemingly never-ending NBA regular season is at hand.
The first handful of games tip off Tuesday, marking the start of the 82-game grind.
Thankfully for us, all we have to do is sit back, watch and enjoy. To make sure you’re fully prepared for the 2014-15 campaign, we’ll be rolling out a season outlook for each former Kansas University player who currently calls The Association home.
Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings
6-foot-5 Shooting guard | Second season
2013-14 numbers: 82 games | 26.7 minutes | 8.8 points | 2.9 rebounds | 37.6 FG% | 32 3-pt% | 80.4 FT%
Coming off a rookie season that had both memorable moments (see: a Western Conference Rookie of the Month Award; dunking over Shaquille O’Neal at All-Star Weekend) and forgettable ones (exhibit A: shooting slumps; exhibit B: temporarily losing his starting spot), Ben McLemore enters Year 2 of his career riding some positive momentum.
• (For whatever it’s worth) The young 2-guard helped Sacramento win the Las Vegas Sumer League tournament.
• He shed the No. 16 Kings jersey he wore during his first year for the more familiar No. 23.
• The Kings picked up their team option on his contract for the 2015-16 season.
• McLemore got to travel to China with his team for bonding and shenanigans.
• He provided at least one example of his improved shot, nailing 3-of-4 from downtown and scoring a preseason-high 22 points versus Brooklyn on Oct. 15.
• For the love of all things holy, the guy had a street named after him.
So, yeah, McLemore is happy about all of those things, and earning a spot as Sacramento’s starting shooting guard — even if that means he’ll have to battle rookie Nik Stauskas for those minutes.
Really, the worst thing he has endured lately was a brutal head-to-head collision with Wayne Ellington in a preseason game a few days ago.
But he has been cleared to lay in Sacramento’s season opener Wednesday against Golden State.
Now the youngster known for his crazy hops and sweet-looking (if not yet totally effective) stroke can make more plays off the dribble, and he has freedom and confidence to shoot at will when he’s open.
“This summer I worked really hard on the different aspects of my game,” McLemore recently told reporters.
If McLemore has indeed made the kind of jump from freshman to sophomore year Sacramento envisions, he should be the team’s best guard — or at least the Kings' top scoring option in the backcourt, where he teams with Darren Collison, Stauskas, Ramon Sessions and Ray McCallum.
With small forward Rudy Gay and big man DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt, the Kings have talented pieces. But… They play in the Western Conference. Last season the Kings (28-54) finished with a better record than just the L.A. Lakers and Utah out West.
Even if the team improves on the court, it might be difficult to claw out of that cellar. The West is just loaded. And a Sactown playoffs appearance sounds like fan fiction.
So what do we expect out of McLemore for the 2014-15 season?
Cameos in the nightly highlight reels with explosive dunks and some hot shooting nights. More importantly, McLemore figures to develop and become more well rounded and effective at the pro level.
While Sacramento should again struggle, this season could go a long way toward determining just how well the rest of McLemore’s career goes.
’Hawks in the NBA 2014-15 season outlooks:
Considering how much of a grind the 82-game regular season has to be for NBA players, you can’t blame the guys for enjoying the preseason goof-off spectacle that is NBA media days.
Players surely take their interview responsibilities seriously enough, but when it comes time to mean-mug or bring some absurdity to photo and video shoots, they happily oblige.
Believe it or not, it’s actually training camp time in The Association, so the past few days have been light-heartedly busy for most of the former Kansas University players lucky enough to call the NBA home.
Some get to enjoy it a little more than others, as you can see in our social media roundup from the festivities.
Cole Aldrich, New York Knicks
Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Drew Gooden and Paul Pierce, Washington Wizards
Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls
Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
Xavier Henry, Los Angeles Lakers
Marcus and Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers
Brandon Rush, Golden State Warriors
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Media day / throw-down night
Minnesota had an open practice for Timberwolves fans to watch following its media day, nicknaming the fun: Dunks After Dark.
Wiggins delivered a few throw-downs to help it live up to its name.
No NBA rookie comes into the league and figures everything out in the span of 82 games. But some assimilate faster than others.
Kansas University lottery picks Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will find that out soon enough. For proof, they could just examine the still young career of another Jayhawk.
Sacramento shooting guard Ben McLemore — coming off a somewhat disappointing debut season (8.8 points, 37.6-percent shooting) — hopes the Las Vegas Summer League will serve as his springboard to Year 2.
A look at McLemore's shot chart from his rookie season reveals there were really only a handful of spots the Kings would want him shooting from — either corner for three-pointers and inside the arc on the left wing.
Just about every other spot on the floor yielded little returns for the first-year guard out of KU.
After two games in Las Vegas, though, McLemore had converted just six of his 18 shots.
In the Kings' third Vegas game, Monday against the D-League Select team, McLemore finally found his stroke. The athletic young guard went 7-for-10 from the floor, 3-for-4 from the foul line, made one of his two three-pointers and finished with 18 points and six rebounds.
"My first two games, I was just too anxious," McLemore said in a video interview posted by News10, in Sacramento. "You know, not letting the game try to come to me and not playing my game."
His next time out? Even better.
McLemore led the Kings with 22 points Thursday in a win against Minnesota, knocking down 7 of 11 shots — including 2 of 4 from three-point land — while converting all six of his free throws, dishing four assists and grabbing six boards.
He knows the kinks need to be addressed now if he wants to help keep Sacramento afloat in the highly competitive Western Conference during the regular season.
The Kings' star forward, DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins, told ESPN's Bill Simmons he has faith in the 21-year-old shooting guard.
On an episode of his podcast, the B.S. Report, Simmons asked Cousins about "what's up" with McLemore after his "typical rookie" season. Cousins quickly spoke up for his teammate.
"He's gonna be an incredible player. He's just gotta keep growing," Cousins said.
Simmons suggested there weren't a lot of shots to go around in Sacramento last season for role players such as McLemore — what with Boogie, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas all averaging 20-plus points on the season — and Cousins agreed. But the Kings let point guard Thomas sign with Phoenix this summer and replaced him by picking up Darren Collison. So McLemore could have more opportunities in his second year — if rookie Nik Stauskas, from Michigan, doesn't beat him out for a spot in the starting lineup.
"That's like my little brother," Cousins said of the incumbent. "One thing about Ben, he works his tail off. With that alone, he's gonna be fine. I believe he'll have a better season this year."
The Sacramento big man predicted the Kings (28-54 in 2013-14) would break through and make the playoffs next season.
"You need your little brother, McLemore, to step up."
Considering his team, the Sacramento Kings, had just selected a shooting guard — the same position at which he started 55 games as a rookie — with the eighth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Kansas University product Ben McLemore played it cool on draft night.
A year removed from his own introduction to the league, when the Kings took him seventh overall, McLemore sent out a welcome tweet to his new teammate (and potential competitor for playing time), Michigan guard Nik Stauskas:
Outwardly congenial, McLemore revealed to the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones that the choice initially surprised him.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” McLemore told Jones. “At the same time, they felt he was the best available draft pick, so I’m fine with it. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and I’m just going to do what I have to do to get better as a player.”
While his rookie season included flashes of production and promise, such as when the league named McLemore the Western Conference rookie of the month in November, the first-year guard struggled in stretches, too. He finished the season with an 8.8 points per game scoring average and less than impressive shooting percentages: 37.6 from the floor and 32 from three-point range (he missed 202 of his 297 attempts).
As McLemore and other members of the Kings' summer league team gathered in Las Vegas for mini-camp on Monday, head coach Michael Malone indicated to the Bee that McLemore's performance didn't inspire the organization to try and draft a replacement in Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 shooting specialist who drained 44.2 percent of his three-pointers this past season at Michigan.
“There’s only a few LeBron James, Kevin Durants, Kobe Bryants out there,” Malone said. “Most rookies come out and struggle. (McLemore) went through the struggling times. The most important thing for me was February was his toughest month, but in March and April he really got himself up off the mat. He showed resilience and finished the season on a high note (career high 31 points in finale).”
Jones reported Sacramento's Monday practice included some experimentation with playing McLemore and Stauskas side by side.
“It was good,” the rookie told the Bee. “For the most part, we were on the floor at the same time. He’s a great player, and hopefully we can feed off each other well.”
After playing with Stauskas for the first time (they played against each other in the 2013 Sweet 16, when Michigan beat Kansas, 87-85, in overtime), McLemore gave a brief scouting report in a video interview posted on the Kings' website.
"We've kind of got a similar game," McLemore said. "We both can shoot the ball, we can put it down on the floor, you know, (do) different things. I think we'll be a good backcourt."
The Kings play their summer league opener Friday night in Las Vegas, against San Antonio.
'Hawks in free agency
Paul Pierce is in Las Vegas, too. But not for the NBA's summer league. Apparently unfazed by his status as an uncommitted free agent, "The Truth" is working on one of his favorite hobbies at the World Series of Poker.
As for what uniform he'll wear in his 17th NBA season? Pierce could re-sign with Brooklyn. But ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo reported the 36-year-old small forward wants $9 to $10 million a year, while the Nets would like to pay him between $6 and $8 million.
According to Mazzeo, Nets general manager Billy King said the Los Angeles Clippers inquired about a sign-and-trade deal for Pierce, who teamed with Clippers coach Doc Rivers to win an NBA title in Boston. However, King didn't like what L.A. offered.
Like Pierce, the six other KU products looking to sign as free agents might have to wait for stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh to make their decisions, because so many teams are holding back on contract offers until those pieces of the personnel puzzle fall into place.
Also still in limbo are Mario Chalmers, Xavier Henry, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich.
Aldrich told the Journal-World on Monday he would like to re-up with New York. Gooden told the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg he is interested in remaining in D.C., with the Wizards. Hinrich has long stated his desire to keep playing for Chicago.