A heel injury sidelined Frank Mason III for 21 games, but the rookie point guard out of Kansas finally returned to the Sacramento lineup Thursday night.
Playing, for now, on a minutes restriction, Mason provided glimpses of what the Kings can expect out of him the remainder of the season. And, unlike when he last played in late December, Mason now can feel like a real part of his team’s plans.
With no realistic shot of making the playoffs, coach Dave Joerger and the organization made a shift in January, deciding to give more minutes to Sacramento’s youngest players in the final months of the season. While Mason was injured, the Kings traded away veteran point guard George Hill, too, leaving the roster with just two true point guards: Mason and lottery pick De’Aaron Fox.
Eighth-year guard Garrett Temple started in place of an ailing Fox, who missed Thursday’s game, against Oklahoma City. But the Kings clearly were trying to avoid putting too much on Mason too soon.
The second-round pick from KU had a modest return, giving the Kings 6 points (1-for-3 shooting, 4 of 4 free throws) and 2 assists with no turnovers in close to 16 minutes.
Mason watched the first 8:59 of the first quarter from the bench, before checking in to be greeted with cheers from the home crowd, but also a 22-point deficit.
It didn’t take long for Mason to look comfortable, surveying the floor on the move and finding Buddy Hield wide open for a 3-pointer within a minute of joining the action.
The rookie point guard flashed his speed in the opening minute of the second quarter, sprinting down an inattentive Alex Abrines to smack away the Thunder guard’s dribble on a fast break for a steal that prevented a layup.
Soon after, Mason added another assist by, predictably, being way too fast off the dribble for OKC veteran Raymond Felton to handle him. Mason drove to the paint, forced the defense to help and knew all along he had Hield standing on the opposite wing, waiting to knock down another open 3-pointer.
Pushing in transition on the next possession, Mason again attacked Felton, getting past him, but had to alter his layup into a difficult reverse when Patrick Patterson caught up to help. The lay-in wouldn’t fall but Mason’s aggressive approach benefited the Kings as Skal Labissiere was able to tip it in.
Mason checked out with 8:22 left in the first half and his team down 16 points. The margin had been erased and Sacramento led by 5 by the time the Kings’ reserve ball handler next checked in, with 10:27 remaining in the fourth.
Trusted for seven minutes worth of running the team in a tight game, even though he was coming off an injury, Mason helped Sacramento maintain its lead. Though his first few defensive sequences in the fourth went awry, with him fouling Felton, setting up an and-1, and later getting leveled by a Steven Adams screen (a teammate should’ve altered him to the New Zealand wall he was about to run into), allowing Felton to score again to tie the game at 92, Mason responded by blowing past Felton for a layup.
Later, Mason matched up one-on-one with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook on the perimeter and played so sound defensively that even the most aggressive offensive player in the NBA couldn’t find an angle to get to the paint and had to pass the ball away, resulting in a turnover.
The 5-foot-11 point guard capped his return by attacking the paint off the bounce, and drawing a foul on Adams en route to two made free throws, ahead of checking out with his team up three with 3:20 to go, in what would become a 110-107 loss for the Kings.
In the 24 games to come on Sacramento’s schedule, Mason is expected to play an even larger role, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
While Fox, the No. 5 overall pick out of Kentucky, is considered more of a franchise player and will get more minutes than Mason once he returns to health (pink eye), Sacramento appears committed to playing both rookies in order to give them the experience they need.
Averaging 7.5 points, 2.9 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 18.4 minutes through 30 appearances this season, look for all of those numbers to go up in the weeks ahead, as Mason tries to cement himself as one of the rebuilding franchise’s building blocks.
Arco Arena, the former home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, had a notoriously noisy reputation, thanks to the cowbell-wielding fanatics who occupied its seats.
Brand-new Golden 1 Center, the Kings’ new permanent residence in California’s capital, hasn’t had the chance to become so renowned yet.
But you know some holdovers from the glory days of Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac are just dying to bust out those old noisemakers again.
And much like fictional music producer Bruce Dickinson famously demanded more cowbell during a Blue Oyster Cult recording session fabricated by Saturday Night Live years ago, Kings fans these days have to be clamoring to see more of a certain backup guard.
“Guess what! I’ve got a fever! And the only prescription … is more Frank Mason!”
A recent addition to Sacramento’s regular rotation, the rookie from Kansas continued to endear himself to his team’s fans — and likely teammates and coaches, as well — this week with further examples of his NBA-level merits.
The 23-year-old from Petersburg, Va, followed up an off night in Chicago (5 points, 1-for-6 shooting) this past Friday with consecutive strong showings: 13 points, 3 assists, 4-for-6 shooting at Milwaukee; and 15 points, 2 assists, 4-for-6 shooting at Cleveland.
A former KU All-American, Mason flashed incredible passing and finishing in Sacramento’s loss to Cleveland, while also draining jumpers over both Dwyane Wade and the NBA’s real king, LeBron James.
Sacramento (7-17), near the bottom of the Western Conference standings entering Friday’s game at New Orleans, isn’t winning. That’s hardly any fault of Mason, who is averaging 9.9 points and 3.9 assists in 20.5 minutes over his past 10 games — a stretch during which the 5-foot-11 reserve has shot 49.3% from the floor and nailed 60% of his 3-pointers. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and are in the early stages of their latest rebuild, still less than a year removed from trading away franchise player DeMarcus Cousins.
A second-round pick, Mason actually has proven to be a bright spot of late, helping the Kings’ bench lineups, as detailed by The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones.
“If not the same five (players), it’s been like the same three or four,” Mason told The Bee. “I think we’ve been playing pretty well together, first or second unit. We just have to keep doing that, cut out the transition points and take a lot more pride on the defensive end.”
According to the most recent data available from NBA.com, the five-man lineup in which Mason has most appeared for Sacramento puts him with Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kosta Koufos. That particular combination has a net rating of +7.9, while most of the team’s other frequently-used lineups have massive negative net ratings.
Jones recently argued in The Bee that the Kings need more Mason:
“Frank Mason III continues to show the moment is not too big for him and earns playing time in the fourth quarter of close games,” Jones wrote.
“De’Aaron Fox was drafted to be the face of the franchise, but Mason could prove to be a needed piece in this rebuilding project. His production and intangibles should not be underrated.”
The days of DNP’s and watching NBA games exclusively from the bench may be over for former Kansas All-American Frank Mason III.
A rookie second-round pick for Sacramento, Mason has experienced an escalation in opportunity of late, playing 20-plus minutes in six of the Kings’ seven previous games.
Though the 23-year-old point guard has only appeared in 14 of 21 contests entering Friday’s game at Chicago, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger has made Mason a regular member of his rotation off the bench the past couple weeks — even going as far at times as to play Mason over the team’s No. 5 overall draft pick, De’Aaron Fox, late in games.
Joerger referred to Mason as a “stud muffin” earlier this week, and that was before the backup guard from KU scored a career-high 14 points and dished 4 assists in the Kings’ surprising road win over Golden State (without Kevin Druant and Steph Curry).
"He's tough and he picks guys up. He gets in the lane and he makes plays,” Joerger said of Mason. “He can shoot it a little bit. ... I'm a big fan of his, and I look forward to coaching him for a long time, hopefully."
As pointed out by Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com, in the Kings’ six most recent games, Mason has a net rating of +23.6, compared to a -25.6 net rating for Fox.
Since Mason became a regular contributor, over the past seven games the 5-foot-11 reserve has averaged 8.9 points, 4.3 assists and 1.7 turnovers in 21 minutes a game, while shooting 49% from the field, 6-for-8 on 3-pointers and 10-for-11 at the free-throw line.
It’s a far different role from the first few weeks of the season, when Mason didn’t even play a single second in seven of Sacramento’s first 12 games.
Mason recently told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee the early portion of his rookie year wasn’t too different from his freshman season at Kansas.
“I played 15 minutes a game, and I thought I should be starting as a freshman but Coach (Bill Self) thought different,” Mason remembered. “So I just played the role of coming off the bench and I think I was pretty good. Sophomore year I adjusted and started.”
Sooner or later, Fox will become the point guard Sacramento envisioned when the organization took the 6-3 19-year-old from Kentucky as a lottery pick this past June. In the meantime, Mason has a chance to not only gain experience but prove to the Kings he belongs on the court just as much as Fox will.
Sacramento (6-15) is in the very early stages of a youth movement overhaul centered around Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield. It’s easy to project Mason as a key cog within that group moving forward.
KU fans witnessed how Mason’s methodical dedication made him supremely more effective over the years. That’s not to say he’ll be an NBA all-star in a few seasons, but Mason seems too quick, too good a shooter and too determined to be passed over — just as he’s shown in the first month and a half of his professional career.
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:
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."