It's basketball code not to celebrate or panic too quickly after Summer League performances, but it was difficult not to cringe at Ben McLemore's double dribbling, lack of poise and stretches of poor shooting (33 percent from the field in five games) in July.
Although he showed flashes of potential in a few quarters, the Kings rookie had a bumpy start to his NBA career in the Las Vegas Summer League, equipped with air balls and all. But that's all behind him now and the shooting guard out of Kansas seems to be moving in the right direction.
Granted we are just three games into the preseason and it's also basketball code not to overreact based on that, McLemore has already come a long way. He's averaging 10.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 25 minutes per game. His turnovers also have decreased in each preseason game so far. It's not the numbers that tell the tale, however. It's the fact that he's now playing with and against NBA-level talent and looks a lot more comfortable in his own skin than he did this summer.
The 6'5'' McLemore is moving great without the ball, taking shots he should be taking, knows when to use his athleticism and appears to be a legitimate threat to Marcus Thornton for the starting shooting guard spot earlier than most expected.
His progress has impressed head coach Michael Malone, who credits his assistant coaches Dee Brown and Chris Jent for the change in the rookie.
"I think it's huge, and Ben deserves a ton of credit," Malone told Sactown Royalty. "In Summer League, you saw a guy who was an athlete who didn't understand what a good shot was and had trouble making plays off the bounce and didn't really understand NBA defense and our terminology. You look at him now and he's playing with a lot more confidence on offense, he's taking good shots within the offense, and his team defense I'm most happy about because he's really understanding and buying in to the team defense concept."
He's still got work to do. As Malone pointed out on Monday after a win over the Clippers, many of the shooting guards in the NBA will be able to take advantage of McLemore on the defensive side of the ball.
"His one-on-one defense is going to get better. I mean, he's playing against two guards in the NBA; there's some bad guys out there," Malone said.
McLemore was introduced to Jamal Crawford on Monday. Crawford scored 25 points and the Clippers bench (mainly self-proclaimed "Sactown's Finest," Matt Barnes) was encouraging him to go at McLemore.
"Put that boy in a blender." -Matt Barnes to Jamal Crawford who is being guarded by Ben McLemore.— James Ham (@James_Ham) October 15, 2013
Defense is something he will have to keep getting better at. But it's not like he is competing for minutes with the likes of Doug Christie's defensive talents. His competition at the two spot (Thornton and Jimmer Fredette) have issues in their own right on the defensive side of the ball, and they aren't exactly separating themselves much from the rookie right now.
McLemore gets a lot of comparisons to Ray Allen, which makes sense given his sublime shooting mechanics and movement off the ball. But he's not a guy, at this point in his career, who can be the focal point of an offense. He needs to fit in with the flow of the game and feed off of his teammates - something he couldn't do in Summer League when he was on a squad full of players with zero NBA experience. As a lottery pick, he had the spotlight on him with little around him, and he wasn't ready for it.
"I feel more comfortable just knowing that these are my point guards, these are the guys that are going to feed me, get me open and create for me," McLemore told Sactown Royalty.
The rookie said he is busy focusing on learning the Kings system and playing defense.
"That's pretty much all coach wants me to do, just get better each and every day and that's what I've been doing," said McLemore, who has become close friends with fellow rookie Ray McCallum and often seeks mentoring from Thornton, Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins.
Like Summer League, we can't get carried away after three preseason games, but McLemore does seem to be improving every day and many people around the league have declared him a top candidate for Rookie of the Year. Again, it's not the numbers that make folks say this, in my opinion. It's his explosiveness mixed with his ability to compliment a pass-first offense that defines his potential. Throw in the fact that there is an entirely new front office and coaching staff and the franchise is finally stable after all of the relocation turmoil, and there is a recipe for a bright future ahead for the 7th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft.
I'll leave you with these slow motion dunks courtesy of the crew at Kings.com.