Departure of Marcus Thornton clears path for Ben McLemore to improve

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ben McLemore has plenty of room for improvement. The departure of Marcus Thornton clears a path for him to balance out what has been a rocky start to his rookie season.

With Marcus Thornton headed to the Brooklyn Nets, Kings rookie Ben McLemore will get his shot at establishing himself as the team's shooting guard of the future, and he has a lot of work to do.

The Kansas standout certainly has had an up and down season. Currently averaging 7.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1 assist per game, McLemore has been rotated in and out of the starting lineup, named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, participated in the dunk contest at the NBA All-Star Game and, unfortunately, has disappeared in the Kings' offense more frequently than not this season.

The disappearing act was something that showed up in his pre-NBA scouting reports, one of the many things that were flagged about McLemore leading up to the draft. Others included notes about him playing with a passive nature, not being able to knock down shots consistently, getting lost off the ball, lacking consistency on the defensive end and questions about whether he is a three-point shooter or someone who scores on the fast break, or both.

It's only his first year, so this is not a knock on him or a question of whether the Kings should have taken him with the seventh pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but it is unfortunate that all of the things listed above are still very prevalent with 28 games left this season.

McLemore's potential remains sky high though. You see it in his athleticism and speed. He has had some good stretches, scoring 20 points twice the season and flirting with a double-double in a couple of games as well with nine rebounds and double-digit scoring.

He is too good of an athlete not to get to the foul line at least three, four, or five times a game -Michael Malone

Other than the fact that he is only 21 years old, there are a lot of things at play here. The Kings are structuring their future around the contract decisions with Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay that loom and are trying to bring in players that fit at the same time. The team also is still trying to find its identity and the offense isn't exactly a well-oiled machine that can compliment McLemore's style. But clearly, the coaching staff has a lot of work still ahead to develop and harness the raw talent of McLemore - talent they so covet.

So what should they do to get their rookie on a consistent track? Well, the first thing is minutes and head coach Michael Malone has made it clear that McLemore is going to see an increase there, especially with no other true shooting guards on the roster. But I also think Malone was right on point Wednesday when assessing what his two guard should focus on.

"I want him to be a lot more consistent and a lot more aggressive offensively; not settling for jump shots. I think he has to get to the foul line. He is too good of an athlete not to get to the foul line at least three, four, or five times a game," Malone told Sactown Royalty.

With McLemore struggling to get the ball in his hands, and create when he does get it, and the fact that he gets lost as a cutter, one of the key things he could focus on at this point is putting his head down, crashing into the lane and getting to the foul line (he is shooting 78 percent from the free throw stripe). He could force his way into the action (something he doesn't seem quite comfortable with yet) this way and maybe allow himself to get into a shooting rhythm quicker. His ball-handling skills would need to improve a little more to be able to accomplish this though. Remember back when Kevin Martin figured out he could impact a game by getting to the foul line? It changed the way he played and his game took a huge leap forward.

The quiet McLemore, who never seems to impose or encroach on any of his teammates, knows he has a lot of work to do in the final stretch of the season.

"My all around game. You know, defensive, offensive. Working on everything; ball-handling, shooting, getting stronger, getting more quick. Things like that just to build my game even more to the next level and be ready for next year," McLemore told Sactown Royalty.

McLemore said his now former teammate Marcus Thornton served as a good mentor to him this season.

"He helped me a lot, you know, he's been in the league for a while, he knows his stuff and tried to get a lot of advice from him, as much advice as I can just to help myself," McLemore said.

The Kings' front office is hoping more playing time (he is currently averaging 23 minutes per game) helps McLemore refine his game. Both Malone and general manager Pete D'Alessandro reiterated leading up to the trade deadline that McLemore is not available, so they clearly have faith in him. One of the things they must like about him is his ability to "wow" a crowd, which he did during the dunk contest (in an interesting fashion).

McLemore said John Wall's winning dunk, in which he jumped over the Wizards mascot, grabbed the ball out of G-Man's hands (no, not our G-Man) and did a reverse dunk, was "great." But he admitted he wished the format allowed him a few more dunks.

"Definitely, I think everybody wanted to see more out of me," McLemore said.

For the remainder of the season, the Kings' front office and Malone definitely want to see more out of him.

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