Ben McLemore's season ended on a strong note with him scoring a career-high 31 points to go along with five assists and five rebounds Wednesday night, but his season as a whole can only be described one way: "up and down." And that is exactly how head coach Michael Malone put it after the Kings' season finale.
Malone followed that up by saying McLemore hit a "rookie wall" in February that took a toll on him both "physically and mentally," and that the shooting guard did a good job of playing his way out of it.
"He could have stayed down and kind of hung his head and felt sorry for himself, but that's not who Ben McLemore is. He's a fighter, he is very resilient and I thought the way he played these last two months especially to end the season, was phenomenal," Malone said.
McLemore was glad to have been able to climb out of his February slump.
"I responded each and every day, just getting better and that's all I wanted to do, just do whatever I got to do to reach my goals," McLemore said.
McLemore did play better recently. He scored in double digits in 12 of the last 15 games of the season. Over that stretch, he averaged 13.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He certainly showed flashes of what he could eventually become throughout the season. His season averages were 8.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1 assist per game - OK for a rookie, but nothing that jumps off the page for a lottery pick who had extended minutes for a good portion of the year.
The Kansas standout was simply too streaky and still needs to master the art of impacting a game when his shot isn't falling. As Akis pointed out last month, McLemore's shooting was substandard overall. He did bump his field goal percentage up to 39 percent in the final 15 games though - up from his season average of 37 percent. For the season, he shot 32 percent from three, however. But hey, that was still better than Michael Carter Williams, who appears to be the most likely player to win Rookie of the Year. He shot a dismal 26 percent from three...he also averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds though…whatever.
McLemore is usually one the most athletic players on the floor in any given game and he still needs to figure out how to take advantage of that when his shot is off. On Wednesday, he had 15 free throw attempts and made 10 of them. That was more than double the attempts he had taken in any other game this season. In fact, he never had more than six free throw attempts in any other game this season. He did get a little better at attacking the rim toward the end of year and that is something he can certainly build on moving forward.
With that comes the need for him to command the ball more and work on his ball-handling because he still gets lost in the offense (and on defense). His defense could certainly use some fine tuning because with his speed and athleticism there is potential (there is that word again) for him to be the stopper on the wing the Kings need.
Fellow rookie Ray McCallum in some ways played just as well, if not better than McLemore this season. He is a point guard so he naturally has the ball in his hands more, and his sample size wasn't as large as McLemore's, so it's not completely fair to compare McCallum to McLemore (so many Mc's!), but McCallum, who was selected in the second round, proved he belongs in the NBA just as much as McLemore did.
Over the last 12 games of the season, which included that stretch of 10 games with 40-plus minutes, McCallum averaged 13.5 points, 6.7 assists, 3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and only 1.9 turnovers. When his shot wasn't falling, he still figured out a way to rack up assists, play solid defense and even crash the boards. This isn't too much of a surprise considering he is a coach's son, but it was still nice to see.
McCallum, like McLemore, knows he still has specific things he needs to work on.
"Just keep mastering the pick and roll, that's a strong part for a point guard and my midrange game and just different finishes around the rim, just being a consistent shooter on the outside and knocking down my shot consistently," said the second-round pick, who looks to be one of the steals of the 2013 NBA Draft.
Overall, both rookies seemed to make the most of this season. They both have well-regarded work ethics so that should help them moving forward. What the team looks like next season roster-wise could play a big role in how many minutes each of them get, however, so we'll have to wait and see on that. McLemore got his big opportunity this season because Marcus Thornton's contract was sent to the Brooklyn Nets. But did he do enough as the starter to convince ownership and the front office that he is the starting shooting guard for next season? We all know they are high on his potential, so I fully expect to see plenty of him moving forward, but how much? That's anyone's guess.
With one season under his belt and momentum on his side, there is no reason to believe the guy who dunked over Shaquille O'Neal can't take a big step forward in 2014-15.