Ben McLemore has arrived. After a difficult first season that showed flashes of promise but was mostly filled with frustration, Ben has arrived as a different player this year. Confidence, ball handling, defensive awareness, shooting, passing, they all seem dramatically improved. It's very early in the season, but it's been long enough now to know that the change is legitimate, rather than another flash in the pan. But how, specifically, has Ben improved? The numbers show us two key areas. Let's take a look.
This has been the most obvious and dramatic change. Last season McLemore was better known for getting lost on D and leaving shooters like Kyle Korver and Steve Novak open for three. This season, McLemore is not just improved, he's a huge net positive on the defensive end. Watching the games, his head is on a swivel. He knows his assignments, knows his role in the system, and is playing lockdown defense. The numbers support the change we're seeing.
This is the 2013-14 season:
This is the 2014-15 season so far:
The most important stat is that line to the far right. McLemore went from allowing opponents to shoot 4.6% better than their average last season, to holding them 5% below their averages. That's a nearly 10% swing on the defensive end. Now, the numbers still aren't pretty inside 10 feet, but that just makes the overall numbers even more impressive. What it tells us is that McLemore has become a lockdown defender on the perimeter.
This is the exact defense we wanted to see from Ben. This is the defense we thought he should be capable of. But even the most optimistic of us didn't expect this kind of change to occur in a single offseason.
McLemore was drafted so high primarily based on his shooting. Even when he was missing, he had one of the purest strokes in the league. And yet he shot poorly throughout most of his rookie season. His three point shooting was the biggest concern. The Kings desperately needed floor spacing, but Ben couldn't hit threes at a good enough rate to keep defenses honest. Last season Ben shot 32.2% from deep. 32.8% on catch-and-shoot, 30.4% on pull ups.
This year Ben's shooting from deep has been lethal, even after a slow start in the first few games. He's shooting 40% from deep, which is phenomenal. 37.5% on catch-and-shoots. And an absolutely absurd 71.4% on pull ups.
And it isn't mattering if he's open or guarded. If a defender is nowhere near Ben, 6 feet or farther away, Ben shoots 41.5%. That number drops to 38.7% if the defender is within 4-6 feet. But even when a defender is within four feet, which is tight defense when you consider that distance is based on body mass rather than the insane wingspans of the NBA, Ben still shoots at 37.5%.
One final note on Ben's shooting improvement. You may have heard that McLemore is flirting with the 50/40/90 club. He's currently at 47.3/40/87. For reference, the 50/40/90 club has been reached 12 times in NBA history (since the invention of the three point line, and counting players who played in at least 50 games). The names on that list are guys like Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Steve Kerr, Kyle Korver. Basically a grouping of some of the most elite shooters in the history of the game. Plus one crazy season by Jose Calderon that I'll never understand. But if McLemore hits that threshold in just his second season, he'll have truly announced himself as an elite NBA shooter.
We're over a fifth of the way through the season, and Ben McLemore has shown dramatic improvement from his rookie season. He's no longer the guy missing open dunks, clanking open threes, and losing his man on defense. Instead, he's the player who is shooting lights out, throwing down monstrous breakaway dunks on defenders, locking down the perimeter, and filling a major void in the Kings' lineup.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats and basketball-reference.com