It's time once again for our annual series "30Q" in which we answer 30 questions over the course of September as we get ready for the upcoming season.
If Kings fans made a list of the keys to a winning season in Sacramento, how far down the list does Ben McLemore first appear?
McLemore is only two summers removed from his 7th overall selection, but as Akis put it last month, he's most important King no one is talking about. It's easy to overlook the 22 year old shooting guard when he's in the shadows of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and now Rajon Rondo. Sacramento may have been banking on a significant return on investment from Ben when they drafted him, but now it's easy to forget about him amidst the rest of the roster developments.
That might be beneficial in a way for McLemore, who turned out to be much more of a project player than expected. Taking a step back in expectations (and perhaps even in minutes, with Darren Collison and Marco Belineli likely to eat up significant shooting guard time) and resetting his role on the squad as a three-and-defense player could help him find the game-to-game consistency he's lacked. The Kings may have drafted him to be the second option to DeMarcus Cousins, but with the roster laid out currently, they don't need him to be that player.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for McLemore; by all accounts, he's a hard worker who has shown he'll put in the time at practice. He's also about to enter his first full season with a George Karl, a future Hall-of-Fame Coach who is known for his offensive game planning. But most importantly, McLemore can enter the season knowing that he's an important—but not vital—piece of the puzzle in Sacramento. Maybe with a less pressured role on the individual and more talent around him, McLemore can produce at a higher efficiency.
The Kings could have the strong season that many predict without McLemore having a full breakout year. None of the new additions brought in this summer are big time scoring threats, but Rondo, Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, and perhaps even Willie Cauley-Stein and Seth Curry are offensive improvements over their counterparts from a season ago. Sacramento's infusion of new talent added to a team that maintained the scoring core of Cousins, Gay, Collison, and McLemore (and arguably Casspi) that ranked 14th in points per game (101.3) last season and 13th in field goal percentage (45.5%) despite a serious lack of scoring depth. Even if McLemore plateaus offensively at a slightly-more-consistent level than last year, the Kings have the offensive pieces in place to show significant improvement.
Furthermore, it may be unfair to expect McLemore to develop into the third scoring option because he's never shown that inclination offensively. He isn't a player who naturally commands the ball and he's playing on a team with two players in Cousins and Gay who need a high volume of touches to be effective. McLemore isn't a finished product, but he has yet to look like a guy who is comfortable enough with abilities or his role to become more than a complimentary offensive piece.
While the Kings may not need McLemore to breakout into the third option in order to challenge for a playoff spot, it would allow Karl much more freedom in his offensive game plans. Aside from Cousins and Gay (and with occasional moments from Collison), none of the Kings players have been high volume scorers. In terms of a full season the team can survive this, because optimistically one would hope Karl can game plan an offense to utilize the role players around the scoring duo—but even with the improved depth chart, Karl will likely have to keep one of Cousins or Gay on the court to keep the offense from becoming stagnant. If Karl can figure out ways to utilize McLemore's shooting ability and give him a few more ways to create his own shot, maybe the Kings could survive more games where one of their top scorers struggles.
I don't predict McLemore makes a massive leap and forms a new ‘Big Three' with Cousins and Gay, but I'm optimistic that he'll have a breakout season that produces more consistency from Ben. Last year, McLemore had 13 games where he scored more than 20 points, and 29 games where he scored less than 10 points. Can Karl develop McLemore and figure out an offensive role for him where those numbers are switched? The Kings offense will survive regardless, but Ben averaging in the 15 points per game range and finding consistency on both sides of the court would be a huge boon in Sacramento's playoff hopes. It may not be the breakout season fans hoped for when he was drafted, but it could be just what the Kings needs.