Kings’ Ben McLemore off to rough start at Las Vegas Summer League
LAS VEGAS — Like an old-time comic-strip character, Sacramento guard Ben McLemore has had a rain cloud hovering over his every move during the summer league.
His 4-for-23 shooting in his Kings debut against the Mavericks on Saturday remains the leading “Did you see …?” performance of the competition, but Monday’s outing in an 80-66 loss to the Warriors appeared to be just as frustrating. At every turn, the metaphorical raindrops appeared: He wasn’t making jumpers or completing drives, and the 20-year-old often came up empty in transition.
In a cruel but fitting twist, his powerful slam on the last play of the night was waved off by the referees, who deemed the play too late. Even that uncontested, meaningless bucket wouldn’t be credited to him. His final line — 14 points (on 4-for-12 shooting, including 1-of-7 from three-point range), zero assists and four turnovers in 31 minutes — was another eyesore.
McLemore’s unemotional perseverance in the face of so many missed jumpers on Saturday drew praise and his composure on Monday, when seemingly everything went wrong, is also worthy of recognition. By and large, he’s played through the rough patches without hanging his head, he’s remained assertive and he’s tried to experiment with various approaches as he tinkers toward productivity.
The Point Forward noted earlier this week that McLemore, the No. 7 pick in last month’s draft, needed to at least test his off-the-dribble game if his jumper deserted him, especially in a pure developmental setting like Las Vegas. Kings coach Michael Malone was preaching that exact message on Monday night.
“He’s a shooter and right now he’s struggling to find his shot. He’s looking for that, to break out of his slump,” Malone said. “He has to realize, if your jump shot is not going, sometimes drive the ball, get to the foul line, get some easy ones. See that ball go through the net — that will help you out with your next shot.”
After attempting 11 three-pointers (he made one) and only four free throws against the Mavericks, McLemore did strike a slightly better balance against the Warriors in shooting seven threes and seven free throws. His highlight of the night came after he collected his own rebound on a missed jumper. Rather than hoist again from the perimeter, he froze one defender with a stutter dribble before going hard to the baseline to finish a picture-perfect, up-and-under reverse over a second, helping defender. It was a smooth, instinctual star’s play, a flash of talent that should help keep in check the post-draft instant-assessment panicking impulse.
McLemore offered another taste of his prodigious ability in the second half when he banked in a hanging double-clutch shot in traffic — his most difficult attempt of the game. In two games, though, McLemore is shooting only 8-for-35 (22.9 percent) from the field and 2-of-18 (11.1 percent) from three-point range. He even shot back-to-back airballs on Monday, drawing some heckles from the Thomas & Mack Center crowd.
The 6-foot-5 McLemore acknowledged that the pro game has a “different type of intensity,” but he wasn’t willing to concede that he’s found this week “tougher” from a competitive standpoint.
“Man, I don’t know,” he said when asked about his shooting slump. “I think it’s coming along. I’ve just got to keep shooting. As you can see, I’m still shooting. I’m not taking away my shot. I still have to do some other things, like driving to the basket and going to the foul line.”
Scouts have generally agreed that his textbook shooting form is the foundation of his offensive game, something he displayed last season in hitting 49.5 percent overall and 42 percent from deep as a redshirt freshman at Kansas. While McLemore can play above the rim, getting from point A to point B against a set defense (especially when opponents force him to go left) hasn’t been considered a specialty. He has the quickness to be a threat on the drive, but he kept bumping into problems on Monday. On one possession, he turned the corner perfectly, only to have Kent Bazemore swipe away the ball as he readied to launch. On another, he stumbled and bumbled in transition, his legs seemingly moving about 10 percent too fast for his body as he looked to take advantage of an open-court situation. On another, he shuffled his feet as he prepared to attack, watching another potential scoring opportunity wiped out with a traveling call.
“One of the things they said about him coming out of Kansas is that right now he’s a straight-line driver but he doesn’t have a great ability to break his man down off the dribble,” Malone said. “Along with his shot selection, we’re going to work on his handle, so that he gets to a point where he’s comfortable and effective at breaking his man down and getting into the paint and making plays.”
McLemore’s shooting form is intoxicating enough to believe that he might not have been a lottery pick had his jumper looked like, say, Kevin Martin’s. Outside of 7-foot size, a pure stroke is probably the easiest thing to fall in love with for talent evaluators, and a pretty three is just about the hardest thing to forget.
In that vein, both of McLemore’s threes so far stick in the memory, even amid all of the misses. Against the Mavericks, he came down the court, set up at the left angle and let fly. Bang. Against the Warriors, on the opposite side, he nailed one from the right angle. Cool as can be, as if he had been making them all week.
“Eventually my shot is going to start falling,” McLemore said. “And when my shot falls, everybody knows it’s falling.”
Update: The shots did start falling for McLemore in an 81-70 loss to the Raptors on Tuesday. He shook off a slow start to finish with a game-high 26 points (on 8-for-14 shooting and 3-for-6 from deep), zero assists and five turnovers. McLemore hit for 22 points in the second half. The Kings fell to 0-3 on the week with the double-digit defeat.
“I was more aggressive in the second half,” he said afterward. “Just playing my game, letting it come to me. Tonight it did. … I was shooting the ball very well, getting my feet right, getting comfortable, getting a lot of lift on my shot.”