José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

Kings rookie Ben McLemore (16) gets a hand up to contest a shot by the Nuggets' Evan Fournier (94) in the fourth period.

Kings' rookie McLemore not afraid to fire away in NBA debut

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9C
Last Modified: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Standing near the top of the key, Ben McLemore saw a lane. He gripped a pass from point guard Greivis Vasquez, took two long strides and attempted a one-handed dunk over 7-foot-1 Timofey Mozgov that bounced off the rim and out of bounds near midcourt.

"(I was thinking), 'Hurry up and dunk it before the trees come down,' " the 6-5 McLemore said of his first NBA shot attempt.

McLemore's first NBA points came shortly thereafter, when the Kings' first-round pick sank a 3-pointer to put Sacramento ahead 21-15 in the first quarter. The missed dunk, meanwhile, captured McLemore's professional debut in the Kings' 90-88 season-opening win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

In 17 minutes, McLemore showed flashes of his athleticism and aggressiveness, with five of his seven shot attempts coming from beyond the 3-point arc and the other two on dunk attempts. He made just one 3-pointer, though, finishing with four points on 1-of-7 shooting.

"I was trying to be aggressive," McLemore said. "My shots weren't falling, but being aggressive is (also) trying to drive to the hole and create for my teammates."

McLemore was coach Michael Malone's first player off the bench on an off night overall for the Kings' shooting guards. McLemore and starter Marcus Thornton combined to go 2 for 13 from the field, including 1 for 8 on 3-point attempts, and scored eight points. Most of McLemore's long-range attempts were clean, open looks.

"You look at his line, it wasn't his best game, obviously," Malone said. "But Ben's a guy that gets better almost every day. He didn't make shots tonight, but I thought he had some great looks that he usually makes and I'm never going to discourage him from taking shots he can make. I want to give him confidence."

McLemore, who averaged 11.4 points per game in the preseason and shot 46.2 percent from the floor, said he appreciates the faith in his shooting touch from Malone so early in his career.

"It means a lot," McLemore said. "I have great point guards in Isaiah (Thomas) and Greivis that distribute to me to get me open. It's a good privilege. I didn't knock down shots tonight, but I also contributed to help the team win a game."

While he said nerves weren't an issue, McLemore's exuberance backfired at times, such as when he drove the lane in the second quarter and was called for a charge after barging into Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried. In the fourth quarter, though, after biting on a fake by Denver's Evan Fournier, McLemore recovered to chase down Fournier at the basket and block his layup attempt.

"Defensively, he's got to continue to work," Malone said. "He's got to be able to keep guys in front of him, contain the basketball and be a good team defender. But I think Ben McLemore's going to be fine."

McLemore, 20, described his debut as "very exciting" and credited a rowdy sellout crowd with energizing the Kings in their win.

Asked if he felt overwhelmed at all walking to the scorer's bench to enter the game in front of that crowd, McLemore smiled and said: "I went to Kansas."

"Played in front of 16,300 every night," McLemore said. "But just coming to the NBA and to our fans – before the game I was telling (assistant coach Chris Jent) that it seemed like I'm at Kansas, I'm back home. I was just out there trying to have fun. And my first game in the NBA, it was great. We got the win."

Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.

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