In a matter of seconds, rookie guard Ben McLemore showed off many of the attributes the Kings need and that he adds.
In the second quarter of Saturday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, forward Dorrel Wright appeared on his way to the basket for an easy layup.
But McLemore tracked down Wright and swatted the ball off the backboard and was called for goaltending.
The Blazers picked up two points, but McLemore showed off the athleticism, hustle and desire to compete that the Kings have been lacking for long stretches this season. It’s partly why McLemore could stake his claim to a starting role tonight when the Kings host the Brooklyn Nets.
“Nobody else on our team can make that kind of play,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “He’s a special athlete; he has a great work ethic. He’s doing all the little things.”
McLemore has come off the bench the first six games of his career as Malone seeks to build his confidence and keep pressure off him.
But since the start of training camp, McLemore has not lacked confidence.
Malone has promised changes to his starting lineup and would not say Tuesday that McLemore is one of those changes. But Malone has continually praised McLemore since the preseason.
“Ben is such a big part of our team now and probably more importantly for our future,” Malone said. “He’s going to be a big part of this team moving forward. And the way he played coming off the bench last game, shooting the ball with confidence, making plays, he’s our best athlete. He’s definitely one of the few bright spots in a very dismal 1-5 season.”
McLemore is playing just 19.7 minutes per game but averaging 8.8 points, fourth best on the team. He is shooting 43.5 percent from the field, 41.7 percent (10 for 24) from 3-point range. Only Travis Outlaw (4 for 7, 57.1 percent) is shooting better from beyond the arc for the Kings, who are shooting 30.2 percent on 3-pointers.
“Sometimes you have to let a guy – kind of throw him out there a little bit – and let him learn from those mistakes and get those experiences under their belt,” Malone said. “The bottom line is experience is the best teacher. and for him being out there against All-Star-type players, that’s the only way he’s going to learn and get better.”
McLemore said the compliments from Malone are encouraging.
“As a rookie, it means a lot,” he said. “Coming in, you want to learn so much, and me, I’m a coachable player and I want to learn. I just want to come in each and every day, get better, work on my game, work on things I need to improve on. It’s a process for me right now.”
And if needed to start, McLemore said his game won’t change. He’ll focus on defense, attack the basket when possible, make open shots and try to set up his teammates.
“I don’t feel pressure at all,” McLemore said. “I just know my teammates will always have my back.”