From the moment the Kings’ Draft Day pursuit of Ben McLemore ended with him slipping to the seventh spot in 2013, the team has tried to create an atmosphere to foster success.
Early in the season, that meant bringing McLemore off the bench so he wouldn’t have to deal with playing against other starters as much and the figurative lumps he would take.
It also meant leaving McLemore on the court through defensive mistakes as a sign that the coaching staff believed in him.
Perhaps the biggest move came in February, when the Kings traded veteran guard Marcus Thornton to the Brooklyn Nets.
That freed the starting shooting guard spot for McLemore, who has responded with his best stretch this month, playing with a self-belief that wasn’t apparent earlier in the season.
McLemore was the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for November, a month in which other top rookies were injured or not playing. McLemore is playing better now to close his rookie season.
“It definitely helped me build my confidence,” McLemore said of the Thornton deal. “It’s an opportunity for me. Why not take it? That’s what I did, and I just want to keep doing that. I’m not finished. I just want to keep working and finish this season out strong and in the offseason work on my weaknesses.”
That confidence is revealed in a more assertive McLemore on offense. He’s averaging 9.8 points on 43.9 percent shooting in 13 games in March, both season highs for a month. McLemore shot 30.1 percent last month, with 6.6 points per game.
Even as McLemore struggled with his offense, he was encouraged to not shy away from good shots.
“I told him, ‘If you feel a shot, you shoot it – that’s what you do, you shoot the ball,’ ” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “And he started doing that.”
Kings coach Michael Malone said McLemore’s improvement is a result of his hard work. McLemore regularly arrives early or stays after practice to work with coaches and will call coaches for workouts on off days.
And McLemore isn’t playing as if a mistake will send him to the bench. He’s the only true shooting guard on the roster. So as long he’s not in foul trouble, McLemore will play a lot.
“He’s just kind of relaxing, stopped putting so much pressure on himself where he feels he has to make every shot, and he’s just going out there and playing,” Malone said. “And he’s taking the shot and shooting it with great confidence.”
Malone suggested McLemore might have hit the “proverbial rookie wall” earlier in the season. McLemore said that was never the case.
“I keep saying to everybody, ‘No, not at all,’ ” McLemore said. “Hitting the rookie wall is different to me because of the type of person I am. I love the game so much, and I’m going to keep working. I don’t want to always be let down and feel upset. I just want to keep working. Or if I mess up on a play, think next play.”
McLemore said he’s also taking his time on the court. Rather than rush, McLemore is learning to pick his spots.
Without worrying about being pulled from a game, McLemore is pacing himself much better. After all, he’s confident if he plays well, he will stay on the court.
“Instead of playing as a Ferrari, just slow it down,” McLemore said. “I’m definitely trying to work on that. Me trying to slow down will help me, help my game all around.”
Transactions – Forward Royce White is not with the Kings after his second 10-day contract expired Wednesday.
Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro was not in Sacramento on Thursday because of a funeral. When he returns, he will discuss with the coaching staff whether to sign White for the remainder of the season.
White, a 2012 first-round pick by Houston, made his NBA regular-season debut last Friday against San Antonio.
He never played for Houston because the Rockets didn’t figure out a way to work with White’s diagnosed general anxiety disorder, which makes him prone to panic attacks and a fear of flying.
The Kings had no issues with White, who had to fly to Sacramento to sign with the team earlier this month. If the Kings sign White for the rest of the season, it would be with plans to continue his development over the offseason, including summer league.
The Kings also will sign forward Willie Reed Friday and assign him to the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League. Reed was a training camp invitee for the 2012-13 season. He eventually landed with Memphis last April and was waived before this season.
Reed was averaging 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds for the Springfield Armor of the D-League this season. He played the last two seasons with Springfield.