Ben McLemore isn’t the loudest member of the Kings, which might be why much can be learned from his body language.
For much of the season, McLemore played like someone who knew his first mistake would land him on the bench. He didn’t exude confidence.
Confidence, however, can be found on the court, and McLemore has done that lately. He’s relaxed, which is easier knowing that he will stay in the rotation even if he makes a mistake.
Production helps, too. McLemore entered Sunday’s game against New Orleans at Golden 1 Center averaging 13.8 points per game in February (five games).
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That coincides with Garrett Temple suffering a hamstring injury and creating a void at shooting guard. McLemore, who was averaging 6.3 points this season, said knowing he’s going to have a role has helped him relax.
“Absolutely right,” McLemore said. “Knowing and understanding when I’m coming out, how many minutes I’m playing, knowing is just a relief and confidence for me being out there, and I can go out there and play free and not worry about making mistakes.”
This is the McLemore the Kings hoped to see after he had a solid offseason that forced the team to rethink trading him.
But McLemore wasn’t consistent enough to stay in the rotation when Temple went down Jan. 31 in Houston. Now it’s about keeping McLemore playing like this the rest of the season.
“The thing with Ben is to keep his confidence going, to be steady from night to night so you don’t go from 18 (points) to four, from 22 to six,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “But he’s learning if your shot goes in or doesn’t go in can’t dictate your confidence for the rest of your game. Try to do other things.”
McLemore is coming off perhaps his best game of the season in Friday’s win over Atlanta. He scored a season-high 22 points, made a career-high six 3-pointers and matched his carer high with nine rebounds.
“I’m doing a great job of staying ready, mentally ready, going out there and being prepared, and it helps on both ends of the floor, especially defensively,” McLemore said. “When I miss a few, just know the next few are going to go in and DC (Darren Collison) and my teammates do a great job of finding me and helping me continue to stay in that role and have that confidence.”
McLemore is happy to play well, but his teammates might be happier for his success.
The constant coaching changes and instability that plagued the Kings was no way for a young player to develop.
There was also a lot of pressure on McLemore. Sacramento needed a shooting guard, and when they selected him seventh overall in the 2013 draft, it was presumed the Kings would not have to worry about that position for the future.
That hasn’t been the case. McLemore’s scoring has decreased the last two seasons.
“Sometimes guys are better off being drafted into a position where they become a role player and don’t have to play as much right away and they can fit in, play their game and learn how the league works,” Joerger said.
“I’ve been with Ben the longest, and Ben is like a little brother to me,” said Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. “It’s bigger than basketball, and just to see him remain positive, remain professional through the bull–, things not going his way, he’s still staying consistent, he’s still grinding every day, he’s still working every day, and he’s remaining positive and a good teammate.
“When it’s good people like that, I think things always come back around for them, and I think that good karma is coming around for him now.”