Ailene Voisin: McLemore is learning from old pros, too
10/09/2013 12:00 AM
11/09/2013 8:13 AM
Ben McLemore is taking the typical, tentative, rookie steps. He is studying his NBA playbook, participating in individual tutorials, working out, watching film, occasionally even uncovering tricks of the trade.
Take his introduction to Chris Mullin, for instance.
In a three-point contest last week at training camp, McLemore, who was joined by participants Jimmer Fredette, DeMarcus Cousins and two UC Santa Barbara students, watched as one of the game's greatest shooters took the kids to school.
At age 50 and not a pound over his playing weight, with a baseball cap tugged backward over his familiar cropped hair, Mullin destroyed the competition. He moved from station to station, effortlessly sank one quick-wristed, left-handed jumper after another and converted 14 of his 15 attempts.
That sound in the gym? After the eruption from the students crowded around the court?
That would be McLemore's jaw, hitting the floor.
"I definitely knew of him (Mullin) as a great player," McLemore said late Monday night, "but I didn't know he was such a great shooter. I was pretty young when he played."
McLemore suddenly paused, shook his head, laughed.
"I mean, did you see those shots?" he continued. "Those shots are crazy. The way he shoots the ball I am definitely going to keep listening to him. He has been telling me to keep shooting, to stay confident. I was a little nervous early tonight, but I think I'm getting better."
As with most rookies, McLemore's learning curve is all sharp angles and dramatic swings. His performances at the Las Vegas summer league were error-prone and erratic. He had similar issues in Santa Barbara. Instead of slowing down and relying on repetition, the Kings' first-round draft pick (No. 7 overall) began tinkering with his mechanics and neglecting other parts of his game.
And the Kings really appreciate those other parts of his game. They project the athletic 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard as an above-average NBA rebounder and defender – elements that should quicken the tempo and generate more opportunities in transition.
While one game is a ridiculously small sample size, Monday's exhibition loss to the Warriors revealed some of the Kings' familiar offensive flaws, among them poor ball movement, too much overdribbling and one-on-one play, and an inconsistent perimeter game that invites congestion in the lane.
Defensively, however, the Kings contested shooters, rotated on pick-and-rolls and, despite regression in the fourth quarter, appear to have made some progress.
McLemore was particularly disruptive. In his 24 minutes, he stole two passes, blocked two shots, grabbed three rebounds, challenged jump shooters. He also converted 4 of 8 field-goal attempts, 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, and seemed especially comfortable from the corners.
"He wasn't shooting the ball the way he would like, or we would like (at camp)," coach Michael Malone said afterward. "But to see him settle down, make shots and space that floor for us, that was good to see. Shooting and spacing the floor allows DeMarcus and Isaiah (Thomas) more room to operate."
McLemore admits to some bouts with the rookie jitters. He spent much of August and September getting situated in Sacramento, changing his diet, working on his ballhandling, trying to regain the rhythm on his jumper.
That last part was befuddling, because McLemore could always shoot. In his one season at Kansas, he converted 50 percent of his field-goal attempts, 42 percent from three-point range and 87 percent from the foul line.
"When I let the game come to me and don't force things, play off my defense and use my athleticism, that's when I am most successful," he said. "It's like Mullie has been telling me: 'Don't force things. Keep the same consistent stroke. Just keep shooting.' "
And about failing to appreciate the essence of the Full Mullin, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and new adviser to principal owner Vivek Ranadive, McLemore shouldn't feel too badly. One of his new bosses – none other than Kings minority owner Shaquille O'Neal – committed a much more famous gaffe: After one of his first All-Star Game appearances, the young center approached East squad coach Lenny Wilkens.
"Coach, you ever play in this league?" Shaq asked.
The self-effacing Wilkens, who is in the Hall of Fame as a coach and a player, simply nodded and smiled. Shaq, he told me later, was a quick study. The Kings hope the same can be said for McLemore.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208. Follow her on Twitter@ailene_voisin.
About This BlogAilene Voisin, who has been with The Sacramento Bee since 1997, writes columns on a variety of sports, from the NBA, NFL and baseball to local high schools. Voisin previously worked for the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has been a beat writer covering the Dodgers, Angels and Clippers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-321-1208. Twitter: @ailene_voisin.
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