Ben McLemore was waiting for the Kings when they got home from their last three-game road trip, having returned to Sacramento early for the birth of his daughter.
Teagan Joyce McLemore, the Kings guard’s first child, was born Sunday. Two days later McLemore, back on the practice court with the team, said he’s getting his sleep "here and there."
"At this point it’s just like, man, I’m really a father," McLemore said. "It’s a dream come true."
This was already going to be a significant year for McLemore. The fourth-year shooting guard is in the last year of his rookie contract and will be a restricted free agent after the season, allowed to explore the interest of other teams while the Kings decide whether to extend him a new contract.
The Kings are in a transition period and last month traded star DeMarcus Cousins in part to acquire rookie Buddy Hield, who plays the same position as McLemore. Though still 24 years old, McLemore has perhaps not risen to the potential the Kings saw when they drafted him seventh overall out of Kansas in 2013, averaging a career-high 12.1 points in his second season and occupying an inconsistent role under current Dave Joerger.
Over the last month and a half, though, McLemore has played some of his best minutes of the season. In his last 15 games, including 11 starts, he’s averaging 11.8 points while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 50.7 percent from three-point range.
McLemore missed the last two games of the Kings’ recent road trip after returning home. But even before that, he had not played in four of seven games as a result of coaching decisions. After practice Wednesday, McLemore said he has given little thought to what it might all mean for his future in Sacramento.
"I’m really not even focused on that," McLemore said. "I let my agent Rich Paul and my circle kind of handle all that, and keep me up to date with things like that. Now I’ve got a daughter here in my world, so I’m really focused on that and finishing the season strong."
His long-range shot has already improved. As of Jan. 31, McLemore was shooting 27.7 percent from beyond the arc, having made 18 of 65 attempts. Since then he has made 34 of 67 attempts, raising his season rate to 39.4 percent, which would be a career high.
"It always reverts to the mean," Joerger said. "He’s not a 28-percent three-point shooter. He’s a 38-, 39-(percent), and hopefully in the next couple years he’ll be a 40."
McLemore, who shot 42 percent from three in his one season at Kansas, said comfort has played a role in his recent stretch.
"I’m going out there and just playing free," he said. "I’m not worried about anything, just going out, playing my game and not thinking too much, letting the game come to me. As you guys can see, good things happen."
Et cetera – Shooting guard Malachi Richardson, who hasn’t played since partially tearing his right hamstring Feb. 15 against Golden State, might be able to play this week, Joerger said. But with just 12 games left in the season, the Kings will be cautious with the rookie.
"We’ll see if he can go (Wednesday)," Joerger said. "If not, maybe this weekend. But we haven’t really put a time on it. We want him to feel good when he walks away from practice. But it’s been a little bit sore."