Kings shooting guard Ben McLemore used his Twitter account to congratulate Nik Stauskas and welcome him to the team after he was selected eighth in last month’s NBA draft.
But that doesn’t mean McLemore, drafted seventh overall last year, wasn’t surprised the Kings selected a shooting guard.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” McLemore said after a quick laugh. “At the same time, they felt he was the best available draft pick, so I’m fine with it. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and I’m just going to do what I have to do to get better as a player.”
McLemore has plenty to prove after struggling for most of his rookie season that started with a trying stint during summer league. He believes he will play much better this summer when the Kings open Friday against the San Antonio Spurs.
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Though management has praised McLemore’s offseason efforts to improve, it drafted Stauskas looking for some of the things it wanted from McLemore, most notably accurate shooting.
McLemore shot 37.6 percent as a rookie and made just 32.0 percent of his three-point attempts. In the summer league last year, he shot 33.3 percent and had 18 turnovers in five games.
McLemore said he’s “excited” to show off his improved ballhandling and shooting.
“(I’ve worked on) my all-around game, not just being a spot-up shooter, because I know I can do more off the dribble and stuff like that,” McLemore said. “I’ve just been working on little things like that and trying to develop my game.”
The Kings are encouraged by how McLemore finished his rookie season. He shot 41.4 percent over his last 24 games but still just 32.3 percent from three-point range. But considering McLemore’s shooting percentage dropped every month after he was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for November, shooting above 40 percent for that period was progress.
“I loved how Ben finished up in March and April,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “I felt he finished up on a real positive note. He ended the season against Phoenix with a career high (31 points), and we spent a lot of time with Ben this whole summer, a lot of hands-on, one-on-one approach. He’s definitely improved his shot, his ballhandling, his strength, his finishing ability.”
Malone said McLemore’s struggles were expected from a rookie. The Kings wanted to bring him along slowly to minimize the sting of the inevitable struggles on offense and his defensive problems. Malone believes the approach will benefit McLemore in his second season.
“There’s only a few LeBron James, Kevin Durants, Kobe Bryants out there,” Malone said. “Most rookies come out and struggle. He went through the struggling times. The most important thing for me was February was his toughest month, but in March and April he really got himself up off the mat. He showed resilience and finished the season on a high note.”
McLemore will need that resilience to hold off Stauskas, a good shooter who also can create off the dribble, a weakness for McLemore as a rookie.
The Kings also hope new point guard Darren Collison will help set up McLemore, allowing him to use his athleticism to get to the rim, score and draw fouls.
Following the draft, the Kings suggested McLemore and Stauskas could play together, with the rookie at point guard and handling the ball. The Kings began looking at that combination Monday during their first minicamp practice.
“It was good,” Stauskas said. “For the most part, we were on the floor at the same time. He’s a great player, and hopefully we can feed off each other well.”
McLemore agrees and welcomes the addition of Stauskas.
“I think it’s working out pretty good,” McLemore said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to play with each other right now.”