With 8:23 to play in the third quarter Monday night, Kings guard Ben McLemore made a very meaningful play in a game that didn’t count.
An assist in a preseason game isn’t significant, but it’s how McLemore pulled it off that excites Kings coaches.
McLemore grabbed a missed shot by San Antonio forward Boris Diaw and pushed the ball upcourt, finishing the break with a bounce pass to fellow guard Darren Collison for a layup.
One of McLemore’s biggest problems as a rookie last season was handling the ball, so that kind of play probably would not have gone as smoothly back then.
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“There are some things I’m doing now I wouldn’t have done last year,” said McLemore, who will open the season as the starting shooting guard.
Dribbling has been a focus for McLemore since the Kings drafted him seventh overall in 2013. It was one of the biggest knocks on a player who was considered supremely athletic but unable to exploit opponents with that athleticism because of his ballhandling.
That play Monday wasn’t the first time McLemore has shown improvement during the preseason.
“That speaks to his offseason workout,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “He really spent a lot of time on his handle, his shot, being a more consistent player. His handle last year wasn’t great, but for him to get out, make that play and give Darren a bounce-pass layup shows his commitment to the game and that he is steadily improving as a basketball player.”
After the Kings used this year’s first-round pick on another shooting guard, Nik Stauskas, there was some question if McLemore would keep his starting job. Drafting a player at the same position in consecutive years often is a sign the previous pick was a mistake, but the Kings insisted that was never the case.
“A lot,” McLemore said about how much he worked on dribbling. “I spent a lot of time with (assistant coach) Dee (Brown) over the summer, and also coming back here to Sacramento working out with him and (assistant coach) C.J. (Chris Jent) and just putting in the work throughout the whole course of the summer and summer league.”
That time in summer league and his work with coaches in August and September have made McLemore more confident.
“It’s been a great experience throughout this summer,” McLemore said. “I worked very, very hard, and I’m really excited.”
The Kings need McLemore to turn that excitement into improvement. He averaged 8.8 points as a rookie, but he shot just 37.6 percent from the field and 32 percent from three-point range.
“He’s not a finished product,” Malone said. “He still has a ways to go, but I just love the fact that he’s a great kid, he wants to work, and he wants to get better.”
McLemore has made changes off the court, too, including leaving agent Rodney Blackstock. McLemore didn’t announce he’d signed with Blackstock until shortly before last year’s draft and the indecision over an agent might have hurt McLemore, once considered a top-three pick.
“It was something that I had to figure out on my own, and I made the decision for myself,” McLemore said. “I just tried to get everybody’s opinion. At the end of the day, it was my decision. I’m just trying to move forward and focus on this upcoming season.”
McLemore said he’s in no rush to hire a new agent; he’s under contract through the 2015-16 season.