Sacramento Kings

Kings’ McLemore hopes improved play gets him nod for Rising Stars Challenge

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) shoots a basket against Houston Rockets guard Jason Terry (31) on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) shoots a basket against Houston Rockets guard Jason Terry (31) on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Ben McLemore had several moments to draw on from his rookie campaign to motivate him entering his second season.

One low moment that stung last season was his exclusion from the Rising Stars Challenge game at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.

The game features some of the NBA’s best first and second-year players, and McLemore didn’t make the cut, even after being the NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month for November.

McLemore participated in the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend, but not making the exhibition game for the league’s young players hasn’t been forgotten.

The Kings guard hopes his play this season will make it impossible to leave him out of the game. McLemore has been a much better all-around player in his sophomore season.

“One of my goals that I want to accomplish is getting to the rookie-sophomore game,” McLemore said. “In the offseason, I worked hard on my game to translate that to the upcoming season. Right now, it’s showing a lot.”

McLemore averages 12.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and shooting 48.3 percent from the field, including 40 percent from three-point range. The Kings have also been pleased with his improved defense.

And unlike last season, when McLemore struggled as he played more before a strong finish, he’s getting better as this season progresses. He is averaging 14.3 points in 11 games in December, picking up his scoring while DeMarcus Cousins was out because of viral meningitis.

McLemore’s work habits continue to be praised by coaches. His workouts in the offseason were intense as he looked to improve weaknesses such as ball handling.

Film study is a constant tool, as is his post-practice work with assistant coaches.

“He’s been playing very well,” forward Rudy Gay said. “Like I always say, he works hard and everything he gets, he deserves. He’s going to continue to get better, and it’s fun to watch.”

One of McLemore’s best assets is his running ability, which the Kings hope to use more of as they try to play a more up-tempo offense.

Rather than settling for jump shots, McLemore is trying to show a more diverse offensive game this season. He averages 1.7 points a game on drives to the basket, which inlcudes any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop, excluding fast breaks. McLemore shoots 51.9 percent in those situations.

McLemore scores an average of 1.9 of his points per game on pull-up jumpers, which are shots outside of 10 feet preceded by at least one dribble. He’s shooting 44.2 percent on pull-up shots. McLemore scores five points per game in catch-and-shoot situations, making him a player Cousins and Gay look for when they are double-teamed.

With McLemore’s athleticism, expanding his offensive attack and getting to the free-throw line more (1.6 free throws attempts per game) would continue to highlight his improvement.

What he’s shown thus far is encouraging to teammates.

“I’m loving it,” Cousins said. “And if anybody deserves it, it’s him. I’ve never seen a guy from his first to his second year work the way Ben has. It was just a matter of time before it clicked. I’m extremely happy for him.”

McLemore is pleased with his progress but is not satisfied.

“I just want to keep getting better each and every game,” he said.

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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