With all the talk about the Kings needing to develop their young players, it’s easy to forget it wasn’t too long ago Ben McLemore was one of those young players who needed games late in the season to improve his confidence as he headed into the offseason.
As recently as prior to this season, the front office raved about McLemore’s hard work and improvement over the summer as he prepared for his fourth NBA season.
A lot has changed since the start of the season. McLemore is still a King after dealing with trade speculation prior to the NBA trade deadline again, but he’s no longer the prized youngster seen as a key to the future of the franchise.
Still, when the Kings showed the most fight in Wednesday night’s 112-82 loss to the Utah Jazz at Golden 1 Center, it was McLemore who sparked the run that got the Kings back into the game, scoring 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second quarter.
The Kings, however, could not maintain the momentum into the third quarter and the Jazz eventually pulled away with a big fourth quarter.
“I was just going out there and just playing,” McLemore said. “I got a layup and after that everything started feeling comfortable and my shot started feeling comfortable and I was being aggressive, attacking the rim, getting to the free-throw line.”
McLemore is set to become a free agent this summer. If the Kings extend a qualifying offer to McLemore, he would be a restricted free agent.
The qualifying offer was a no-brainer for management before the season. But since the team traded for guard Buddy Hield to go with Malachi Richardson, the Kings have two rookies at McLemore’s position.
That does not include Bogdan Bodjanovic, the Serbian guard to whom the Kings own the draft rights and would like to add next season.
So McLemore’s final games of this season are an audition for 29 other teams and he’s seeing more playing time with the Kings resting players. Arron Afflalo also was not with the team for personal reasons.
“I’ve got seven more games left,” McLemore said. “Then I can think about the summer.”
The season seemed to be turning for McLemore, as it was for the team, leading into the All-Star break before DeMarcus Cousins was traded.
The trade shifted the rotation, cutting McLemore’s minutes to none many nights as Hield was given priority and Afflalo and Garrett Temple were still available, along with Tyreke Evans, who came from New Orleans with Hield as part of the Cousins trade.
“(McLemore) was playing very well going into the All-Star break,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “It’s nice to see him back in there and getting rhythm and feeling good about himself. He is able at his size to get off people that are holding him. With his athleticism, he can be an effective cutter and he can be an effective pin down player. He’s doing very well.”
It’s been a busy time for McLemore off the court with the birth of his daughter this month, too, while also trying to find his spot in the rotation to end the season.
“Just keeping my poise, staying focused,” McLemore said. “Life has changed for me, having a baby girl and trying to get as much sleep as I can and still get back to work and staying focused and trying to finish off this season strong.”
Gordon Hayward led the Jazz (46-29) with 20 points. Rudy Gobert added 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Darren Collison (12 points) and Ty Lawson (11 points) were the only other Kings (29-46) to score in double figures.