To start each season, there has been something different about Ben McLemore’s jersey.
He wore No. 16 as a rookie when his preferred No. 23 was worn by veteran Marcus Thornton. McLemore switched to 23 last season with Thornton gone and the team looking to retire No. 16, which was worn by Peja Stojakovic.
This season’s change is more subtle. He’s added the suffix, III, to his name on the back of his jersey.
“Everybody keeps asking me about it,” McLemore said. “I just wanted to change it up, and everybody knows that’s my name. I just wanted to change it up. I changed up my hair, and it’s a new year for me, so I just want to go out there with a different look.
“Also it’s my third year, and I’m the third (Ben McLemore in the family tree) and this year I want to have an impact for this team and help the best ways I can.”
Ahead of the 2013 NBA draft, McLemore was touted as a player who had the athleticism to make him a good defender and the shooting touch of a potential star.
The Kings and their fans are still waiting for that star to shine.
As a rookie, McLemore averaged 8.8 points per game, shooting 37.6 percent (32.0 percent on three-point attempts). Last season, McLemore’s numbers climbed to 12.1 points and 43.7 percent (35.8 percent from three-point range). In both seasons, his play was inconsistent.
But with an addition to his jersey and a low haircut, styled with a shaved part on the left side, that replaces the unkempt Afro with which he entered the league, McLemore hopes to show off a new, consistent all-around game.
And defense will be a big focus.
“I want to continue to work on it,” McLemore said. “Not just on my offensive game, but my defensive game, too. Watching film, figuring out different guys’ tendencies, how they play on the floor, learn from that and take it out on the floor and work on my defense from there.”
The Kings struggled to defending shooting guards last season. Golden State’s Klay Thompson scored an NBA-record 37 points in a quarter on his way to a career-high 52 points. James Harden also had a 50-point game against the Kings. Plenty of lesser-known players also feasted on the Kings’ inability to defend the perimeter.
If McLemore can improve as a defender, it will be hard for coach George Karl to keep him off the court.
“I thought in September and summer he was really into that mentality,” Karl said after Wednesday’s practice at UC San Diego. “I can’t say he’s been outstanding in that area, but he’s focusing on that area and trying to figure out how he can add that to his personality and develop that on the court, because we need a guy who can have a stopper mentality on the court. I think that would help everybody. It would help the team concepts, it would help our big guys be pretty efficient defenders, but we probably need a perimeter defender as much as anything.”
McLemore is like many young players, whose confidence wanes when their shots aren’t falling. Along with his defense, McLemore said he continued to work on his ballhandling to improve his ability to be a playmaker.
He’d like to contribute to games in ways other than a point tally.
“I think every NBA player worries too much about scoring,” Karl said. “It’s playing basketball, a style that helps you win basketball games. Ben can help you win games by making shots, he can help you win a game with making basketball plays.”
In his first two seasons, McLemore’s development was disrupted by coaching changes, and his confidence took a hit.
“I think it’s all confidence and believing in myself,” McLemore said. “Going out there competing and not worrying about making mistakes. And just going out there and playing the game of basketball.”