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The Ben McLemore Project Showing Legit Signs of Promise

Jose Luis Villegas/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Ben McLemore came into the NBA with the sort of hoopla surrounding him which would mean he had little chance of meeting expectations. Thanks to a good — but not great — freshman season with the Kansas Jayhawks, coupled with the idea of what he might become, the Sacramento Kings drafted him with the seventh overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

To be clear, though, there were clear warning signs that McLemore might not be worthy of that high of a selection when he was at Kansas. Not only did he have a very real and obvious issue with his jump shot, but he also struggled mightily during road games. In fact, despite scoring nearly 16 points per game, McLemore only scored more than 20 once during a true (not a neutral site) road game.

Yet, McLemore is tremendously athletic, did manage to shoot nearly 50 percent from the floor (albeit, most of it near the rim) and even managed to shoot over 40 percent from three, during that one season. There was reason for optimism. Especially when you consider that he wasn’t anywhere near a finished product.

Potential is often joked about to get coaches fired, but it can also result in teams becoming annual playoff darlings. The risk and reward scenario was clearly worth it to the Kings.

Regardless, that was way back then. However a person felt about his draft prospects at the time doesn’t matter all that much now. Whatever McLemore has been, is now, and will be, is something that the Kings are going to have to live with.

But what exactly is Ben McLemore? It is a riddle inside an enigma, wrapped inside a Christmas present, and no one is sure if the box is full of coal or a new PS4.

Ben McLemore is inside that box

Ben McLemore is inside that box

So far, well, McLemore hasn’t exactly set the world on fire during his short career. His rookie season was a disaster, although not all his fault. Either way, shooting under 38 percent from the floor and 32 percent from distance wasn’t a great sign of things to come. Nor was the fact that he turned the ball over (1.2 per) more times than he set up his teammates (1.o assists per).

That was only his rookie season, however. Often times, while there are obvious exceptions, not all rookies are going to come in the league and immediately become some player of consequence.

His second year was much better. Everything was up. His field goal percentage skyrocketed to 44 percent, his three-pointers went in at a fair 36 percent rate, and he even showed flashes of being the type of guy who can get buckets in bunches, as he had 13 games with 20 or more points. Something he only managed to do three times during his rookie season.

Now in his third year, McLemore has improved even more after a slow start to the year. It’s likely getting lost due to the fact that he wasn’t living up to expectations previously — and, uh, he plays for Sacramento — but despite playing the least minutes per game of his career (21 per game), McLemore has been crazy efficient this season.

Ben "Pop Tart" McLemore is what I call'em

Ben “Pop Tart” McLemore is what I call ’em

So far this season, the guard is shooting career highs of 45 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three. His effective field goal percentage is also sitting at a respectable 52 percent. Add in a true shooting percentage of 58, and one might say that McLemore is starting to figure out this game a little bit.

The biggest key to McLemore’s relative success this season has been his shot selection. In his first two years in the NBA, the athletic guard was close to taking more three pointers (45 percent of all attempts) than all types of tracked shots — 0-3 feet, 3-10, 10-16, 16-feet-plus — COMBINED. That is a strange, if not irresponsible, shot selection for a guy whose best attribute is his ability to get to the bucket.

While he is still taking a dangerous amount of his attempts from three this season (37 percent), McLemore is finally letting his athleticism help Sacramento, as 29 percent of his attempts are at the rim. Naturally, as athletic guys tend to do, he is scoring on over 73 percent of those attempts. All those numbers career bests.

Here’s the thing; I’m not saying Ben McLemore is necessarily doing great this season, but it’s another year of showing real improvement and clearly understanding his strengths on the offensive end of the floor. It might not mean he’s going to turn into some sort of superhero or franchise type player. Although, we should feel safe in assuming he isn’t going to be some sort of complete bust.

Pictured: Not Ben McLemore

Pictured: Not Ben McLemore

No matter with the stats. Forget the iffy first season completely. Hell, ignore the fact that his minutes have decreased in his third year and first full season under George Karl. That’s all in the past — well, except that minutes per game thing. The most important thing here is that McLemore is being productive on a team who’s starting to figure it out.

While the Kings and McLemore might not be consistent enough to keep this going all season, it’s all starting to feel like the first true glimmers of optimism have been floating around the organization since that time before they fired a coach Boogie Cousins actually liked.

We’re sorry we doubted you, Rajon Rondo, Boogie, George Karl (we still doubt you, by the way), Ben McLemore and the entire Sacramento Kings. We thought you were an abomination to the basketball gawds. You’re not. You’re at least competent. And I mean that as a good thing!

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