Offseason work for Ben McLemore paying dividends

Ben McLemore stares down an opponent at NBA Summer League. (Photo: James Ham)

Those who did their homework in school (without cheating) usually outperformed their peers. After a rookie season which coaches would probably grade a “D,” Ben McLemore went back to basics and spent the summer break studying his craft.

“Ben McLemore continues to improve, and I say Ben because going from last year to this year I think he’s dedicated himself this summer to come back an improved player in a lot of different areas,” Michael Malone explained two days before the regular season. “Shooting, ball handing, defense, understanding of the game. So I think he’s been probably the most improved player in terms of player development.”

There were times when McLemore seemed like a potential NBA dropout last season. In 27 of his 82 appearances, the shooting guard took at least four field goals and shot less than 30 percent from the floor. On defense, McLemore often fell for the first move on the perimeter and was left in the dust. His lowest point was likely an April 4 loss to the Golden State Warriors, when he shot 0-for-7, lost three turnovers and allowed Klay Thompson to score a team-leading 21 points.

Dissatisfied with his rookie campaign, McLemore went to work on his body. The 21-year-old arrived in training camp noticeably chiseled, and prepared for the punishment of driving through NBA lanes.

“I think it helps a lot getting that first year in,” McLemore told Cowbell Kingdom earlier this season.  “I know what to expect, I know the system now and what the coaches expect out there on the floor on the defensive and offensive side.  That year really helps.”

Over the summer McLemore also committed himself to the film room. Hours and hours of game tape may sound like torture to some, but the swingman knew he had no choice. Eventually tendencies of the league’s best scorers and stoppers absorbed in his brain and became second-nature.

He rededicated himself to the practical things. Routines like a barrage of jumpers every day which continued to perfect McLemore’s textbook release and solidify his confidence. Dribbling exercises which would help to calm his nerves when disoriented in traffic. Pickup games and the like.

By completing his comprehensive summer assignment, McLemore returned to the Kings a wiser, stronger man. The two-guard began the regular season misfiring the ball, but his defense has been tenacious, staying home on intermediate-level crossovers and bodying up opponents trying to post. McLemore’s shining moment on defense was on November 5 when he held Aaron Afflalo of the Denver Nuggets to 1-of-4 field goals for two points in 22 minutes.

“One of the things I was focused on coming in to this season was defense,” McLemore said.  “Especially on this team, I want to be that guy that’s a defensive stopper.  Whatever it takes to help the team out, that’s what I’m going to do.”

McLemore is settling in on offense now too. Beginning the season with an 0-for-5 shooting performance and connecting 4-of-19 field goals (21.1 percent) in the first four games, the sophomore has made 20-of-37 attempts (54.1 percent) in the four games since. During the hot streak McLemore has produced 14.5 points and only one turnover per game.

In total, McLemore is averaging 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 turnovers a contest on 44.6 percent shooting from the floor, 42.4 percent shooting from behind the arc and 100 percent shooting from the charity stripe. Last year, the lottery pick managed 8.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 turnovers a night on 37.6/32.0/80.4 splits while shooting more field goals.

The sample size is small. But McLemore is playing well against some of the league’s best.  He looks like a whole new individual. The Kings starter can credit his early success to sound summer training.

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