Ben McLemore's 2013 NBA draft stock has been rising without pause ever since he first put on crimson and blue in Lawrence. It's only fitting, seeing as the Kansas Jayhawks freshman often displays his effortless ability to soar higher than most guards ever dream of jumping.
While the 6'5" shooting guard wasn't even that highly touted during his high school days, viewed as a late-developing, undersized power forward rather then a future lottery pick, the same won't be said about his NBA recruitment days. With his checkered past and uncertainty about his skill as a 2-guard reigning supreme, McLemore came in at No. 39 in the 2011 RSCI, just between Jakarr Sampson and Sir'Dominic Pointer.
That's by no means a shabby ranking, but it's also not indicative of his current standing among the rest of the premier pro prospects.
Now he's viewed as a surefire lottery pick after just a tiny portion of his first season for the Jayhawks. In fact, NBA general managers would be foolish not to at least consider McLemore at No. 1, assuming that they were lucky enough to have the lottery odds work in their favor and grant them the top overall selection.
No true shooting guard has gone at No. 1 since Austin Carr was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1971, eventually becoming "Mr. Cavalier," but McLemore could soon have something to say about that. He's by no means a runaway favorite to be the first player of the board, but his name must be considered at this point.
Even though McLemore stands just under 6'5", making him a little bit undersized for his position, the freshman has plenty of physical tools that make him worthy of that top overall selection. His 6'7" wingspan won't hold him back, but it isn't overly helpful either.
This is more about what he can do with his body.
As you can tell from plays like the ones above and to the right, McLemore has some of the best leaping ability in all of college basketball. Although he pulls up early a little too often, he's a devastating finisher when he crashes to the rim either in transition or on a cut, primarily due to his aggressiveness after committing to the play and knack for skying above the rest of the players surrounding him.
McLemore doesn't just elevate, though. He also jumps with remarkable ease, seeming to reach his maximum height—which hasn't officially been measured yet—even when he doesn't have his feet set properly underneath him.
Don't just take my word for it. Listen to Elijah Johnson, one of McLemore's primary counterparts in the KU backcourt:
EJ, on throwing the high alley-oop to McLemore: "I don't doubt Ben. He's Superman."— KUsports.com (@KUsports) January 7, 2013
This fantastic athleticism doesn't just show up on the offensive side of the court. While he's occasionally plagued by mental lapses, McLemore's quick feet, strong body and outstanding overall physical traits give him potential to one day become an elite defender.
During the first 13 games of his collegiate career, the shooting guard posted a defensive rating of 88.3 while earning 0.9 defensive win shares, according to Sports-Reference.com.
McLemore doesn't gamble excessively, which makes his 1.2 steals per game all the more impressive. He shows off good, quick hands on a nightly basis, particularly when (jay)hawking the ball in man-to-man situations. Once he learns to remain focused on the less glamorous end of the court and stick to his man when the ball is elsewhere on the court, he'll already be a top-flight defender.
Then again, when he does gamble, it works out well.
The extra year of development McLemore received when he was declared academically ineligible for the 2011-12 season has paid off as the freshman has truly developed into a physical monster. With the NBA trending more and more toward a small-ball style that necessitates elite athleticism from the 2-guard spot, this is vital for McLemore's draft stock.
Coming Up Big During Big Games
Kansas hasn't played the Big 12 portion of its schedule, but McLemore has already taken advantage of a few marquee games on the non-conference slate.
The shooting guard's second career game for Kansas came against Michigan State in the Georgia Dome. Although the Jayhawks failed to secure a victory as they struggled to slow Keith Appling, McLemore left an indelible impression.
You know how you start watching a game and can't take your eyes off a certain player? I was in attendance that night and stopped focusing on everyone but McLemore for rather long stretches of time.
Although he hadn't yet earned the trust from Bill Self that he now enjoys, he still put together an efficient and well-rounded performance, finishing the game with 14 points, three rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block on 5-of-7 shooting from the field.
That now pales in comparison to the line he produced in Kansas' biggest win of the 2012-13 season—thus far, at least. In a 74-66 win over then-No. 6 Ohio State, McLemore recorded a game-high 22 points and also added six rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.
Not bad for a freshman playing in his first true road game, as you can tell from the opening lines of this ESPN game recap:
It's not supposed to be this easy for a kid playing his first collegiate road game.
Kansas' Ben McLemore, a redshirt freshman surrounded in the starting lineup by seniors, didn't let the raucous crowd, the travel or sleeping in a strange bed bother him.
McLemore scored 22 points and No. 9 Kansas proved it was more than just a bully at home by beating seventh-ranked Ohio State 74-66 on Saturday.
"This was great. It was my first time playing in an away game," McLemore said with a slight smile. "You go up and down the court a little bit, and you get into the game. I kept my intensity, I just played my game."
We aren't just seeing a talented and precocious young player feast on the easy portion of his team's schedule. His performances in the Jayhawks' biggest games show that he's around to stay.
Ray Allen Comparisons
During the weeks leading up to the 2012 NBA draft, it was Bradley Beal, the freshman phenom from Florida, who was drawing comparisons to Ray Allen. To be perfectly honest, though, those comparisons weren't exactly accurate and were, in some cases, lazy.
This year, it's McLemore who actually deserves to be viewed in the same vein as the former Connecticut standout who would go on to become the Association's all-time leading three-point marksman.
Here's what Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix had to say about the 2-guard in the Jan. 4 edition of his Big Board:
The sweet shooting 2-guard is averaging 15.8 points on 48.9 percent shooting, including 41.2 percent from three-point range. "I've heard a few people compare him to Ray Allen," said an Eastern Conference executive. "I don't think he is as good a shooter but he is better athletically. He has a big body, he can come off screens, he can finish in traffic. He will be a starter in the NBA in a year or two."
McLemore is more impressive athletically than the current member of the Miami Heat ever was, even though a prime Allen could soar with the best of them. He doesn't use off-ball screens to the same extent that the player he's being compared to did, but that shooting motion is just so pure, and he moves lightly around the court just as Allen once did.
As you can see from DraftExpress' full scouting video on McLemore, he still has work to do in isolation sets and pick-and-roll plays, two types of offensive action that are of paramount importance to finding success in the NBA.
Where the redshirt freshman doesn't need help is his shooting stroke. The mechanics are advanced for such a young prospect, and the early results have been sublime.
Even before McLemore had stepped onto the court at Allen Fieldhouse to participate in a collegiate game, Bill Self had already said both that the guard's talent was "off the charts" and that he was as talented as any player he'd coached at Kansas (per KUSports.com).
Based on the early goings in Lawrence, that's no hyperbole. It's no exaggeration either to think that McLemore could end up following in Anthony Davis' footsteps by becoming the latest one-and-done to end up at No. 1.