Best-Case, Worst-Case Pro Comparisons for Ben McLemore's NBA Career
Though Ben McLemore was able to quickly establish himself as a coveted NBA prospect, he never solidified his status as "can't miss" on draft day.
Earlier in the year, many had projected McLemore as a potential top-two pick. However, six teams passed, in all likelihood due to the same fears.
In terms of raw talent, there isn't much to question. At 6'5'' with a 42'' max vertical leap, McLemore is a top-flight NBA athlete with the right size, a strong frame and powerful explosiveness.
He also has a picturesque jumper with flawless mechanics. The jumper is usually one of the last things that comes around in order to put a player over the top. But McLemore will enter the league with his already refined.
As a redshirt freshman, McLemore averaged nearly 16 points on 42 percent shooting from downtown, along with an outstanding 49 percent field-goal clip for a shooting guard. Despite putting up the numbers and looking the part, there's been one thing that's bothered scouts and NBA decision-makers.
McLemore has a habit of over-thinking when things aren't going his way early on. And though that seems insignificant at this stage in his career, it's a flaw in one's makeup that's not necessarily easy to fix long-term.
That's why McLemore's worst-case pro comparison is erratic Knicks guard J.R. Smith.
Like Smith, McLemore showed he was capable of going off and taking over a game on the perimeter. Against Iowa State, he went for 33 points on 10-of-12 shooting and 6-of-6 from downtown. He dropped 30 on Kansas State on 9-of-13,and 36 on West Virginia shooting 12-of-15.
Guys like Smith and McLemore see a hula hoop attached to the backboard once they find that zone. What's kept a guy like Smith from earning big free-agent dollars is what happens when he can't find that zone.
Against the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs, Smith shot just 29 percent from the floor on 15 shot attempts a game. With his three-ball not falling (23 percent for the series), Smith just didn't know how to get going. While he's able to separate on the perimeter, you rarely see Smith beat his man and get to the rack.
For his career, Smith averages just 2.6 free-throw attempts per game.
McLemore experienced similar problems at Kansas. He averaged 4.7 three-point attempts to just 3.7 free-throw attempts per game. Creating and penetrating off the dribble just isn't his strong point, which forces him to settle from outside too frequently.
He was benched in the NCAA tournament against North Carolina after shooting just 0-of-9 on a number of questionable shots. Other times, he's looked too passive. He took just six shots in 38 minutes in a tight overtime game against Iowa State, and passed up a number of open looks down the stretch in a double-overtime game at Oklahoma State (three made field goals in 49 minutes).
For every monster game he put up, you knew a dud was bound to follow. In summer league, McLemore had two games in which he went for 27 points on 10-of-21 and 26 points on 8-of-14. He also had two others in which he shot 4-of-23 and 0-of-8.
Managing the cold streaks, maintaining poise and improving his off-the-dribble game will be the keys for McLemore as he makes the transition.
If it turns out his previous inconsistencies are just growing pains of development, we could really be talking about a guy with Ray Allen-like potential.
Let's start with the obvious. You won't find two more natural shooters. These guys are able to catch, elevate high off the ground and quickly release with a flick of the wrist. It's an effortless stroke, while their ability to elevate allows them to easily separate for uncontested looks.
Remember this Allen three in the corner to tie up Game 6 of the NBA Finals? Look how high Allen rises up over his man. Despite being covered, there was zero challenge at all that high in the air.
McLemore gets similar elevation, which, combined with his accuracy, is an excellent recipe for finding open scoring opportunities as a shooter.
They also both move extremely well off the ball. But not only are they able free themselves up—they can also start, stop, gather, rise and fire with balance and rhythm.
Overall, it's been Ray Allen's consistency and efficiency as a scorer that's made him the legend he is today. He's shooting 45 percent from the floor and 40 percent from downtown for his career, incredible numbers for a player whose offensive attack is generated from the perimeter.
Allen was never considered a go-to scorer, yet he still sports a 19-point-per-game career average. He's an elite complementary scorer—someone who can consistently put points on the board without over-dribbling or needing the ball in isolation.
Like Allen did, McLemore will have to learn how to maximize his scoring opportunities away from the ball. Looking back, it rarely ever seemed like he was off, but Allen was always able to capitalize on his mid-range opportunities, whether it was pulling up off two feet or scoring off one on the move.
It's going to take some time for McLemore to find new avenues for points when his long ball is taken away. But the ingredients are all there.
McLemore has a high ceiling with a high basement. If worst comes to worst, the Kings will end up with a potent offensive weapon—just one they might not be able to rely on routinely. Best-case scenario, we could be talking about an NBA All-Star and long-term franchise building block.
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