The NBA's Rising Stars Challenge is the league's showcase of its most promising rookie and second-year players. Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore figures to be one of the better prospects from the 2013 draft, yet the rookie wasn't named to the Rising Stars Challenge.
Like almost any rookie, McLemore has had his share of ups and downs. He had a great start to the season, being named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in October/November.
At the time McLemore received the honor, he was averaging 9.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game. The rookie was also shooting 37.8 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range.
Yet he's fallen on harder times of late. Since Dec. 1, McLemore is averaging 7.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in 23.8 minutes. His shooting dropped to 36.3 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from downtown. After being the Kings' starting shooting guard for much of November and all of December, he's since been replaced in the starting lineup.
However, even with his struggles, a solid case could be made that McLemore deserves to be in the Rising Stars Challenge. His numbers may not be great or worthy of inclusion in most years, but he should be judged against other rookies in his class.
Speaking of other rookies in the class, most of the ones drafted at the top of the board won't be participating in the game. In fact, nine of the 14 lottery picks weren't selected for the Rising Stars Challenge.
With that being the case, it's obvious this hasn't been a banner year for rookies. In fact, McLemore's 7.7 points per game is fifth among all rookies. He's 15th among rookies in rebounding with an average of 2.8 per game.
Only three rookies are better than him in both categories: Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke. The rest of the rookies have pretty weak cases compared to the Kings rookie.
To run down the list real quickly, the rookies selected—not including the three previously mentioned ones who clearly deserve the honor—ahead of McLemore are Steven Adams, Pero Antic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tim Hardaway Jr., Kelly Olynyk and Mason Plumlee.
Of those, Hardaway and Antetokounmpo have the best cases. Hardaway is ahead of McLemore in scoring, while Antetokounmpo is barely trailing him in points (7.3) but is considerably ahead in rebounds (4.6).
Adams, Antic, Olynyk and Plumlee don't have the same statistical resume as McLemore. Furthermore, its the Rising Stars Challenge, and you'd be hard-pressed to make an argument that the four have higher upside than McLemore.
With all things considered, it's hard to understand why McLemore was left out. As point guard Isaiah Thomas pointed out, only Burke, Oladipo and Carter-Williams clearly deserve the recognition over the Kansas product.
"[McLemore's] earned it," Thomas said. "He’s played better than a lot of rookies in that game except for the ones that play 40 minutes a game and that’s only Oladipo and Carter-Williams."
Yet, as Thomas pointed out, which he knows from personal experience, just because McLemore wasn't named to the team in the initial announcement, there's still a chance he could still be included.
"Hopefully, like they did with me last year, they didn’t name me then the put me in a week or two later," Thomas said. "Hopefully they do that to Ben."
It could be that McLemore doesn't even find out about it until right before the game if he does end up getting added in.
"It was a surprise because I didn’t know," Thomas said, reflecting on the whole experience. "When they named that group of players, I thought it was over with. I was upset. But then they made a phone call and I got to be in the game, so I was happy about that."
It happened that way for Thomas, so hopefully that's the way it goes down for McLemore as well. Because McLemore, like IT the year before him, clearly deserves the recognition.
Granted, he's seen a dip in his performance of late. He also plays on a bad team. Yet unlike the All-Star Game, many of the players in the Rising Stars Challenge are on bad teams. That shouldn't be part of the equation.
The only thing that should, in fact, be considered is a player's performance in comparison to his peers in his draft class. Judging based on that, McLemore should absolutely be a part of the Rising Stars Challenge.
Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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