It was not a demotion.
Michael Malone wanted to make that clear when he reassigned Ben McLemore back to the bench on Tuesday.
After a 26-game run as the Kings’ starting shooting guard, the 20-year-old rookie was recently relegated back to the second unit. McLemore’s head coach says the move to the bench had nothing to do with his level of confidence in the first-year guard. Rather, Malone suggests that it was a move to put McLemore in a better position to succeed.
“I think he’s pretty confident,” Malone said earlier this week of McLemore. “But when you put maybe five to six games together where you’re not getting many looks, your shot’s not going in and then you’re playing against some of the two guards out here in the west and in the NBA as a whole, it’s a handful every night.
“Just allow him to play against some second line guys defensively and then just not put so much pressure on himself.”
McLemore’s ego isn’t hurt, nor is his pride shaken by the move to the second unit. In fact, he says he doesn’t feel any less confident in his new role as a reserve.
“I’ve been having the confidence to go out there and play my game,” McLemore said after practice Thursday. “And the coaches believe in me and my teammates do too, to go out there and just play my game.”
He does admit to pressing after first drawing the assignment as the Kings’ starting shooting guard in mid-November. In his first few games as a starter, McLemore says he tried not to “mess up” and tried not to “move too fast” in the role. But those issues, he feels, corrected themselves as he gained more NBA experience.
However as his coach noted, McLemore has struggled as of late, which led to themove. With the exception of a strong defensive performance against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 31, McLemore didn’t have much to write home about in his last eight starts. After scoring 20 points in a loss to the Miami Heat last month, McLemore averaged just 7.1 points in 24.6 minutes per game while shooting 40.7 percent from the field.
Though he’s had his issues, the approach isn’t changing for McLemore now that he’s coming off the bench. The Kings rookie guard will continue to keep playing with the same mindset he had as a starter and do whatever it is that his coaches ask.
“Same mentality,” McLemore said. “Just going out there, giving my all, doing whatever coach wants me to do offensively and defensively and just going out there and do some things to help my teammates and help the team win the game.”
Derrick Williams can relate to his rookie teammate. Three years into his NBA career, Williams, like McLemore, is also trying to find his way in the league. But with the experience that he has, Williams is embracing the opportunity to give McLemore guidance whenever he needs it.
“I really take it upon myself to whenever he has questions to try to answer them because we’re pretty much in the same position,” Williams said. “Drafted really high and trying to find our way.”
Also like McLemore, Williams was once starting for this team. He does think that adding another former starter to the second unit has the potential to help the bench’s production.
“It could be good for us,” Williams said of the new bench dynamic. “It could be good for him to see different looks out there on the court.”
So far, the results have been scant. In two games back off the bench, McLemore has scored a total of two points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field. But the adjustment process is one that McLemore, his teammates and his head coach are committed to seeing through.