Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas impress their mentors

Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

The Sacramento Kings are young, but very talented at the shooting guard.  A pair of 21-year-old lottery picks man the position and the hopes are high.

A season ago, the Kings played a lot of four-on-five basketball.  Between Marcus Thornton, who struggled before eventually being traded to the Brooklyn Nets, and McLemore playing out his rookie season, the production at the shooting guard position was not NBA caliber on most nights.

But this is a new season.  The Kings are deeper.  McLemore is a year older and has 82 games of NBA action under his belt, while rookie Nik Stauskas came into the league with NBA range.

Instead of adding a veteran to compete at the position, general manager Pete D’Alessandro decided to add an experienced point guard to play alongside each of his young shooters.

It appears that McLemore will start in the backcourt with Darren Collison when the season opens on Oct. 29.  And when coach Michael Malone turns to his bench, Stauskas and guard Ramon Sessions will play together.

“Ben, he’s improving,” Collison told Cowbell Kingdom.  “You can see that he’s making more shots than last year.  He’s a little bit more confident.  He’s taking his time.  He’s picking his spots.”

McLemore looked like he was playing on roller skates in his first season.  He has incredible athleticism, but in all honesty, another year with coach Bill Self at Kansas would have been optimal.

But that is no longer the reality of the NBA.  Very few players learn the game at the college level.  Instead, they gamble that they can convert potential to production before flaming out in the pro game.  It is a calculated risk, but one that a lot of 19 and 20-year-old college players are making.

Collison hasn’t had a lot of time with McLemore, but he likes what he sees so far from his young backcourt mate.

“As young players, you tend to think about the game too much,” Collison said.  “You tend to get on yourself a little bit too much. With Ben, if he’s missing his shot, I don’t see that with him.  He continues to take the next shot.”

McLemore isn’t the only young guy willing to throw up a shot.  Stauskas was one of the top shooters in this summer’s draft and so far in the preseason, he is shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from long range.

“He’s one of the premier shooters in the league, he’s going to be one of them not too long from now,” Sessions said of Stauskas. “He’s one of those guys that can definitely space the floor.  He can knock it down.”

Collison sees potential in Stauskas as well.  He even compared the former Michigan star to one of his former Clipper teammates.

“He reminds me a little bit of JJ Redick,” Collison added.  “He can space the floor really well.  He knows how to move off pen-downs (and) come off screens really well.  And he can create a little bit better.”

Sessions is known as a slashing guard.  When he enters the game, he needs floor spacers to open up his running lanes and Stauskas is a perfect complimentary player on the offensive end.  Chemistry is already building between the two.

“I like playing with Nik, I’m out there with him a lot,” Sessions said.  “I already kind of know where he needs the ball, where he wants the ball and he’s starting to get the feel for the NBA game.”

Neither player is ready to play 36 minutes a night on a playoff team.  They will need time to develop and that is where McLemore has a slight advantage.

“Ben has a year experience under his belt, so he’s transitioning a little bit quicker, which is expected,” Sessions said.

The game is slowing down for McLemore.  He is no longer running out of his shoes or off-balance on his jumper. McLemore has gone 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) from behind the arc in preseason.  He worked hard during the summer to improve and Kings hope to reap the benefits.

Stauskas is just a year behind in the natural progression of a young player.  He will catch up quickly, but he needs to add weight to his 6-foot-6 frame, which is difficult to do during the regular season.  As the season progresses, he will show us more of what kind of player he will be in the future.

Ups and downs are a certain, but both of these young players have a guide on and off the court to show them the way.  It might not happen overnight, but the Kings have talent at the shooting guard position and a support system in place to support growth moving forward.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to ESPN.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".