Ben McLemore has unfinished work on defense

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Folsom state prison wasn’t built in a day, nor NBA lockdown defenders.

Take Ben McLemore for example. As a rookie, the Sacramento Kings shooting guard was a liability defensively, falling for stutter steps and crossovers often. In his sophomore season, McLemore has developed into a plus defender, which he credits to work behind the scenes.

“There’s a lot of one-on-one drills you can do as a team,” McLemore told Cowbell Kingdom this week. “They help move your feet, get your quickness, beat guys to the spot and stuff like that. Watching film of guys that you go up against every night, you can help yourself to defend different guys. Also just reading. Reading the defenses and just learning the game and stuff like that. Those are some of the things I do.”

Despite his natural gifts at scoring, defense has always been important to McLemore. The concept of earning points just to give them back never made sense.

“Back in high school in St. Louis, we lived off our pride of our defense,” McLemore reflected. “Especially coming into the league, it’s something that you have to stick with and pride yourself at. There’s a lot of talented guys out there on the floor.”

McLemore is well aware of the competition. But the 22-year-old has been inconsistent. This season McLemore was largely responsible for brilliant efforts on Aaron Afflalo (1-for-4 field goals) and Kobe Bryant (8-for-30). On the flip side, he’s allowed Klay Thompson and James Harden to score 52 and 51 points respectively.

“James Harden and Klay Thompson, those two guys are the toughest guys I’ve guarded,” McLemore admitted.

A concern is that McLemore’s defense has softened over time. In the first 24 games of the season under head coach Michael Malone, the two-guard held assignments 3.7 percent below their regular shooting percentage and was Sacramento’s de facto perimeter stopper.

When Malone was fired and replaced by Tyrone Corbin, McLemore’s impact lessened but he remained a positive defender on the floor for 28 contests.

Under George Karl since the All-Star break, McLemore’s defense has noticeably regressed. Opposing shooting guards have scored 20 points or more in the Kings’ last six contests, not shying away from the second-year pro.

Learning his third defensive system in the same season has likely played a role in the inconsistency, but McLemore won’t admit it. He is embracing Karl’s message just like how he bought into defensive guru Malone’s.

“He wants us to be aggressive,” McLemore said of Karl. “Be aggressive on the ball, get our hands into the game. (Steals) help us get to our fast breaks.”

Spoken like a true Karl disciple. At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, McLemore has the potential to wreak havoc on the defensive end.  He has the athleticism to cut off passing lanes, chase down blocks in transition and body up heavier guards in the post. That tantalizing promise was seen in the beginning of the year, only to go dormant.

McLemore’s goals should be clear. He has some work to do on the offensive end, but where he can really impact the Sacramento Kings is as a defensive force.  The young pro has his work cut out for him, but he has shown an aptitude for playing on both ends of the floor.

Year three is huge for McLemore.  It’s the season he needs to put it all together and that has to begin on the defensive end.

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Rui Thomas
Rui Thomas is a writer and reporter for Cowbell Kingdom. He previously covered the Sacramento Kings and the NBA for Sports Out West. He is published by Sports Illustrated’s Truth and Rumors and Yahoo Sports NFL among others.

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