Ben McLemore’s January disappearing act

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Ben McLemore is disappointed.  For the second straight season, he was left out of the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend, despite having comparable numbers to other invitees.  The 21-year-old shooting guard had set his sights on the game, but with the NBA tinkering with the format, McLemore’s name was omitted from the list.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for the former Kansas star, but a closer look at the numbers might shed some light on the snub.

McLemore’s Season Stats

Games Minutes Points field goal % 3-point % true shooting % rebs per game assists per game steals per game PER
2013-14  82  26.7  8.8  37.6  32.0  48.5  2.9  1.o  0.5  7.7
2014-15 46  33.1 11.6 44.8 35.3  56.6  3.2  1.5  0.7  9.6

By almost every measure, McLemore is a superior player this season.  Specifically, he has greatly improved his efficiency as a shooter, showing a steady rise in field goal, 3-point and true shooting percentages.

Where the Sacramento Kings had a hole at the shooting guard position a year ago, McLemore has taken the job and offered a steady performance night in and night out.  Well, almost night in and night out.

For the second straight year, McLemore fell apart in the month of January.  Call it the rookie/sophomore wall or something more complex, but if you want to know why he isn’t in the Rising Stars Challenge, you can point to a post-Christmas swoon.

McLemore’s January Stats

Games Minutes Points field goal % 3-point % true shooting % rebs per game assists per game steals per game
2013-14  16  26.7  5.9  35.1  29.2  45.5  2.4  .6  0.3
2014-15 14  33.7 10.4 38.2 25.4  49.0  3.1  1.9  0.5

While assistant coaches were comparing rookie and second-year players and preparing to vote, the Sacramento Kings were posting records of 5-11 in 2014 and 4-10 this season during the month of January.  And they were aided by Ben McLemore falling apart, in consecutive seasons.

It’s not all on McLemore.  Similar to last season, the Kings have developed a “big three” that take the bulk of the shots for the club.  DeMarcus Cousins is seventh in the league in scoring at 23.6 points per game and Rudy Gay is eighteenth at 20.4 a night.  While Isaiah Thomas is gone, Darren Collison has stepped into his shoes, averaging 16.3 points on 12.4 field goal attempts per contest.

“I believe he needs more designed plays,” Cousins said Tuesday night.  “Especially the way teams are guarding myself, Rudy (Gay), even DC (Darren Collison) – we have to get Ben involved.”

McLemore started out hot against the Warriors on Tuesday, scoring 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting against All-Star Klay Thompson in the first quarter.  But then the Kings inexplicably went away from McLemore.  He finished the night with just 18 points on 6-for-9 from the floor.

“He started off hot and like you said he didn’t touch the ball basically any more,” Cousins added.  “So that’s on me – I can find ways to give Ben the ball more, especially seeing double teams – and also those guys in the back room.”

Those “guys in the back room” that Cousins was referring to is the coaching staff.  The Kings have been in a funk since the mid-Decemeber dismissal of head coach Michael Malone.  Compounding this issue for McLemore is the loss of his position coach as well in assistant Chris Jent, who left with Malone.

McLemore is young, and in a season that has quickly spun out of control, this is about development.  We have seen plenty of growth from the athletic youthful guard, but in the NBA, consistency is paramount.  Jent was building a foundation and a routine that helped stabilized McLemore, and now he’s gone.

It is not a coincidence that the Kings have struggled to win games when McLemore’s numbers go in the tank.  They are a talented team, but the lack of depth does not allow for a starter playing nearly 34 minutes a night to have an off month.

“We just have to keep trying to encourage him,” Collison said.  “His job is probably one of the toughest in the NBA, because he doesn’t just have to score, he has to guard a lot of good guards in this league, especially at the two-guard position.”

The fact is McLemore’s struggles not only cost himself a shot at All-Star weekend, but valuable wins for his team as well.

What’s worse is that the Kings have no one to step in and pick up the slack.  Rookie Nik Stauskas is averaging 3.8 points per game on 38.5 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from long range in 14.8 minutes per game in the month of January.  Without quality reserves, coach Tyrone Corbin is trying to saw through concrete with a butter knife.

The Sacramento Kings need more out of McLemore.  They need the player that showed up to training camp ready to play.  They need the kid who turned heads the first two months of the season to reappear.  That same player that dropped 13 points on the Warriors Tuesday night in the first 12 minutes of the game.  He’s in there somewhere and it’s on everyone in the building to get him back on track.

Without that version of Ben McLemore, the Kings are going into each and every game undermanned and the results have been painful.

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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".