Position Battle: Ben McLemore vs. Marco Belinelli
The start of training camp is inching closer with each passing day and there is definitely a position battle brewing between shooting guards Ben McLemore and Marco Belinelli.
Who should start?
Who should get the majority of the minutes?
Everyone knows about McLemore’s impressive improvement from year one to year two. But now this Sacramento Kings team carries depth on this roster. Being able to succeed under pressure could be something new for McLemore in his short professional career.
During McLemore’s rookie season, he averaged 26.7 minutes, 8.8 points per game but shot a lousy 37 percent field goal percentage.
Last year, McLemore averaged 12.1 points, on 43 percent shooting, while playing 32.6 minutes a night. Not only that, but his 3-point shooting percentage jumped from 32 percent to 35 percent.
Unfortunately for McLemore, because of Sacramento’s newly found depth, you automatically have to assume his minutes are going to be taking a dip due to the fact that there is going to be a minute split between the Kings’ top two shooting guards.
The Kings would be happy to see McLemore average those same numbers in 25 minutes a game. In training camp, he is going to have to prove one big thing – consistency.
Again, McLemore did make an improvement from his rookie year to sophomore year in every statistical category. With that in mind, he still found himself hitting a “wall” in the middle of the season.
His shots were falling short, he could not find any rhythm, and at times his presence was completely unnoticeable on the floor. McLemore is going to need to always be a factor on the court, whether as a defensive stopper or as a spot up shooter.
Belinelli has the resume to make a strong case to become the starting shooting guard this season. He has valuable experience playing under multiple championship contenders and finally reached his goal of winning an NBA championship during the 2013-2014 season with the San Antonio Spurs.
Last season with the Spurs, he averaged 9.2 points per game, while shooting 1.4 3-pointers on 37.4 percent.
His consistency from 3-point range is something that captures my attention. The only season Belinelli averaged less than 37 percent was 2012-2013, where he still shot 35.7 percent.
When the Kings were looking to add Rajon Rondo this offseason, it was reported that one of Rondo’s demands was for Sacramento to add a knockdown shooter, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Belinelli definitely fits that request.
Like McLemore, the one thing that Belinelli needs to prove during training camp is proving he will not be a liability on the defensive end of the floor.
Even with that being his biggest weakness, the level of desperation for his improvement in that area (compared to McLemore’s need for consistency) is very low.
In George Karl’s system, you see most of his defense being filled with players attacking passing lanes and if the opposing player gets by, the big man down low is there to clean up.
With a guy like Willie Cauley-Stein having your back, the worry of Belinelli not having the lateral quickness to keep up with most two guards in the league becomes less important.
Who Will Be The Starter?
Going into training camp, the Sacramento Kings starting shooting guard is no doubt Ben McLemore, but Marco Belinelli is right on his heels. As it was said by NBC’s Aaron Bruski on the last Cowbell Kingdom podcast:
“It is very smart pairing a young player, with a guy with an 8-or-9 year career – a guy like Marco Belinelli who is probably in his prime. With the understanding that this vet knows that he will have a chance to win the (starting) job, but in reality his role is to push that starter and to get him to play better.”
That is a great description of how this situation should be looked at – a competition, but really motivation to push the young McLemore to begin scratching the floor of his potential.
Who Should Earn More Minutes?
Honestly, it is going to vary from game to game, but when the season begins it’s going to be Belinelli. He has the experience and a proven resume that can earn him the minutes over McLemore.
Belinelli is also a guy that can hit the clutch baskets. Just look at his efficient offseason play for his national team. In back-to-back games, Belinelli had the ball in his hands and knocked down two game winning baskets. The Kings haven’t had a guy that can be looked at as a clutch shooter in years.
McLemore will be given every opportunity to change that minute disparity throughout the entire season. If McLemore can find that consistency and proves that he can be a threat for opposing teams every second he is on the court, then there is no doubt he will be the one finishing the season with the higher minute-per-game average.
Ben McLemore – 26 minutes per game
Marco Belinelli – 22 minutes per game