Being a top 10 pick in the NBA draft often comes with a lot of expectations. When the Sacramento Kings made Ben McLemore the No.7 overall pick in the 2013 draft, they were banking on him becoming a starting wing for the future.
It didn’t quite work out like that. Although McLemore showed flashes of his potential, he never really seemed to be able to put it all together on a consistent basis. He spent four years in Sacramento, only averaging double-digit scoring in one season (12.1 points per game in 2014-15) before signing with the Memphis Grizzlies.
He never really seemed to be able to carve out a role with the Grizzlies, and they ended up trading him back to the Sacramento Kings despite signing him to a multi-year contract. The Kings cut him around the middle of last year and he finished the season out of the league.
But the Houston Rockets came calling this past summer, and despite having a non-guaranteed contract, McLemore played well enough in the preseason to earn a spot on the regular-season roster.
To this point, he’s enjoyed his time in Houston. He’s played well off of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and he’s given the Rockets a reliable scoring threat.
“It’s just the pace with Russ and James. Me being able to run the floor well and using my athleticism too in transition,” McLemore told Basketball Insiders. “Being able to run the floor and spot up for threes and things like that. This system, I think it fits my game perfectly.”
McLemore initially began this season coming off the Rockets bench. He didn’t get much playing time at first, but as the season went on, he eventually replaced veteran Thabo Sefolosha in the rotation. He wasn’t shooting that well from the three-point line early on, but one of the major things that’s stood out about him is his perimeter defense.
He gradually saw his minutes increase with each passing game, and he recently moved into the starting lineup when Danuel House Jr. went out with a back injury. He was a key component in the Rockets’ eight-game winning streak in the middle of November, during which he joined the starting lineup.
He was aware that his shots weren’t falling, but the confidence that Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni and the rest of the team continued to show in him has gone a long way in keeping his head up.
“I’m just keeping my game simple. I’m going out there and doing as much as I can on a high level and trying to make as much shots as I can. Obviously, they’re not falling right now, but eventually they will,” McLemore told Basketball Insiders. “I’m going to continue to just keep my confidence high. My teammates have that confidence in me, my coaches as well. I just got to go out there and continue to play my game and keep it simple.”
As the season has progressed, McLemore’s growing confidence has become readily apparent. He had two of his best games of the season during the eight-game streak in which he had back to back 20-point games.
In a win over the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 15, he had 21 points while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from the three-point line. He followed that up with 20 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals while shooting 36.4 percent from three.
In a close loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 22, he had 14 points on 44.4 percent shooting from three-point range. And most recently, in a win over the Atlanta Hawks, he had his best game of the season with 24 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 64.3 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from the three-point line.
For McLemore, his growing confidence is a product of having coaches and teammates who believe in him and have allowed him to play through his mistakes. The past few seasons have been tough for him, but it appears as if he’s starting to put it all together.
“It comes a long way, having a coach that believes in you. Over the years, the last few seasons, I lost that confidence both mentally and physically,” McLemore told Basketball Insiders. “Getting here and having that coach and teammates that have that confidence in me, and building that confidence within myself, helps a lot.”
McLemore does see this season as a redemption of sorts considering that many people had written his NBA career off prior to this season. But as tough as it got, he made sure he kept his head up and kept himself going.
“It’s definitely helping my career,” McLemore told Basketball Insiders. “But at the same time, whatever situation I’ve been in, I’ve continued to be a pro.”
This weekend, McLemore passed a critical period when it came to his potential future with the Rockets. Houston had until Dec. 1 to make a decision in which he would earn more money on his contract than his current $500,000 partial guarantee.
It appears as if he’s done enough to warrant the Rockets keeping him on the roster and in the rotation. While his three-point shooting has been steadily improving, there’s no denying that he’s been one of the team’s best defensive players.
While nothing is ever guaranteed in life, McLemore believes that he’s found a place that fits his game perfectly — a place he wouldn’t mind staying.
“We’ll see what happens. Over the course of being here, it’s fit my game perfectly,” McLemore told Basketball Insiders. “I’m going to continue to do as much as I can for my teammates and help win basketball games.”
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