Sacramento Kings: Ben Mac
With only 19 games left in the season, I am officially hitting the point where I am legitimately wondering if the Sacramento Kings are on pace to blow back-to-back top 7 picks in the draft.
Last year, the team drafted Thomas Robinson at number five, getting every Kings fan excited as they envisioned Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins beating teams senseless on the boards like they were Moses Malone and Charles Barkley, the redux. However, by the trade deadline, Robinson was already gone in a trade to Houston as the Maloofs looked to save as much money as possible. Damn cheap asses!
Naturally, the Kings rolled it back this year and drafted Ben McLemore, again out of Kansas, at number seven as the new regime hoped it had found its future starting shooting guard. Well, so far, Ben is still trying to show that he is even a fringe rotation player in a year that saw him start solidly, for a rookie, before continuing to fall deeper and deeper into a prolonged shooting slump. (If you can call two straight months of under 30% 3-point shooting a slump.)
With all of this, and my increasing feeling that every shot Ben takes, no matter where it is, will be missed, I decided to watch him exclusively while he was on the court during yesterday afternoon’s game vs the Brooklyn Nets, a 104-89 loss.
Ben looks like a stranger on the court right now, one of those guys who goes to some random open gym where he doesn’t know anyone and proceeds to play the game trying to blend in. He floats around the 3-point line, makes random cuts that seem to never gain an advantage, shoots only because he’s wide open, and tries hard on defense even if he doesn’t fully know how to work with the rest of his team. It really seems like he has lost all confidence, especially when he is playing with the starters, which he did for about 2/3 of his 30 minutes last night. Here is a guy whose college coach had to beg to be more aggressive last year on offense, now playing with three players who use over 25% of the possessions when they are on the court, three players who justifiably deserve more shots than Ben, and he just seems like he doesn’t know how to fit in with them when his best skill (at least that’s what I saw last year) is shooting.
I can only imagine Ben’s confidence is at an all time low, if I have so little faith in him right now, and I don’t necessarily know how he’s going to fix that when other guys should get their shots first.
I’m increasingly thinking that he should have taken some time in the D-League this year, if only to get his confidence back. I watch Ray McCallum and he is playing with confidence when he is out there, something he has attributed to spending time in the D-League where he got to run a team and play as the man. I understand that Ray doesn’t have to contend with the same players as Ben does, but you can just see the confidence he has when he’s playing out there, something that Ben doesn’t have right now.
It has gotten so bad, that when the Kings had ran a play for him early in the first quarter for a wide open three, he clanked it off the rim. I rewound the play to see if he looked rushed on the shot or maybe was off balance, but I couldn’t find anything wrong with the shot other than it was being shot by a guy who seems to think every shot is going to be a miss. It may behoove the Kings to send Ben down for three or four games and just let him get his shots up, play as the unquestioned number 1 option, and gain some confidence back that he does in fact have what it takes to play and score in the NBA.
Defensively, this was one of Ben’s better games in my eyes, despite getting worked on several possessions by Joe Johnson. He didn’t get caught ball watching once, as he usually loses his man on a back door cut once a game simply because he becomes entranced with the man with the ball. There was one time where he tried to double a big on a dribble handoff and lost Shaun Livingston for a layup, but I can live with an aggressive double in the first half of a game.
He also showed good knowledge of the scouting report, repeatedly going over screens for Alan Anderson (a shooter) and under screens for Livingston (a driver/passer). Sometimes, playing solid to good defense is as simple as knowing who the guy across from you is guarding against his strengths, something Ben needs to do a better job of. Even when he ended up on Johnson, I thought he played well even though the ball was going into the hoop. The physical advantage Johnson had on Ben allowed him to bully the rookie in the post, but Ben proved he was game to go right at Johnson and not back down.
As the game became a blowout in the fourth quarter, Ben was able to run with a group of reserves (McCallum, Outlaw, Williams, Evans) and I thought my D-League idea began to play out in real time. No longer were there three guys on the floor with Ben who definitely necessitated more shots than the rook, and I thought Ben played with an assertiveness I haven’t seen in a while. He actually attacked the hoop on drives ensuring that the possession would end with a layup or a free throw, two sure way signs to help a jump shooter find his stroke again.
Did he go an unsettling 1-3 from the line? Yes, but at this point baby steps are needed to show improvement from the precocious rookie and the assertiveness is something he is going to need to succeed. Over the final 19 games, it will be interesting to see how the Kings work to build confidence in Ben before they head to the off season where we can only hope he puts this year behind him and continues working on his game to reach the level all Kings fans want him to reach.
Next game is Tuesday vs. the Pistons.