With Rudy Gay, Garrett Temple and Omri Casspi sidelined by injury, the Kings have desperately needed help on the wing in the last few weeks. After a slow start to the season, Ben McLemore has stepped up to fill the injury void.
The Kings appeared to be in dire straits after Rudy Gay went down with an Achilles injury in their January 18 game against the Pacers. Gay was in the middle of the most efficient offensive season of his career, and his injury came days after Omri Casspi was ruled out with a calf injury that kept him on the sidelines through the All-Star break.
The injuries appeared to create an opening for Ben McLemore to shine; however, McLemore only played 12 minutes in the January 20 loss to the Grizzlies and was a healthy scratch in the Kings' next five games. If McLemore could not get off the bench with Casspi and Rudy Gay out, had the Kings already given up on him?
As it turned out, McLemore was given another break when Garrett Temple injured his hamstring in the January 31 game against Houston. Since the beginning of February, McLemore has been on fire. His ability to perform so well with consistent minutes during this time is a very positive sign. Hopefully, that confidence boost can carry over through the All-Star break.
On Fire in February
McLemore was expected to be a long-range threat almost immediately upon entering the NBA. However, he has struggled throughout his career to be consistent from deep. After shooting just 32 percent on 3-pointers in his rookie year, McLemore climbed to above-average accuracy in his next two seasons, shooting a respectable but certainly not elite 35.8 percent in 2014-15 and 36.2 percent last season.
McLemore is up to 37 percent on 3-pointers this season, but that number alone does not tell the full story. Prior to the month of February, he was shooting 27.7 percent from deep and appeared to have lost all confidence in his shooting ability. After going seven for 30 from deep in December, McLemore attempted just eight threes in January before his string of DNP-CD's. When he was not passing up shots, he would often take the first one available — ?even if he was heavily guarded — as seen in the clip below.
Since the start of February, however, McLemore has looked like the player the Kings were hoping he would be when they drafted him seventh overall in 2013. He has attempted almost as many threes in his eight games in February as he had all season prior to this month — 43 in February versus 65 in his first 34 games. More importantly, McLemore is knocking down those shots, making 51.2 percent of his shots from deep. Instead of hesitating to shoot or making poor shooting choices, he is hunting for open looks and letting fly as soon as he gets the ball.
One day before his 24th birthday, McLemore made six 3-pointers, a career-high, in this game against the Hawks. His shot has looked better during the past month than at any other point in his Kings career, and he will likely continue to get minutes with Gay out for the rest of the year. However, the All-Star break might be enough time for Temple and Casspi to recover from their injuries, which would make it harder for McLemore to find minutes.
Should the Kings Keep McLemore?
Just as it would have been unfair to deem McLemore useless after his cold stretch in January, it seems foolish to dub him an elite shooter after his hot stretch in February. That being said, it is telling that McLemore caught fire during the only stretch of this season when he has essentially been guaranteed extended minutes.
The Kings will have to monitor McLemore's performance down the stretch to determine just how much of an outlier his play during February will be. If McLemore can close out the season by shooting 38 percent or better from deep on a decent number of attempts, he could earn a nice contract in restricted free agency.
Without his recent hot streak, Sacramento really would not have needed to think twice about retaining McLemore. At this point, however, he has definitely proven that he is worth another look. He's caught fire at exactly the right time. Just a month ago his departure appeared to be a foregone conclusion, but if he can keep it up, he could receive some interesting offers. Sacramento's willingness to keep McLemore around will certainly depend on the offer, but he has earned the right for those offers to be considered.