After four frustratingly inefficient years in Sacramento, the Memphis Grizzlies “second drafted” Ben McLemore in 2017 with hopes that their eco-system could spark a development arc that had seemingly plateaued. It didn’t.
Now, two years and another forgettable stint with the Kings later, Houston is attempting the same. Only for a lower price and with better odds.
Unlike his stint in Memphis, where McLemore was questionably gifted starter-level money, minutes, and expectations, McLemore will need to earn everything in Houston. There’s no rotation spot waiting for him. His two-year contract is only partially guaranteed. And he even had to work out for Rockets’ management to earn said contract. For a player whose struggles have been linked to effort and “want-to” in the past, McLemore has as much incentive as possible to finally put his best foot forward.
Furthermore, Houston’s system is designed to maximize the few skills McLemore has shown in the league. Namely, spot-up shooting and transition play.
Through six seasons, McLemore’s only consistent NBA-skill has been spot-up outside shooting, peaking the last two years at 39 percent. However, despite that bleak truth, McLemore’s consistently played in systems that encouraged him to attempt to expand his game, with 25 percent of his offense generally coming from the mid-range throughout his career.
In fact, it wasn’t until last season’s brief stint in Sacramento that McLemore was finally relegated to the role of purely spotting up, allowing him to hit career highs in efficiency. Still, even in that limited role, McLemore’s three-point rate along with the percentage of his attempts coming from the corner never approximated the D’Antonian levels that’ve saved numerous careers in Houston. Never mind that playing alongside James Harden and Russell Westbrook should produce the cleanest looks of the Kansas product’s career. If McLemore leans into the simplicity of the system, it’s within the realm of possibility he’s D’Antoni’s next great reclamation project.
Additionally, the recent addition of Westbrook bodes well for McLemore considering his proficiency for transition play. Despite never reaching his pre-draft ceiling in this regard, McLemore has generally been a plus transition player in the league, peaking last season at 1.375 points per possession. If his effectiveness last season next to the budding jitterbug, De’Aaron Fox, is any indication, McLemore should be a natural fit running the wing for Westbrook in transition-heavy hybrid bench units.
Surely, fan bases have tricked themselves believing in Ben McLemore before, but as is typical of the Rockets, this just feels different. If the former seventh-overall pick buys in to a Gerald Green-esque role of never dribbling, only spotting up in the half-court, and leaking out whenever Westbrook scoops up a rebound, it’s possible he follows a similar arc and the Rockets get a young, athletic wing on the cheap. Otherwise, it’s likely China or the G-League for McLemore real soon.