On Tuesday, January 22, the Sacramento Kings walked off the floor of the Golden 1 Center in a 120-105 loss to the eventual NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors. It was their fourth loss in six tries, as the new calendar year proved to be a struggle for the Kings.
Among the 10 active players who suited up for the night was former college sensation, Ben McLemore. The 6’5” shooting guard from St. Louis, Missouri made the most of his time on the court, as he recorded 10 points in 13 minutes of play for Sacramento. It looked like a possible turning point in a sporadic season.
Unfortunately, McLemore didn’t see another minute for the rest of the year, and his season came to a premature end on February 7, after he was waived by the Kings to clear a roster spot for the NBA trade deadline.
After signing a partially guaranteed two-year deal with the Houston Rockets nearly seven months after his last professional game, McLemore, 26, has an opportunity to revive what was once a career full of promise and high expectations. McLemore told The Dream Shake:
“This has easily been the most excited I have been to join any team. I say that not as a slight to any of the other great organizations I have had the pleasure of suiting up for, but more so as a complement to the wonderful organization that Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets have built.”
H-Town let’s go! https://t.co/hP50OkfODh— Ben McLemore (@BenMcLemore) July 23, 2019
Since entering the league as the seventh overall pick in 2013 (Kings), the Rockets could place McLemore in the best situation of his career. He has only played for the Western Conference’s non-contenders (Kings & Grizzlies), and those environments could have hindered his development in the league.
With those two unstable franchises, McLemore played under seven different head coaches and for teams who had no real plans for success during the season. For that reason, McLemore said the opportunity to play for Mike D’Antoni was huge in choosing the Rockets as his next destination.
“First I want to make sure we acknowledge how difficult it is to be known as a coach who can develop talent. A coach that can not only coach superstars but can take a player that some may deem average and really unlock their potential. My decision to come to Houston was calculated. Coach D’Antoni played a large role in determining where I chose to land.”
Other than revolutionizing the game, first with pace with the Phoenix Suns and now with the drive-and-kick iso game with the Rockets, D’Antoni is also known for having the unique ability to bring out the best in his players. Since joining the Rockets in 2016, D’Antoni has helped give new life to the careers of Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, and Eric Gordon (not to mention turning James Harden into a yearly MVP threat). McLemore said:
“We’re talking about a Coach of The Year here. How could I not be overjoyed at the prospect of learning from a guy like him? I believe I will thrive under the development of Coach and his staff. I feel my playing style suits what coach D’Antoni likes to do, but I also think there are many things that he can help me with to not only reach a new level in my career, but to help this ball club win games. And for that reason, I’m coming into this with an open mind, eager to observe, study, and execute.”
As much as he may need a stable franchise at this stage of his career, McLemore has the potential to become a solid contributor for the Rockets next season. Since he was in high school, he was touted as the next Ray Allen due to his athleticism and ability to shoot from behind the arc.
While working hard to plug in and help the Rockets, McLemore believes his contribution to the team will be greater than adding another sharpshooter on the offensive end. McLemore told The Dream Shake:
“I believe my athleticism is going to fit in greatly on this team. I thrive in transition, and playing alongside some the world’s most athletic and talented players, this all shapes up to be a perfect fit. In addition to the offense end, my athleticism should help me on the defensive end as well. That is a big area of emphasis for me in the off-season and leading into training camp.”
.@BenMcLemore has been working on his corner 3-point shot throughout the off-season. Will look to prove himself in training camp.— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) August 8, 2019
Here are his % from the corner - last 3 seasons:
2016-17: 23-54 (42.6%)
2017-18: 18-46 (39%)
2018-19: 4-13 (31%)#Rockets (video from @HazemGiballi) pic.twitter.com/vU8kzSOyPa
Joining the Rockets not only give McLemore a chance to revive his career, but an opportunity to learn from two of the most talented players in the league, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The high demands that will come when playing alongside Houston’s new dynamic duo may be intimidating to some, but McLemore is eager to join his new set of teammates.
“Over the moon excited to suit up alongside those guys. I think anyone in this league would tell you the same. We’re talking about world-class athletes and talent, who I also happen to complement their style of play extremely well. I look forward to rolling my sleeves up and getting to work with the boys.”
McLemore understands that playing on a team with high championship aspirations will not come without a new set of challenges, but it’s through the lessons he learned from the tribulations he endured earlier in his career that has him ready to step up to the challenge. After he was waived by the Kings midway through the season, McLemore understands how important it is to have a strong support system and positive mindset in the midst of adversity.
“To be honest, the biggest challenge was just playing the waiting game. I remained positive, created my own routine centered around the gym, and allowed my manager Hazem and agent Jarinn to work on finding me the next opportunity. I think it’s extremely important to have good counsel around you when you’re in a position like mine. I’ve always believed that if you bet on yourself after putting in work, things usually work out. And in this case, it certainly did.”
Beyond the basketball court, McLemore’s greatest career achievement is his efforts to give back to the community of his hometown, St. Louis. This summer marked the Fourth Annual B-Mac Stop the Violence Weekend, in which McLemore provides the youth of the area with the resources to help find a way out of the violence cycle that so many fall victim to. McLemore told The Dream Shake:
”I love the game of basketball, but the true blessing is in the platform and ability I have been given to positively affect the lives of those in the community in which I reside and grew up in. Each Stop the Violence weekend is immensely important to me, however, this past year was especially significant because it was in tribute of my late younger brother Kevin. Wherever I am, I plan to help better the community, and I’m humbled to have even the slightest ability to do so.”
With a career average of 8.8 points across 368 games, McLemore says he is coming to the Rockets with no ego and willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win games. The opportunity to finally play in the postseason is what keeps him excited and motivated to give Houston his all.
“I have yet to play in the postseason and that alone is an extremely motivating situation for me to find myself in. I want to come in with an emphasis on my defensive presence and to spend a lot of time in the film room breaking down the game. I also want to go as far as possible in the postseason; but really these personal goals are set so that I can be best suited to help my team.”