Against the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night, for the first time in nearly two months, Ben McLemore started the game on the bench.
The Sacramento Kings rookie has amassed 26 starts this season, but has struggled to find consistency. Some games his shot has fallen and he’s put together strong scoring performances, but others nights he’s disappeared, reaching the final buzzer without making much of an impact.
In the five games prior to Tuesday’s, McLemore shot 27.8 percent from the field and averaged just five points, which prompted Michael Malone’s decision to change the rookie’s role.
“Ben was struggling. I tried to put him in a better position for success and just to relax mentally. I think he was putting so much pressure on himself and I don’t want to see him struggling like he was,” Malone said. “So he can come off the bench, no pressure, look to make plays and be aggressive out there.”
Earlier in the season, Isaiah Thomas took some responsibility, saying he needed to get McLemore involved more, but otherwise McLemore’s results are typical of a rookie working to adjust to the demands and skill-level of the NBA.
In his first year as a pro, McLemore is still trying to get accustomed to the rigors of the NBA schedule. The Kings (11-22) have played 33 games thus far, just four shy of how many McLemore played at Kansas last year, and with 49 remaining.
“Time management, preserving your body, resting, little things like that,” McLemore said of skills he’s had to work on. “It’s a long season and you got to reserve your energy for big games and big nights—pretty much every night—so you can go out there and perform at a high level.”
It’s a trap
McLemore isn’t the only one on Sacramento trying to find consistency. While the Kings have hung with teams like the Miami Heat and the Portland Trail Blazers at times, they’ve seemingly underestimated lottery teams, producing embarrassing results.
After the loss to the Charlotte Bobcats Saturday, multiple players spoke of playing to their opponents’ level, rather than maintaining a level of consistency from night to night.
The Orlando Magic are in town tonight and the Kings enter the game aware of their bad habit, looking to correct it.
“You never want to lose those types of games, especially at home,” Derrick Williams said. “Coach really emphasized that we’ve only had one time where we’ve won two games in a row. To be a good team we have to win at home and you got to win consecutive games.”
The NBA All-Star Game is a little over a month away, which means campaigning for roster selections is in full swing, and Malone has been handing out endorsements.
Following Tuesday’s game against the Trail Blazers, Malone voiced his support of putting DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard in the game. Tonight, he believes the Kings will be facing off against an Eastern Conference All-Star in Arron Afflalo.
“I think Afflalo—you look at his ability to post up, to shoot the ball and to make plays off the bounce; he can score in so many ways. He’s an efficient player,” Malone said. “He’s really improved his game and he’s getting the accolades he deserves.”