2013 NBA draft: Can Ben McLemore develop the mindset to match his talent?
Any examination of Ben McLemore, the basketball player, has to significantly involve Ben McLemore, the person. And as a terrific USA Today profile from earlier this year shows in difficult detail, McLemore the person has not had a very easy go to get to this point in his life.
McLemore grew up extremely poor in St. Louis. He bounced around to multiple schools, at first because his local high school was shut down by the city and then because he was kicked out of famed prep basketball program Oak Hill Academy (Va.). His older brother was incarcerated after pleading guilty to multiple felonies and is serving a 15-year jail sentence. McLemore couldn't even practice at Kansas when he arrived on campus in the fall of 2011, needing to get at least a 3.0 his first semester just to work out with the team in the spring semester. His mother, as of this past spring, was unemployed.
All of that background underscores the examination of McLemore as a player, because the only major concern with him after his one season at Kansas is a lack of consistency caused by excessive deference on the court. It's a real concern for pro evaluators when a major-college coach has to implore his most talented player to consistently put his will on games. But when you consider how hard basketball was for McLemore as a teenager ("It's hard to play basketball when nothing is inside of you," McLemore said), perhaps it was asking too much for him regularly command the marquee on a team with four senior starters that went to the national title game the year.
McLemore has the raw talent and athletic ability to be a very, very good shooting guard at the pro level. If he can shape his mindset to consistently match his athletic gifts, whoever drafts him is going to be very pleased with what they get.
In one season Kansas, McLemore put up fairly impressive overall numbers. He shot a tick under 50 percent from the field (including 42 percent from three-point range) and a dead-eye 87 percent from the line. He led Kansas with 15.9 points a game while taking fewer than 11 shots a contest. He had three 30-plus point games, including a 36-point explosion against West Virginia on just 15 field goal attempts. Synergy Sports Technology shows McLemore to be excellent everywhere except on long twos (and you shouldn't be taking many of those anyway). By virtually every tangible metric, McLemore looks like a top-end NBA shooting guard prospect.
McLemore, though, was a very different player away from Allen Fieldhouse last season. His shot attempts dropped along with his production overall and there were way too many lengthy stretches of games in which McLemore was almost a non-factor on the floor. His home/road splits in Big 12 play were skewed to the point that head coach Bill Self openly praised McLemore for at least trying to impact the final road game of the season, at Baylor, a Kansas loss that helped cost them an outright Big 12 regular-season title. McLemore was so-so in the postseason, as well, taking a total of 26 shots in four games between the Big 12 tournament and the first weekend of the NCAAs. He then played well against Michigan in the Sweet 16 game Kansas gacked away late, ending the Jayhawks' season and McLemore's time in Lawrence.
In a draft loaded with question marks and devoid of sure-fire NBA stars, it's going to be really hard to pass on McLemore, even starting at the No. 1 overall pick (especially if Cleveland manages to find a trade partner). He's that promising, with overt athleticism, very good size and a nice shooting stroke. Like fellow St. Louis native Bradley Beal (last year's No. 3 overall pick by Washington who had a pretty credible rookie campaign), McLemore's overall game-to-game contributions were impacted by playing with ball-dominating senior guards. Unlike Beal, though, McLemore's gaudy college percentages actually underscore his talent. It's just the consistency question that's going to dog McLemore until he shows it at the NBA level, and the team that picks him is going to have to take a leap of faith that he can bring that 41 times a season on the road when he couldn't inside the relative comforts of an elite college program. McLemore already has overcome a ton of things in life more daunting than making 23-foot jumpers in various cities, but he's going to have to defeat the self-limitations displayed to this point in order to achieve the level his talent suggests is possible.