While his college career is likely over – Kansas lost in the Sweet 16 tonight to Michigan in overtime – the biggest of basketball games are still to come for Jayhawks freshman Ben McLemore. The 6-foot-5 silky-smooth shooting guard from St. Louis is one of a handful of candidates to be the first named called at June 27’s NBA Draft. Assuming he declares for the draft – and all indications are that he will – McLemore is a virtual lock to go in the top five.
McLemore, ranked second on the Draft Express Top 100, has everything you want in a shooting guard – elite athleticism, good size/length and picture-perfect form on his jump shot. Using his length, he has shown the ability to be a plus defender. Jayhawks head coach Bill Self described McLemore as the most talented kid he has ever coached. As a freshman, McLemore averaged 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2 assists per game.
But the path to get to those solid numbers has been anything but steady for the freshman, perhaps best evidenced by the four games prior to tonight’s contest against Michigan. Against North Carolina last Sunday, McLemore went 0-for-9 from the field and finished with 2 points. His three games before that – 11, 5 and 10 points – gave him a collective 8-for-26 effort from the field over that vital four game span.
It is this inconsistency that has fueled increasing skepticism about whether McLemore is worthy of the draft’s top selection. He clearly possesses all the tools for NBA stardom. In 37 games this year, McLemore topped the 23-point mark eight times, three times dropping 30. But he also scored in single-digits six times.
The looming question on McLemore has begun to proliferate. If this is McLemore against college competition, how long until he can score consistently at the NBA level? Because make no mistake about it, McLemore will have to be a consistent scorer in the NBA to justify where he will be drafted. To his credit, the freshman bounced back against Michigan tonight, hitting four treys en route to 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting in a losing effort.
McLemore’s faults really seem to typecast him in that “long on talent, short on feel” mold. His ball handling, particularly with regard to creating his own shot, needs work. Some question his competitiveness and his feel for the game, though he has shown above average shot selection. It is easy to point to these shortcomings to explain how it’s possible for such a gifted offensive player to disappear at times.
But regardless of the questions about him, those gifts are exactly what will land McLemore a top five selection come June 27. His form, quick release and athleticism give him a “perfect world” ceiling of Ray Allen. He is also likely to get compared to Bradley Beal since he is likely to be drafted in a similar spot and their obvious sharp-shooting similarities. But he has a few inches on Beal and is a more explosive athlete.
With reports of skepticism on the rise, expect McLemore to be a hot topic come the pre-draft workout period. He has tools that will make NBA talent evaluators drool, all he will have to do is convince one of them that he has the mental game to go with it and he will be one of the first names called.