“Rookie progressing nicely,” said the headline splashed across the top of the Sacramento Bee’s sport page Tuesday. A picture of Kings shooting guard Ben McLemore going up for a dunk accompanied the column written by Bee sports columnist Ailene Voisin.
I was hoping to find out how the Kings’ top draft pick this year was doing this season compared with other rookies. Team executives are pinning a lot of hopes on the 6-foot-5 shooting guard out of Kansas. McLemore has shown explosive athleticism and good shooting form in games I’ve seen on television. He strikes me as a bit wild with a tendency to revert to street ball, and he’s not much of a passer. But his coach describes him as a hard worker who is eager to learn.
McLemore was the seventh selection overall in the 2013 NBA draft. The only guard picked ahead of him was 6-foot-4 Victor Oladipo, a shooter out of Indiana University taken by the Orlando Magic. The other picks among the top seven were centers or forwards, led by No. 1 selection Anthony Bennett, taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So how is McLemore doing in the rookie class? Alas, the Bee sports columnist was not inclined to clutter up her column with statistical comparisons. She preferred to say that McLemore “appears even younger than his 20 years” and “is progressing nicely.” Readers should check back in three years, she suggested, to see whether McLemore has become a star.
I decided to satisfy my curiosity on McLemore’s performance by checking out some websites. NBA.com compiles and regularly updates a Rookie Ladder, a ranking of the top 10 2013 rookies based on their performance to date. The most recent one ranked McLemore fourth. The first three were Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers, Oladipo, and Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz. Burke, a former Michigan star, is returning to action after suffering a finger injury in mid-October. Burke is a point guard while the other three are shooting guards.
ESPN.com provides easy-reading statistics. I put together a chart with statistics relevant to guard performance. The stats don’t include last night’s games. McLemore has been doing well, but Carter-Williams or Oladipo look like prime candidates for rookie-of-the-year. The biggest negative for McLemore is his lousy assist average of 0.9, coupled with 1.0 turnover average.
Will McLemore be a star in three years? He’s in the arena. Kobe Bryant averaged 7.6 points and 15.5 minutes playing time a game as an 18-year-old rookie. His field-goal percentage was 41.7 percent. His 1.6 turnover average exceeded his assist average of 1.3.
In his third season, the 20-year-old Bryant averaged 19.9 points a game and improved his shooting accuracy to 46.5 percent. He raised his assist average to 3.8 while lowering turnovers to 3.1 a game.