Writer’s note: This is the second of a five-part series breaking down the potential targets for the Cavaliers with the no. 1 pick. After today’s piece the next three will appear on each Monday leading up to the draft. Previous profiles: Victor Oladipo
There’s no denying the phenomenal physical gifts that Ben McLemore possesses. Even as a 6’4” shooting guard Kansas actually ran plays designed for McLemore to catch alley-oops. He tested very well at the combine, right up there with Victor Oladipo. McLemore’s physical talents are so great that some people have him ranked as the best prospect in the draft, even ahead of Nerlens Noel.
Then why isn’t there more chatter around the Cavs taking McLemore? All the discussions to this point have pretty much centered on Noel or Otto Porter. Meanwhile, many reporters actually have McLemore’s name behind Alex Len on the Cavs draft board. We’ll try and explore more of that going forward.
The praise for McLemore’s game starts with his shooting ability. His jumper has seemingly no limit and is absolutely picture perfect—dare I say Ray Allen-esque. His stroke is soft, smooth, and consistent with good elevation to avoid contesting defenders. What’s even more beautiful is the way he gets his feet set when curling off screens. It’s almost like his lower body has a mind of its own. He’s able to get his feet perfectly set and begin elevating into his shot while his upper body is receiving the ball, squaring to the hoop, and performing a textbook motion with a clean follow-through. As a student of the game and someone who’s done some coaching in the sport of basketball as well, I am in love with B-Mac’s jumper. It’s just wonderful.
The other great thing about McLemore of course is his great athleticism. As I noted earlier, Kansas ran alley-oop plays for him in their half-court offense. From an athlete/physicality standpoint there’s nothing not to like about Ben McLemore. You can nit-pick about him needing to add weight but that’s not nearly as big an issue for a shooting guard as it is for say, oh I dunno, like a seven-foot center.
The negatives about McLemore are a little different than they are for other prospects. One is that he’s really not a good dribbler at all, which really is troubling for a future NBA guard. I love the Ray Allen comparisons in terms of his jump shot but that’s where they stop. Allen was a player in college and later in the NBA who thrived with the ball in his hands as well as working without the ball. You love that he’s smart and crafty to work without the ball, but in the NBA you have to be able to get your own shot if you’re going to play guard. That’s why Allen isn’t effective anymore even on a great team like the Heat. At this point he’s been reduced to a guy who just spots up. You don’t want a guy like that with the no. 1 pick. McLemore, whether he can’t or is afraid to, just does not beat guys off the dribble. And that’s in college against nowhere near the athletes he’ll face in the Association. He’s good at straight-line drives where he can blow by college scabs, but he has no shake-and-bake ability at all. And his jump-shot off the dribble isn’t nearly what it is spotting up.
He has also been criticized for being too passive at times and not being assertive on offense, possibly stemming from his reluctance or inability to create offense himself. The inconsistency in his game is confusing. We’ll look at a couple examples. In a home game against Kansas State in February, B-Mac went out and got his shots putting up 30 points on 9-13 shooting (6-10 on 3’s). Then in the Big 12 title game, again at home against Kansas State, he had only 5 points on 2-7 shooting (1-4 on 3’s). During an NCAA Tournament win over North Carolina he had just 2 points on 0-9 shooting (0-6 on 3’s) then followed that up with a 20 point performance on 8-15 shooting (4-8 on 3’s) in a loss to Michigan. However, you’ll even notice in that YouTube clip I linked that McLemore didn’t score inside of the final ten minutes of the game and overtime.
Chad Ford quotes one NBA scout who has some concerns about McLemore: “You want a player who’s going to be great with teammates off-the-court and a role model in the community. But on the court, I want an [expletive]. Ben has zero [expletive] in him. I’m not sure how he’ll fare as a rookie if he isn’t going to demand the ball and try to prove to his peers he can play with them. But the upside is really there if he gets that he’s an elite player.”
From an offensive standpoint will McLemore ever be anything more than just a jump-shooter? Every NBA team needs shooters for sure. But I have a hard time justifying taking a guy no. 1 overall if all he’s going to do is shoot 3’s. And will he be able to stay productive if he isn’t the focal point of the offense? Because that certainly won’t be the case in Cleveland.
From a defensive standpoint you’d like to think that his elite athleticism would translate to that end as well. But for whatever reason it didn’t in college. That’s not terribly uncommon for young guards as we’ve seen with Irving and Waiters. But in some of the film I watched he was getting beat off the dribble by guys who won’t get D-League contracts. He has the athletic ability to be good at the defensive end so I’m not terribly worried about that. He likely just needs better coaching in that aspect.
Finally, it has to be mentioned that McLemore does have some character issues in his past. He bounced around to a couple different high schools and also had academic problems that kept him out of his first season at Kanasas. He also was arrested for no-showing a court date about underage drinking. Nothing too spectacularly bad, but worth noting.
As far as fit in Cleveland you can see how it would work. You could run some small-ball lineups with Kyrie, Dion, and McLemore with the latter just spotting up and receiving the ball on kick-outs after drives by the other two. You could also move Dion to the bench (not a move I love for the record) and work him as your third guard and de facto backup point guard. You’d be hard pressed to bring B-Mac off the bench in that role due to his lack of ball skills. The question is whether you could play a three-guard lineup for extended minutes in games without them being a complete sieve on defense?Follow @ClevelandFlack
 Oladipo is quite a bit stronger and over a second quicker in the lane agility drill. The rest of the tests were just about equal.