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'Hawks in the NBA: Ben McLemore loving his role with the Houston Rockets

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Houston Rockets guard Ben McLemore (16) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Denver.

Houston Rockets guard Ben McLemore (16) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Denver. by AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Editor's Note: Here's the latest installment in our series of updates on former KU players in the NBA. After the league was shutdown in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 22 teams and several KU players made their way to Orlando to prepare for the resumption of the 2019-20 season in the NBA bubble. Exhibition games are under way and things get going for real again late next week.

Next up: Ben McLemore, Houston Rockets.

As the NBA prepares to resume play next week, former KU sharpshooter Ben McLemore has a front-row seat for one of the more interesting experiments the league has seen in recent years.

Still in his first season with the Houston Rockets, the 27-year-old former Jayhawk is on a roster that features very few big men and favors the small-ball approach that utilizes fast-pace offense and tons of 3-point shooting to put pressure on opponents.

McLemore fits nicely into both of those equations because of his size, speed, athleticism and ability as a knockdown shooter.

Through his first 63 games with the Rockets, McLemore is averaging 9.8 points in 22.8 minutes per game while shooting 39.5% from 3-point range.

Both offensive numbers represent the second best marks of his career in those categories, and even his minutes are up to the highest level they’ve been since the 2015-16 season.

In many ways, Houston represents the perfect fit for McLemore, who was drafted No. 7 overall by Sacramento in 2013 and played mostly as a part-time starter during his first four seasons with the Kings.

A brief trip to Memphis for the 2017-18 season gave McLemore a fresh start, but he was back in Sacramento the following season, when he played in just 19 games and could not find his footing on the young Kings roster.

He signed as a free agent with Houston one year ago Thursday and has enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to a contender while playing with two of the game’s most dynamic offensive weapons in James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

“Being able just to play alongside those guys is a blessing,” McLemore said during a recent post-practice interview from Orlando on Rockets.com. “To have the opportunity to ask them different questions and get gems from those guys, to me, it’s special to have those great guys around you every day. They took me (in) as a little brother and as a teammate to help me throughout this process of being with the Houston Rockets.”

As for how he’s felt in Houston’s unusual system, McLemore told the Journal-World in March that he had no complaints and was focused on maximizing his opportunities.

“Go out there and play both ends of the floor, run the floor and do what I do best and shoot the ball,” he reiterated recently in the post-practice interview. “All of us, obviously, are just so happy to be back on the court.”

Houston, which plays its first exhibition game tonight against Toronto before opening real play next Friday against Dallas, currently is the No. 6 seed in the West, tied with Oklahoma City, a game behind Utah and 2.5 games behind the third-seeded Denver Nuggets.

If the standings remain unchanged heading into the playoffs in mid-August, the Rockets would face the Nuggets in the opening round, pitting two teams with contrasting styles against one another.

Although Denver has some talented guards, its strengths lie in the front court. In fact, during Denver’s exhibition opener in Orlando, the Nuggets started three players 6-foot-11 or taller, with the other two spots in the starting five going to Nuggets who stood 6-7 and 6-8.

More 'Hawks in the NBA Updates:

• Joel Embiid

• Andrew Wiggins

• Devonte' Graham

• Svi Mykhailiuk

• Kelly Oubre

• Morris Twins

• Frank Mason III

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