Ben McLemore committed to The University of Kansas on the third of April, 2011. He was highly thought of at the time, ranked 34th by Rivals, 49th by ESPN, 35th by 247Sports. I can recall being excited at the time, but no moreso than I was for any old Top-50 recruit... When he was ruled by the NCAA to be academically ineligible to play in the 2011-2012 season along with Jamari Traylor, my enthusiasm was damped ever so slightly and as I became engrossed in the adventures of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Needless to say, the two young men who weren't even allowed to practice, only to sit at the end of the bench were not always at the forefront of my mind when talking Kansas basketball.
That changed when Bill Self was quoted last year saying that Ben McLemore was "good... as talented as anybody we've had come through". I, along with most of the Jayhawk Nation, began to look at the plainly clothed St. Louis native a bit differently. This praise seemed a bit hyperbolic to me at the time, I looked at all of the talent I had been privileged to watch over the past few years and chalked it up to over exuberance on FHOFNCHCBS's part. There was no way he'd be anywhere near as good as Brandon Rush or Xavier Henry, or have the impact of a Sherron Collins or Tyshawn Taylor.
Fast forward about one year. *Wooshing time-travel noise* Ben McLemore is as advertised and then some. (Note: Never doubt Bill Self).
BMac has had a hell of a season so far by any standard:
Those stats are good for 2nd in the Big 12 in points per game behind Pierre Jackson and 3rd in the Big 12 in FG% among qualifiers behind our own Jeff Withey and OU's Romero Osby. It should be noted that these two are both frontcourt players who have not been taking an appreciable amount of three point shots. Markel Brown, the nearest guard, is shooting 44.6% McGruder: 44.4% Jackson: 41.9%. McLemore ranks first in Effective FG% which weights 3 point shots to their true value. He also ranks first in the Big 12 in Offensive win shares with 4.
This is all well and good, but is it historic?
These are the sorts of seasons that happen a few times per year if we set the cutoffs at say, a 48/40/80 level. That gives us 344 total Player-Seasons going back to the 1998-99 season, down from the approximately 40,000 player seasons in the database... Then we look a bit deeper.
Let's ditch the big bodies who aren't shooting any threes and muddying the 3pt% waters. Now we're down to 201 Player-Seasons.
Then let's cut out those who aren't scoring more than 13.5 ppg (an arbitrary cutoff, but what primary scorer ever scored less than 13.5 per game?). Now we're down to 102 Player-Seasons.
Now how about we look at just the Power 6 conference players? That leaves us with 19 Player Seasons featuring the likes of Ryan Anderson, Brandon Roy, Darren Collison, Jeff Teague, Juan Dixon, Shane Battier, Jarrett Jack, Chris Paul and our old pal Kirk Hinrich. That's some pretty esteemed company, but there's a very important paring down that we haven't done yet and that's to look at Freshmen.
There are 2 (!!!) freshman seasons that fulfill all these criteria. Those of our own Ben McLemore and the Freshman season of a Mr. Christopher Paul who averaged 14.8 ppg on a 50/46/84 triple slash (Fg%/3pt%/FT% a la the vaunted 50/40/90 in the NBA).
If we want to count Ben's season as equivalent to a Sophomore season then we end up with four additional seasons, the second years of Ryan Anderson, Jeff Teague, James Anderson, and Casey Jacobsen (and if we're willing to bend on the Power-6 thing we can get Stephen Curry in here too).
More stats: McLemore is one of only 4 Freshman guards in a power conference to surpass 4 Win Shares since the 98-99 season, along with James Harden, Eric Gordon and Jerryd Bayless. It should be noted, however, that none of them were on teams with as high a ceiling or as high a ranking as BMac is. (In case you were curious, Harden and McLemore's freshman season True Shooting and eFG percentages are within .004% of each other, with McLemore fractionally better in both but scoring a point per game less.)
This is getting a bit dense and long winded, but your main takeaway should be that this is not only a great season from Ben McLemore, but nearly an unprecedented one. Seasons like this belong to men that last a while in the NBA, so we'll likely be able to watch Ben play for quite a while, but I'd suggest you enjoy him making history in the Crimson and Blue while you still can.