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Rockets: Will Ben McLemore step up in Russell Westbrook’s absence?

Houston Rockets Ben McLemore (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Ben McLemore (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets Ben McLemore (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

How McLemore can be the X-factor vs. Thunder

But if there’s one important takeaway from McLemore’s shooting, it’s the fact that he made 42.4 percent of his 3-pointers when left wide open. Without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder figure to double-team James Harden, which could lead to an abundance of open opportunities from behind the arc.

This is where McLemore has the opportunity to separate himself from Gordon and Rivers, as he’s a better shooter from distance. But not only that, there’s a correlation between McLemore’s long-range shooting and the Rockets having success, as the Rockets went 21-12 in games in which McLemore made three or more triples during the 2019-20 season, and 15-6 when he’s made at least four 3-pointers.

The caveat to McLemore’s ability to gash the Thunder from deep is tied to him being able to stay out of foul trouble, which has been a major challenge for him, to put it politely. We’ve seen games where the 6-foot-3 sharpshooter has had four fouls in the first half, so there’s certainly that possibility, and especially against Chris Paul, who is one of the most intelligent players in the league.

And we should expect the Thunder to use their stellar guards to attack McLemore and bait him into fouls, but we’ve seen improved defensive play from McLemore of late, and especially against the Indiana Pacers, in which he was charged with just one foul for the game, while blocking two shots and nabbing a steal.

If McLemore is able to stay out of foul trouble, expect him to be the difference maker for the Rockets, as he and Danilo Gallinari are the only two players entering the series that made at least 40 percent of their threes this season.

Space City picks: Rockets vs. Thunder. Next

But, that remains a big “if”.

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