Sometimes it’s easy to get too caught up in mock drafts. Someone for ESPN puts together a mock draft in January, then all of the other sites follow suite, then for some reason folks take a player’s value for granted.
This guy is worth a lottery pick. This guy should be a late first rounder.
It’s a flawed approach even in the most normal of draft classes, but it’s especially so in this incredibly weird season.
For most of the NBA Draft analysis, there’s been five point guards discussed as lottery picks: LaMelo Ball, Cole Anthony, Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton, and Cole Anthony. But those early ones missed the best of the bunch: Kira Lewis Jr. And he’s especially the best fit for the Pistons.
In case if you haven’t been exposed to Kira yet, here’s a very good scouting report via Spencer Pearlman of The Stepien. But if you don’t feel like clicking on that, the thing that sticks out about Lewis is that he’s fast. Very, very fast.
I’m not going to go into a full scouting report on Kira, as Pearlman’s is better than anything I could produce here. Instead, I’ll delve into what he brings to his game and why it’d be the best fit over his fellow point guard prospects.
Checking the boxes
When looking at a prospect, there are a bunch of basics that you’re looking for. Productivity, efficiency, age, size, talent, physical ability. Ideally if you’re taking a top five pick, you’d like to see there be at least a “meets expectations” for each of those. And hopefully, there’ll be a couple of them that you see an “exceeds expectations” as well.
In this draft, guys who are at least able to accomplish that are rare. Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, and Cole Anthony were all productive but inefficient. Obi Toppin is 22 years old and Saddiq Bey is 21. Killian Hayes, Tyrese Haliburton, and Deni Avidja all seem to be lacking in athleticism.
Kira Lewis just turned 19 in April, posting 18 points per game, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1.8 steals last year. Age: check. Productivity: check. He’s 6’3, which is pretty much exactly average for a point guard: check. He brings an obvious standout, dynamic talent and physical ability with his speed: check and check.
Surrounded by shooters
Let’s talk more about that speed.
Check out the “speed and quickness” section from this video made by Adam Spinella.
Speed like Kira’s translates. He’s different from other of the league’s fastest players like a healthy John Wall or Giannis Antetokounmpo, where they just gobble the ground with their long stride. Instead, Kira has quick choppy strides with a super quick turnover. With that, even at just 18, Lewis showed some nice change of pace ability and a terrific downhill style that puts tremendous pressure at the rim.
That’s what the Pistons need.
Consider the starting point for their rebuild. Last year’s league average for three point percentage was 35.7 percent. The Pistons had five players 24 years old or younger at or above that mark last season. Bruce Brown, Sekou Doumbouya, and Thon Maker also showed reason to believe they could join that group.
The primary aspect that stands out with the Pistons youth is the ability to shoot. However, what they lack is someone who can give their defender a reason to sag off them, to create space for an open look.
Kira’s speed does that for you, thank you very much.
Kira Lewis drives downhill, draws all the attention and kicks it out for an open 3. Rim pressure matters! pic.twitter.com/67StIQpwNj— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 11, 2020
His drive and kick helped Alabama finish with the sixth most made three point shots in the country, along with the third highest points per game.
Once upon a time, the Pistons point guard decision was dependent on the pick and roll potential with Andre Drummond. That’s no longer the case. Now it’s about setting up open three point looks for Luke Kennard, Sekou, Svi Mykhaililiuk, and potentially Christian Wood.
The only other prospect in the draft with the potential to do that as well as or better than Lewis is LaMelo Ball - a player who we could drive back down the Andre Drummond Memorial Highway of debating if their positives are enough to make up for their negatives. Which sounds like loads of fun.
Remember that? When Dwane Casey joined up with the Pistons, he was all about the shot spectrum. Shots at the rim, from behind the arc, or at the free throw line are great. Midrange shots are not.
Last season, Lewis took 46 percent of his shots at the rim, 39 percent of his shots from three, 7 percent from close, and just 6 percent from midrange. He could do a better job at getting to the line (29 percent free throw rate), but otherwise is just what Casey looks for in his scoring.
But also, this next stat is also really fun. 30.6 percent of the makes he assisted were at the rim. 68.8 percent of the makes he assisted were for threes. Just .6 percent of the makes he assisted were from midrange. One shot. He only assisted one shot on a long two/midrange jumper.
That’s a point guard Dwane Casey would love.
I keep seeing draft evaluators talking about Lewis’ lack of a midrange game as a red flag. I mean, didn’t we all agree that this is the least efficient shot in the game? If we still had Andre Drummond and were building around his post up game, sure, I guess. Reggie Jackson’s floaters were always nice for opening up the lob game. But with the way the post-Dre Pistons are building and Casey’s philosophy, a midrange game from a point guard is completely unnecessary.
Synergy puts his scoring in the 66th percentile, but his possessions plus assists in the 93rd percentile. For an 18 year old point guard playing in a major conference, that’s remarkable.
Even better with space
When projecting to the next level, it’s valuable to look at how the change between leagues can impact a player’s game. For Lewis, he should thrive.
With the wider court and expanded three point line, more spacing should make even more opportunities for Lewis to get into the paint and attack the rim. Especially for a roster like the Pistons, loaded with three point shooters, it’s safe to expect a surge in his assist numbers.
At Alabama, too often he had to lock in on his decision. He’d get to the rim so quickly that he had to decide immediately whether he’d look to pass or shoot. There was little opportunity to be reactive. At times, this led to too many blocked shots and not quite the assist numbers you’d like to see.
But at the next level, particularly for a team like the Pistons, there’s much more time to read and react. And one of the things Lewis does particularly well as a passer is excelling as a live dribble passer from either hand - in fact, he might even be better at this with his off hand.
Nifty off-hand live dribble pass to the shooter from Kira Lewis pic.twitter.com/4hm4HpipiZ— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) April 10, 2020
I love this pass from Kira Lewis. Waits for the weak-side tagger to take one small step toward the corner before rifling a live dribble pass to the roller. Awesome timing and IQ: pic.twitter.com/hqIhLkOkg1— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) April 11, 2020
Live dribble off-hand skip. Heck of a pass from Kira Lewis pic.twitter.com/EZDAEv7gyY— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) November 30, 2019
If you have a half hour to spare, check out the Lewis entry of Mike Schmitz’s excellent series of virtual film sessions with prospects. One aspect that interview highlighted to me was his potential as an off the bounce three point shooter and what that means for him in the next level.
Analysts rave about his form as a shooter, and his ball handling does a nice job setting up an off the bounce three. He’s not the natural that Anthony Edwards or Cole Anthony is on this front, but he doesn’t need to be. What having that off the bounce three means is that it can set up for a blow-by opportunity - and one that doesn’t require a screen.
When you can pull that off as a primary ball handler, that causes all sorts of hell for an opposing defense. Especially with a supporting cast that knows how to knock down threes.
Health and volume
Cole Anthony obviously had knee issues last season. LaMelo Ball’s season ended early due to a foot injury, which was also the case when he played in Lithuania in 2018. Tyrese Haliburton is coming off a season-ending broken wrist.
In two seasons with Alabama, Lewis didn’t miss a single game. Over 65 games. As a sophomore, he averaged a whopping 37.6 minutes per game. He averaged the 11th highest MPG in the country, the most for a player in a major conference. For an 18 year old, that’s simply remarkable.
His skinny frame is one of his biggest red flags as a prospect, but the fact that he’s managed to stay so healthy on such big minutes suggests that he’s actually much less risky than his fellow prospects from a durability perspective.
Slowly but surely, Kira Lewis Jr. has climbed his way up my draft board. In a point guard heavy draft where each one of those point guards have glaring red flags, Lewis is the one who really doesn’t. He checks all the boxes. He brings a dynamic style. He’s been productive, efficient, he’s young.
For me, Kira deserves to be on the top spot on the Pistons draft board.