Who the Rockets should target in the NBA Draft 2020 #1: Kira Lewis Jr.
By the time you are reading this Houston may have already moved on their newly acquired 16th pick in tomorrow's draft. It's not immediately clear whether this is the first step in the teardown, or whether Houston will seek further moves. But if they do end up drafting their only 1st round prospect since Sam Dekker in 2015, Kira Lewis Jr would be an excellent choice. Some outlets have him going higher up, whereas The Athletic mocks him at 15, and The Ringer right at 16. Here are his headline stats for his two seasons for the Crimson Tide.
Let's jump right into a film study of his game.
What immediately jumps out when you watch Lewis is his speed. He's probably the quickest player in the draft, and when he's flying downhill he brings with him all sorts of comps such as De'Aaron Fox, or Ja Morant. This is a guy who can grab a rebound on one end of the court and hit a layup on the other end within 2 or 3 seconds. In transition, or even just with an open lane, his speed kills.
Lewis isn't just a straight-line driver. He's developed his game to add hesi moves, he can accelerate and stop on a dime, and he's comfortable snaking left or right. If he continues developing this side of his offense, a more herky-jerky, off-rhythm attack, he will become more unpredictable and better equipped to handle NBA defenses.
He can also slow it down and be patient. Watch below as he snakes a pick n roll and then pulls back to reset the possession once he gets the big switched on to him. He's a mismatch killer. You need a very quick step, or he's leaving you in the dust. It's simply unfair to ever have a big guarding him on the perimeter.
Even without all this, Lewis just dead lining at breakneck speed causes havoc for any defense. Alabama liked to have him bring the ball up with a high screen set at midcourt, generating even more momentum for him to accelerate downhill. The problem for Lewis, and this is where the comps to Morant and Fox fall flat, is he's a poor finisher. He lacks explosive athleticism at the rim, and he seems afraid of contact. For someone who drives into the teeth of the defense so much, averaging only 4.2 free throws a game is somewhat disappointing. What often happens instead, is Lewis settles for a tough floater. Lacking a soft touch, they often don't come close. This is bad decision making, coupled with a lack of shooting finesse. In the first clip below, he settles for a teardop shot at the free throw line, and it doesn't get much better from there.
This is something he needs to get better at. Period. If he doesn't, his NBA career will be one filled with frustration and unfulfilled promise. According to The Athletic's Sam Vecenie, he made under 50% of his halfcourt shots at the basket - per Synergy. Even getting that to just a tick over 50% would make him a much bigger threat. If he can combine even average finishing, but with relentless attacking and the ability to get to the rim at will, he can make a big leap. If he doesn't, he will never sniff being close to a 20 point per game scorer.
Being able to penetrate the defense is half the battle, and Lewis makes up for his lack of finishing with some excellent passing. Alabama played 5-out offense, with Lewis bulldozing into the paint kicking out to shooters.
And if you cut, he'll find you.
This is perhaps the best example of the pros and cons of Lewis's offensive game. In one possession he has no problem beating his man, but completely runs out of ideas the first time he gets to the basket, nearly resulting in a turnover. He then attacks again and makes the nice pass to a well-timed cutter for the dime.
The final piece of Lewis's game is, of course, his shooting. From some of the clips above, Lewis is a confident pull-up shooter and can create his own shot with some silky moves before letting it fly. His form is very solid, with promise to translate to the NBA level. If you look at his shooting drills below, you can see the sharp snap he has on his follow through. When I first watched it, I was actually worried he was pushing the ball from his elbows, but it's actually just the strong wrist action and follow through he has.
His 36.6% 3-point shooting this year was lowered by the amount of shots he self creates, this could easily be higher if he were fed more catch and shoot opportunities. Per Synergy, he had an eFG of 57.1% on all spot up possessions, good for 1.089 points per possession. That's not elite, but it would make him a dangerous off-ball threat too. He's not going to be a 40% 3-point shooter, but if he can be a pull-up threat and maintain his college average in the big leagues, that will make him an even more dangerous weapon. This will be key to his success, in order to make sure defenses don't sag off him. There will be a natural tendency to back off in fear of his killer speed. Lewis will have to punish defenses when they do that.
Let's turn our attention to the defense, and this is where Lewis's high motor and speed also shines. He's happy to chase around a shooter and is capable navigating his way through screens. You might get a first step on him, but he's caught up before you know it.
On ball, he can shuffle his feet very well, able to stay in front of his opponent when he's on an island. He's active with his hands, and his recovery pace means he is always a threat from behind even if you get in front of him around a screen.
Lewis is also excellent in transition defense. Not only can he keep up with even the fastest of breaks, he can shuffle his feet and backtrack, while staying evenly balanced, in order to stay infront of his man.
One area Lewis needs to improve on is his help defense. I've noticed he tends to be lazy instead of helping on a driver. He's often in stunt position, but doesn't really commit one way or another. This is disappointing, because he's quick enough to be able to jump between both the driver and back to his man on the perimeter. For a good example of what this should look like, check out PJ Tucker doing this below.
Now look at Kira, the effort is inconsistent, he stunts without purpose. He doesn't really help deter the driver at all. Worse, by lazily putting his hand in the cookie jar he invites shooting fouls from smarter offensive players. At times, he's just standing there, not really guarding anybody.
Lewis might have the most upside of any of the players Houston could realistically get at #16. If you're taking a swing on potential, there's all sorts here. It's hard to envisage him suddenly getting more explosive at the rim, so ditching the ugly floaters for a more efficient shot will mean initiating contact and fighting through it. He's developed his ballhandling and ability to create his own shot elsewhere on the court. This gives me hope that he will figure out a way to be more productive in the paint. If you pair him with a pick n roll partner, he will get all sorts of space to attack downhill and would benefit from a dump off option. Add a couple of perimeter shooters and another guy capable of cutting into the space Lewis will generate? That's a fun offense. The hustle plays, the defense and potential to be a pretty decent rebounding guard? That's just a bonus.