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Know The Prospect: Kira Lewis Jr.

The speedy point guard may be more a question of when than why.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

So you’re looking for a point guard. Say there’s one out there who can shoot from deep, is speedy and athletic, has some size, gets to the rim, stalks passing lanes, and even rebounds well. Most of the point guards projected to go in the top half of the lottery can’t make those claims. Yet one who can, Kira Lewis Jr., is pegged by draftniks as going late in the lottery to late in the first round, behind four or five other point guards.

The Knicks have the 27th pick whenever the draft happens. That’s probably too late to land Lewis. But consensus says they can’t take him at #8, because there are some guys you just have to take if they’re there at 8. Kinda like when someone sets you up on a date and insists that whoever they set you up with is this incredible catch. Meanwhile, this incredible catch is being set up on a date with you, someone who...well, look. You know all the secrets that maybe mark you as something other than some incredible catch. So who cares what polite society says is right or wrong? Anyone available at 8 is there because seven other shoppers decided “Nah.” If you need a point guard and there’s one there who checks all the boxes, why not give it a whirl?

Certainly the Knicks could try to turn the 27th and 38th picks into something in the late teens and nab Lewis then. But that’s such a simple, missionary position answer to what could be such a saucier premise. Sometimes simple hits the spot, for sure. But what if the fullness of Lewis’ game is more valuable than the better angels of Cole Anthony or Tyrese Haliburton? If the Knicks are convinced Lewis is the real deal, why not land that ever-elusive point guard when they’re there? You’d still have 27 and 38 to hold onto or package to move up and address any one of the infinite holes on the roster.

Even for a youth, Lewis —6’3”, 165 lbs. with a 6’5” wingspan — is young. Despite two seasons at Alabama under his belt, he’s still on the younger end of 19. As a freshman Lewis was the second-youngest player in all of Division I. But don’t assume youth equals timidity. Lewis had more games (5) with 8+ free-throw attempts than 8+ three-point attempts (4). By comparison, Anthony Edwards, projected to be a top-two pick, had nearly 50% more games with 8+ 3PA (18) than 8+ FTA (11).

Shooting 37% from deep for the season and 80% from the line offers reason to believe Lewis’ shot will command respect at the next level. So does his form. A good jumper is like good sex or good drugs: fluid; smooth; repeatable. A lotta prospects come with the “If they can just develop a jumper” qualification. Kira isn’t chasing that dragon.

In addition to his grace, there is grit: Lewis was a terrific rebounder for a guard, nabbing nearly five a game. In addition to his grit, there is grind: the Crimson Tide’s leading scorer reached double-digits in 29 of his team’s 31 games.

The cognoscenti say Kira’s more catch-and-shoot than pull-up. But your intrepid reporter found plenty of clips of him hitting the latter (maybe ‘cuz there’s more clips of prospects succeeding than failing). Lewis hit 40% of his transition three-point attempts and 50% on 3s taken late in the shot clock.

He often looks mighty fine on catch-and-shoots.

Dude’s got quicks. Quicks on top of quicks. Quick feet: in a matter of seconds Lewis can travel the length of the court while leaving all five defenders in his dust.

Quick hands. I could get down with a point guard nicknamed Quicksand Lewis.

Euro quick.

While Lewis shot just 36% on non-transition two-point jumpers, he’s not some Houston Rocket flummoxed by the sight of the midrange. He’ll push and probe the defense, but when a big steps up he’s Ralph Kramden and the ball is Alice. Bang, zoom: a floater to the moon.

When I was 15, my baseball team had a playoff game. I was our first baseman, which was weird ‘cuz I’d barely played first before, but I had been an All-Star catcher. Meanwhile, our catcher was a dick who hadn’t thrown out a single base stealer that year. The whole league knew it and would run on us relentlessly. Our pitchers clearly grew frazzled holding runners on, knowing the instant they didn’t the runner had an open invite to second base.

Our opponents got off to an early lead and, as usual, there was mayhem on the bases. In the third inning our starter threw a pickoff attempt to first. Only problem: the runner was on second, not first, thus I was playing behind the bag and nowhere near the throw. It caromed off the side of the seating and rolled into the outfield while the runner jogged home. I walked the ball to the mound and tried to settle our starter down. He was the first boy I’d ever had a crush on, back in seventh grade, a redhead with oodles of unearned self-confidence. I dunno if anything I said got through to him, but I was happy enough just standing there talking with him.

Speed, like high blood pressure, is the silent killer. We see this in a play Lewis made against Georgia. At first glance, it’s pretty cut-and-dry: just a dribble and dish leading to a swish for teammate John Petty.

Look closer. Lewis is so fast he doesn’t even need to dribble penetrate to break down the defense; he’s so good downhill he’s even a threat east-to-west. As he goes into his move, Georgia’s Jordan Harris, #2, begins inching away from Petty, #23, to ensure Lewis can’t split two defenders and get into the paint.

Lewis readies the dish to Petty. Harris seems to have done his job closing off the lane, but in reality the Bulldogs’ defense is already doomed.

When Petty gets the dish from Lewis, Harris is just a single stride from the contest (that word is soooo much tastier with the emphasis on the second syllable). It’s all the space Petty needs.

Lewis didn’t actually need to penetrate to collapse the defense. The mere threat of his speed forced Georgia into conceding another threat, one that cost them three points. Now imagine Lewis surrounded by elite professional shooters. Imagine these marksmen played for the New York Knicks.

As far as passing, Lewis is, if not a Rubens, artistic enough to grow fat and happy running plays like this with Mitchell Robinson.

Or this alongside Workout Video Mitchell Robinson.

Lewis is not a passing maestro on the level of LaMelo Ball. But he can break a defense down and put teammates in positions to succeed. His assist rate as a sophomore leapt 46% from his freshman season, while his turnovers rose only 17%.

One concern with Lewis is that sometimes speed kills the speedster. Sometimes his pace places him in space he can’t escape, leading to desperate decisions, leading to turnovers.

Those two clips are both from Alabama’s game versus Iowa State, one that pitted Lewis against fellow lottery point guard Tyrese Haliburton. Overestimating the importance of a single match-up is what leads teams to draft Kevin Knox over Mikal Bridges. Still, it’s only fair to point out Lewis put up 8, 4, and 5 on 3-of-13 shooting, versus 23, 11 and 9 on 7-of-11 for Haliburton, whose size sometimes caused Lewis trouble.

On the defensive end, Lewis is a pick-six threat.

Shrewd, clever and slick are useful qualities when you weigh what Allen Iverson did. So is highlight-level athleticism, which while not an official tangible is still a good thing. This play gets a gold star.

On the other hand, whether you see Lewis’ frame as sleight or slender, it’s fair to wonder how he’ll fare facing dozens of picks night after night, many of which will be applied by dudes with 100+ pounds on him.

There are other questions concerning Lewis’ game translating to the pros. Some people compare him to Russell Westbrook or Ja Morant, which raises questions for me concerning what those people are smoking and where I can get some. Westbrook and Morant are elite athletes who feast above the rim and rain down on fools like Zeus’ thunderbolts. Lewis is not of that ilk.

Because he doesn’t have the strength or hops to go through or over people, he relies on his athleticism and touch to finish difficult drives. Sometimes that’s just not enough. In the NBA Lewis will often find himself trying to finish over cats six to nine inches taller who can jump out of the gym. If he struggles to finish those looks, defenses will get up on him and dare him to take it to the rim.

Having seen this glimpse into Kira Lewis Jr.’s repertoire, the question persists — is this someone the Knicks should draft? And if so, is 8 too high? Is waiting around till 27 too much of a risk? There is at least one argument for taking him in the lottery.

If the year were 1993, I’d want the Knicks to draft Haliburton or Cole Anthony. Those Knicks teams had a lot of things going for them. Two things they didn’t were guards who could shoot or anyone besides Patrick Ewing who could reliably create their own shot, especially off the dribble. When your needs are narrow, drafting someone who fits the bill can be a win-win: they give you what you need and everything beyond that is a bonus. Spoiler: these are not the ‘93 Knicks.

Lewis does a lot of things well. Add 15 pounds of muscle to his frame and he may do even more even better than well. The Knicks currently need virtually everything. What are the givens on this roster heading into next season? Verily, I say there are none.

We all hope Mitchell Robinson can cut down on the fouls and play 30 minutes a night. We hope RJ Barrett makes the leap to 18 points a game on 45/36/70 splits. We hope Frank Ntilikina’s new muscle mass matters. But there’s a definite chance Mitch continues to play closer to 25 minutes a night due to foul trouble. Barrett could land closer to 16 a game on 42/33/64. And no one would be stunned with Ntilikina averaging seven points a game on sub-40% shooting.

In a draft with no consensus superstar, in an offseason when teams will be holding virtual combines and watching workouts via Zoom, there are more unknowns than usual. If the Knicks have a chance to land Lewis, whether at 8, 18 or 27, he’s worth considering. You don’t always win by swinging for the fences. Rallies are often more about keeping the line moving with one right move after another. The 1986 Mets famously came back while facing elimination in Game 6 of the World Series, two runs down, two outs, down to their last strike. There were no home runs. Not even an extra base hit. Instead, a single led to a single led to a bloop single led to a wild pitch led to an E3.

So you’re looking for a point guard. Say there’s one out there who can shoot from deep, is speedy and athletic, has some size, gets to the rim, stalks passing lanes, and even rebounds well. Say you add him at 8 and then at 27 you land a Desmond Bane and at 38 a Xavier Tillman. For a franchise that too often strikes out looking and just fell two spots in the crapshootiest of drafts, choosing Lewis would be like choking up on the bat and just trying to win an at-bat. A few of those in a row and you’re onto something.