AUBURN, ALABAMA - FEBRUARY 12: Allen Flanigan #22 of the Auburn Tigers grabs a loose ball against Kira Lewis Jr. #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the second half at Auburn Arena on February 12, 2020 in Auburn, Alabama.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The New York Knicks might want to consider trading up or down to select the speedy Kira Lewis Jr. out of Alabama.

Josh Benjamin

Kira Lewis Jr. is flying under the NBA Draft radar and the New York Knicks should be on alert.

It’s no secret the team needs an effective scoring point guard next season. The Knicks ranked 27th in team three-point percentage and second-to-last in scoring this past year. Today’s league is guard-oriented and offense-heavy, so having a high-volume score general would make a big difference.

Yet, Lewis’ name isn’t often bandied about as a top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Rob Dauster of NBC Sports paired him up with the Utah Jazz at No. 24. NBADraft.net currently has him going No. 19 to the Brooklyn Nets in its latest mock draft. Across the board, mid-to-late first round appears to be his ceiling.

And what does this mean for the Knicks? Well, assuming the NBA Draft Lottery shakes out according to record, they’ll receive the No. 6 selection. No disrespect to Lewis, but he isn’t a lottery pick. This means if new president Leon Rose and general manager Scott Perry decide he’s their guy, trading up or down might be the way to go.

But is Lewis worth going through that trouble? Let’s dig deeper and find out.

Pros

A former four-star recruit from the Huntsville area, Lewis played at Alabama. This was an interesting choice, namely because the university is known more for football than it is for hoops. Imagine going to Moe’s Tavern and asking for Pawtucket Patriot instead of Duff. That’s the equivalent of going to Alabama today and looking for a future NBA star. An odd quest indeed, with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton an exception.

But there’s the rub. Though he committed to Alabama, Lewis’ recruiting page on ESPN shows he had plenty of suitors. He spurned offers from Louisville, Kansas, Xavier, and other more prominent basketball programs to take his talents to Tuscaloosa. Lewis was also recruited by John Calipari and Kentucky, though no offer was made. Simply put, the kid can play.

Numbers-wise, Lewis can certainly handle the point. He averaged 18.5 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game during his sophomore campaign. Lewis also shot 45.9% from the field and 36.6% from three-point range and posted a true shooting percentage (TS%) of .560. He also posted a box plus/minus (BPM) of 5.5, though there’s room for improvement on defense.

And how is Lewis on the court? Well, for one thing, he has great vision. He’s more than comfortable passing the ball off to a teammate in traffic and is practically psychic. It’s as though he visualizes the play and what he’s going to do before it even happens.

In terms of size, his wiry 6-foot-3, 165-pound frame allows him to slash to the hoop with quick footwork. He’s never afraid to drive the lane and balances that with great on-court communication.

Throw in his three-point shooting, and Lewis is absolutely the kind of point guard the rebuilding Knicks need.

Cons

Of course, no draft pick comes without concerns. The biggest one with Lewis is his build. Despite his quickness, he’s painfully thin and needs to add some muscle and build up his strength. With his playing style, bigger and stronger players won’t be shy about getting physical to shut him down on the court.

This brings us to a key issue with Lewis’ scoring. Much like rising second-year Knick RJ Barrett, he’s too comfortable driving for a layup. Lewis additionally relies too much on going to his right, though he’s improving at going left.

And though Lewis can hold his own from long range and has good form on his jumper, there’s room for improvement. Adding a midrange jumper wouldn’t hurt, although Lewis doesn’t need to prioritize that right now. On defense, simply upping his effort would be a good start. These are all issues that can be remedied with coaching.

But most important of all, Lewis absolutely must limit his turnovers on the NBA level. He averaged 3.5 per game last year, largely because he drives for a layup so often and is sometimes lax in protecting the ball. Assuming the Knicks hire an offense-minded coach, this could become a problem in his rookie year.

The verdict

The good news for the Knicks is that the NBA Draft isn’t until October, and they’re in a stronger position than years past. On top of their lottery pick, wherever it may fall, they also own the Los Angeles Clippers’ first-round pick in 2020. New York additionally has a pair of first-round selections for 2021 and 2023 courtesy of trading Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks.

And what does this mean? Well, the Knicks need more than a scoring point guard. The team could also add a tough defensive wing, a shooting guard, and maybe a power forward for when Julius Randle’s contract expires after next season.

Now, you’ll recall I recently had New York taking Dayton big man Obi Toppin in a recent mock lottery. What does this have to do with Lewis? Well, even though the Knicks’ top priority should be point guard, there’s every chance someone like Toppin or even James Wiseman could fall into their laps in the lottery.

Moreover, if Rose and Perry decide Lewis is their guy, they won’t be drafting a guard in the lottery anyway. Rather, they’re more likely to use the Clippers’ pick to trade up and select him. In some Bizarro world, they could also trade the lottery pick to move down for Lewis.

One way or another, Lewis should at least be minimally on the Knicks’ draft radar. He is an electrifying talent whose motor is through the roof. The feisty energy he brings to the hardwood is something New York basketball has needed for years.

The NBA Draft is a long way off, but the Knicks know what they need. When it comes to point guard, Lewis could be the diamond in the rough nobody realizes.

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