Kira Lewis Jr. tries to take the ball from an Auburn player

Kira Lewis Jr. Q&A with Mike Rodak

by Jim Eichenhofer

Just three days after he was selected, it’s already widely known that Kira Lewis Jr. is one of the fastest players in the 2020 NBA draft class – perhaps even the fastest. You’re also probably fairly well versed in some of his college statistics and biggest strengths, but to gain greater insight into Lewis and his game, caught up with Mike Rodak, who covered the 6-foot-3 guard’s sophomore season at Alabama. Rodak covers Alabama football and basketball for and The Birmingham News. Lewis’ stock seemed to steadily climb as draft night approached, which possibly could be attributed to his performance in interviews with NBA front offices. What was your reaction and that of the Alabama fan base to him becoming a lottery pick at No. 13?

Rodak: I sensed a level of validation from Alabama fans that their best player last season was getting noticed. It will come as little shock to anyone, but basketball gets overshadowed by football at Alabama, and within SEC basketball, it is a school that gets less attention than powerhouses such as Kentucky or Tennessee. There is a group of hardcore Alabama basketball fans that laments that and would probably attribute Lewis’ rise to his getting more attention through the pre-draft process than he ever did as a player. Seeing Lewis be selected that highly was evidence for Alabama fans that Collin Sexton was not an anomaly two years ago and this is a program that can pump out top-flight NBA talent. Based on his two-year college career, how comfortable is Lewis playing both of the guard spots? He demonstrated the ability to score in both seasons (15.9 career ppg), while increasing his passing production as a sophomore (5.2 apg, up from 2.9 in 2018-19) Versatility has probably never been more coveted than it is in the NBA right now.

Rodak: Not having covered his first season it is hard for me to speak on that year, but to my eye he played almost exclusively point guard last season. However, that speaks more to Alabama’s roster situation last season than Lewis’ versatility. The school was very hopeful it could get an NCAA eligibility waiver for Jahvon Quinerly, a transfer from Villanova, approved to allow him to play immediately. That did not happen, and it left first-year coach Nate Oats with Lewis as the only true point guard in his rotation. A short bench required Lewis to play almost every minute of each game. What are the most underrated aspects of Lewis’ game?

Rodak: From what I saw, the most talked about aspects of Lewis’ game were his athleticism and drive-and-score ability. But he was also an effective three-point shooter last season, too, which could lend itself to his playing more off-the-ball in the NBA. He shot 37 percent from beyond the arc but more often he was a distributor. Alabama had one of the nation’s best three-point shooters in John Petty as well as a sharp-shooting freshman in Jaden Shackelford, and Lewis attempted far fewer three-pointers than them. What areas do you think he has the most room to make strides, or aspects of his game he may need to improve or adjust as he transitions to NBA competition?

Rodak: There were a few areas that stood out to me last season. He missed two free throws in the closing seconds of the season opener that could have avoided an upset loss to Penn. He was prone to get loose in his passing at times, with 11 games of five or more turnovers. And while his assist numbers sometimes offset it, there was some streakiness to his scoring that showed up in big games. Two of his five lowest-scoring games were in key SEC road games against Kentucky and Auburn. After Alabama beat Kansas State in January – and Lewis scored 26 points in that one – K-State coach Bruce Weber noted, “I think as he grows and learns how hard he can play – how he should play – he has a chance to be special.” During his pre-draft virtual combine interviews, he was praised for his maturity, while being described as “likeable” by many media members. What were his interactions like with reporters and others during his time at Alabama?

Rodak: As with perhaps all Alabama basketball players I covered last season, there were no issues with interviewing him. He often was one of the selected players – or the only one – after a loss. He also came out and spoke to us after missing those free throws in the Penn loss, which says something. He might not have been the most quotable player, but he came off as someone that was serious about basketball and each game meant something to him.

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