Kira Lewis Jr. drives against Utah's Mike Conley

Pelicans 2021 preseason profile: Kira Lewis Jr.

New Orleans point guard Kira Lewis Jr. is often a blur on the hardwood, whether he’s speeding up the court to lead a fast break, or using his elite quickness on defense to race from the weakside and steal the ball from an unsuspecting opponent. During his rookie NBA season, however, there were times when the game itself appeared to be moving very quickly to Lewis – a common feeling for first-year backcourt players adjusting to the league’s pace.

As he enters Year 2 as a pro, the University of Alabama product is eager to see what strides he can make, after playing 54 games and logging 904 minutes in 2020-21. His playing time nearly tripled after the All-Star break, accounting for 632 of those minutes.

“I’m looking forward to it. I just feel more ready for how the game is played,” the 20-year-old said. “Everything has slowed down. I’m ready for it, ready to make a big leap, trying to help my teammates as much as possible and make the playoffs.”

Listed at 170 pounds, Lewis spent this offseason working on adding muscle to a slender frame, which will help him absorb contact in the paint when he drives, as well as hold up defensively against sturdy guards.

“I definitely can notice a difference from Year 1 to Year 2,” Lewis said of his strength. “In Year 1, guys were bumping me off my route a bit. Year 2, I can hold my ground a little bit more. On the defensive end, I can take a bump in my chest and still be (on balance).”

Lewis scored a portion of his 90 two-point baskets last season on floaters, a shot he’s also trying to sharpen. On the perimeter, he needs to improve his three-point accuracy after going 40/120 (33 percent) as a rookie – again, an area many young PGs struggle with as they get acclimated to the NBA. Pelicans coaches have complimented Lewis for his ability to anticipate plays on the backside of the team’s defense, but also wanted to see him improve his on-ball effectiveness and disruptiveness.

“On the defensive end, I’ve been working on mentality, always being aggressive,” Lewis said of his offseason focus. “On offense, it’s been getting into the lane, changing pace (while dribbling) and shooting.”

“Kira’s been great,” Pelicans head coach Willie Green said of Lewis’ preseason. “He’s playing downhill, playing with a lot of confidence, gotten a lot stronger. We all know how fast he is, so that’s what we’re talking to him about, continuing to use your speed. Now he’s picking up on how to go slow to fast, and not just fast, fast, fast, which has been great. That’s what we want to see, for him to continue to improve.”

After averaging 7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in preseason, Lewis joked that his newfound muscle and revamped body might make 2021-22 opponents think twice about guarding him.

“The defender looking at me being stronger (now), it might be a little more intimidating than it was last year,” he said.

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