Detroit Pistons draft preview: Wall-like speed makes Alabama’s Lewis an intriguing sleeper candidate
History says it’s a virtual certainty a future All-Star, perhaps even a future MVP, will be available when the Pistons go on the clock to make the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
It’s too early to judge the 2018 and ’19 drafts – though early returns suggest form will hold as young players like Tyler Herro (13th pick in 2019) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th pick in ’18) already appear on an All-Star track – but go back a decade and every draft has produced players who either already are or will be multi-time All-Stars or even MVP winners who were taken with the seventh pick or beyond.
The 2017 draft has already produced All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell (13th) and Bam Adebayo (14th). Jamal Murray, a breakout star of the NBA’s Orlando bubble, was the seventh pick in 2016. Devin Booker was the 13th pick in 2015 and Nikola Jokic went 41st in 2014.
Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th pick in 2013 and three-time All-Star – and three-time NBA champion – Draymond Green was the 35th pick in 2012. His Golden State teammate, Klay Thompson, was the 11th pick in 2011 when two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard went 15th. Paul George was the 10th pick in 2010 and two-time MVP Steph Curry was the seventh pick in 2009.
So when Dwane Casey said in early October, after months of digesting video of top prospects, he was confident the Pistons would get a foundational piece at the seventh pick, he had history – and faith in the eye of new general manager Troy Weaver – in his corner.
Leading to the Nov. 18 draft, Pistons.com will profile 12 candidates to hear their name called when the Pistons announce the pick. Next up: guard Kira Lewis.
FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: KIRA LEWIS
ID CARD: 6-foot-3 guard, Alabama, 19 years old
DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 20th by ESPN.com, 12th by The Athletic, 12th by SI.com
SCOUTS LOVE: Speed and potential are the primary attractions with Lewis, who entered Alabama so young – he played all of his freshman season as a 17-year-old – he was ineligible to enter the 2019 NBA draft. Lewis stepped up his game as a sophomore, increasing his scoring from 13.5 to 18.5 points per game, his assists from 2.9 to 5.2 and his steals from 0.8 to 1.8. Lewis should thrive in the NBA, especially with more and more coaches looking to push tempo and hunt shots early in the shot clock. Think vintage John Wall to gauge Lewis’ end-to-end speed. Lewis’ feel for operating as the pick-and-roll ballhandler/playmaker is still a work in progress, but he has everything in his tool kit to become a significant threat with his short-area bursts of quickness and change-of-direction ability, especially as he becomes an even more accomplished ballhandler. He’ll remind you some of Ja Morant or Trae Young for the way he’ll dart through openings, split double teams and weave around defenders like a downhill skier.
SCOUTS WONDER: The biggest fear with Lewis is how his slight frame – he was listed at 165 pounds at Alabama – will hold up over the wear and tear of an NBA season against guards 25 pounds or more heavier than him. The frame doesn’t necessarily look as if it will withstand packing on much bulk, though other slight guards – Morant and Young come immediately to mind, and Lou Williams has made a mark for himself over 15 seasons at similar stature – have managed to hold up. As it is for most similarly sized guards, defense will be a challenge for Lewis, despite his quick hands. Lewis will have to show the ability to knock down NBA 3-point shots to avoid having defenses sag off of him and duck under screens to best utilize his speed. His mid-range game is still in development, finishing is sometimes an issue and Lewis almost exclusively uses his right hand to score at the rim.
NUMBER TO NOTE: 36.2 – That was Lewis’ percentage from the 3-point arc over his two seasons at Alabama, a solid number for a player whose speed and quickness become exponentially more dangerous if defenses have to honor the threat of his 3-point shot. Lewis also shot them at a high enough volume, 37.4 percent of his attempts, to make it a staple of his scouting report.
MONEY QUOTE: “He’s really tough because of how quickly he gets downhill and because he can do everything at full speed. You had to get a body on him early in transition. If you didn’t, it was a layup. He’s aggressive, but he can make decisions on the fly. Drive and dish, pull-up 3, go all the way to the rim, floater. He does it all. He’s a three-level scorer that can also pass and find his teammates out of ball screens. It seemed like he got better as the year went on, too. Whatever we showed him in coverages, he figures out. At the next level, the only thing that worries me is the frame. He’s so skinny and I don’t know that he’s going to get much bigger.” – anonymous coach of an Alabama opponent as told to Sam Vecenie of The Athletic
BOTTOM LINE: While the draft surely lacks for prospects at the top who project to be multi-time All-Stars or potential franchise players, it’s deep in point guards. LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes are generally considered the top three with Lewis among another group of four or five who could go anywhere from the mid-lottery to the early 20s. In that respect, it calls to mind the 2009 draft in which no point guards were taken among the top four picks but four of the next six picks – including Steph Curry at No. 7 – were point guards and five in a row were taken from 17-21, including Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague and Darren Collison, all of whom went on to be starters and two of whom have made All-Star appearances. With as much uncertainty as there is in this draft, there’s at least a reasonable chance that both Haliburton and Hayes could be gone by the time the Pistons pick at seven – though perhaps just as much of a chance that both could be there. Both Haliburton and Hayes bring greater size to the position and either one would give Dwane Casey more flexibility to use lineups with multiple point guards, given their greater positional flexibility than Lewis. But Lewis’ speed and the weapon he could pose on offense might be the trump card that allows him to vault over a few players at his position generally regarded as better prospects.