Kira Lewis Jr. is the future

When the Pelicans took Kira Lewis Jr. with the 13th pick in the 2020 draft it was clear that they liked his long term potential. It didn’t look like there would be many minutes available this year as Lonzo, Bledsoe and Nickeil all looked to be ahead of him at point guard. After a poor run of results that demanded change and Kira stepping up it looks like he has cemented himself as the back up point guard for now. These minutes are useful at the moment but it won’t be long until he is getting more. In fact he is deserving of those minutes now.

The development of Kira over the past few years has been interesting to track. He first stepped foot on the Alabama campus at 16 years old. He was too young to be drafted after his freshman year. In between his freshman and sophomore years he was on the USA team that won gold at the U19 World Cup. A strong sophomore year boosted him up draft boards where he was picked 13th overall. Playing in an NBA style offense at Alabama has definitely helped his transition in to the NBA. Given the trajectory of his development so far there is definitely a lot more that we can expect to see from Kira in the future.

I saw Kira in person back at the FIBA U19 World Cup back in 2019. That team was loaded with talent and Kira looked to be carrying a minor injury as he struggled to play significant minutes. Even in the limited minutes it was clear that he was ridiculously fast. The speed he possesses has carried over and is going to be crucial for the Pelicans going forward.

Kira’s strengths are important for this team as he is one of the only people on the roster who can constantly put pressure on the rim from the perimeter. From the guards this year there has been a real lack of penetration at times due to Lonzo’s play style and Bledsoe’s inconsistencies. The penetration ability that he has shown opens up the floor for everyone else. Good things happen when he attacks the rim.  

The poise that he has shown at a young age has been impressive as he has played at his own pace. When there has been a break down of a play he has the smarts to pull the ball out and either run a high pick and roll or take a big man off the dribble. This isn’t something you usually see from young guards as they would normally panic and rush to put up a shot as the shot clock is counting down.

The sheer speed that Kira possesses combined with the threat from his scoring and playmaking ability make him a nightmare to guard. The skillset that he possesses are needed for this team in the future as he is a great compliment to Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.

When he is getting to the rim Kira has shown room for improvement when finishing. This will improve with time as he gets stronger. He’s going to get used to the contact around the rim and has still shown some tough finishes even if he hasn’t been very efficient so far. It is promising that he has been embracing contact at the rim.

What makes me not worry about Kira’s finishing too much is the threat that Zion has on the rim. When Kira is getting downhill he has an elite rim threat right next to him who draws attention from defenses.

The play below is an example of what happens when Zion and Kira are used together in an action. While it was a defensive breakdown you can see the attention that Zion has on him as Hield checks him as the roller and Holmes doesn’t want to leave Zion. From there Kira can get downhill and it’s a 2 on 1 with Hayes in the dunker spot.

The threat that Kira possesses getting to the rim is something that the Pelicans desperately need going forward. Someone that can break down the defense releases the pressure on Ingram’s shoulders to create offensively. Breaking down the defense allows him to pick apart broken defenses. With the finishing threats of Hayes and Zion, Kira is able to set them up for good looks at the rim.

In the half court Kira’s ability to make plays for others is important going forward. Taking the pressure off of Zion and Ingram to constantly be making plays for others will allow them to focus on their game first. This live dribble pass to the corner is an example of the type of plays that he can make to involve others.

Kira’s main appeal is obviously his penetration ability with his speed but he still has a lot of promise as a shooter. So far he has shot the ball confidently both off the catch and off the dribble. Threatening defenses from a live dribble is crucial for this team as it opens up the floor for Zion to operate in space. Punishing defenses for going under is important for almost all point guards in the NBA. For Kira it is even more important due to his speed and ability to attack the rim as well as the space that it creates for Zion to attack in single coverage. This play below is an example of him making the defense pay for going under.

Off the catch Kira has been even better as a shooter. The ability to space the floor with Zion and Ingram operating in the half court is always useful. Lately, Zion has been initiating even more offense which gives us an idea of what he will look like at his peak. That means that there will need to be spacing around him to make defenses pay when they double him. When Ingram has been handling the ball over the past year he has shown improvements with his playmaking vision, making shooters even more valuable as he can routinely find them. With the confidence Kira has shown shooting off the catch it is promising for his shooting outlook in the future.

Defensively, Kira has been better than I expected at this stage. He suffers from a lack of size and strength but makes up for that with foot speed, activity and refusing to be screened. His general fight on defense has been huge as he has been one of the only Pelicans to take defense personally. Too many players are getting beat off the dribble, getting cut on, closing out lazily or just getting bullied in the post. Kira is the smallest player on the team but has shown to not back down and has taken pride in defending early in his career.

Kira being a good defender would help the Pelicans on offense as he is able to create turnovers and get out and running in transition. I’ve been particularly impressed with his activity away from the ball defensively. Defending in the nail or one pass away he has been digging at the ball and shown the speed to recover out to his man. When defending the corners he has shown awareness to get in passing lanes and create deflections.

On the ball he has been able to glide around screens with his speed. His footspeed has been impressive on the perimeter. As he gets more experience he will understand angles better to cut off more drives. Once he gets stronger that will also help him to cut off more drives and improve his contests at the rim.

It’s time that the Pelicans look towards the future. They’re not going anywhere in the post season. It would be best to use this year for development. Move on from Bledsoe, see if any team would give up an assets for him and start Kira. Kira will be here long term with Zion and Ingram so it’s best to get him playing with them now.

I’m sure people will be disappointed with not going for the playoffs but this team just isn’t ready yet, and that’s alright. The two core pieces in Zion and Ingram are established. Now it is time to find the other pieces to fit alongside them. So far Kira looks to be the a part of the future and a huge part of what this team needs. It’s time to give him the reps and let all three grow alongside each other.

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