Written by Ben Pfeifer
Since Kira Lewis Jr. joined the New Orleans Pelicans in 2020, he’s played just 103 career games and 1480 total minutes. For context, six different Pelicans eclipsed Lewis’s career minutes total just last season. The 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft has had an unfortunate bout of injury luck and with restricted free agency looming in 2024, finding a role is paramount for Lewis if he hopes to stick in New Orleans.
Fortunately, Kira Lewis Jr. adds a unique offensive skillset to the Pelicans’ guard room, predicated on transition and early offense wins and off-ball attacking. Few NBA players in total can match Kira’s end-to-end speed which could make him a lethal weapon on cuts and attacking closeouts, as well as in transition.
New Orleans’ offense is stacked with heavy load on-ball creators, so finding more players who can function as complementary offensive pieces is critical. Lewis’s elite burst and acceleration helps him find the paint with ease, especially against bigger, slower matchups. Against bench lineups, Lewis could see more on-ball usage attacking downhill with speed off of secondary pick and roll actions.
The finishing will be a limiting factor — Lewis shot just 48.4% within five feet last season, one of the league’s lowest marks. Vertical explosion at the rim has always been a limiting factor for Lewis, dating back to his time at Alabama. More floaters and runners will help Lewis flutter shots over bigger defenders without challenging them physically.
Playing Without The Ball
Much of Lewis’s off-ball success will rely on his three-point shot being reliable, which is still largely an unknown. There’s reason for optimism, as Lewis shot 44.1% from deep last season albeit on just 34 attempts. Over his career, Lewis sits at 32.1% on pedestrian volume when adjusted to a per possession basis (6.9 per 100 possessions) to account for his lack of minutes.
New Orleans has one of the league’s best shooting development staffs and Lewis is a career 84.7% free-throw shooter, a positive indicator for future shooting development. That along with Kira’s solid shooting indicators during his two years in college could lead Kira to become a positive shooter this season, helping him burn defenders closing out hard to him.
Even if offense is Kira Lewis Jr.’s calling card, his defensive flashes over his NBA career suggest he could develop into a solid guard defender. He will face the same obstacles that most young, smaller guards face. Stronger, bigger players will be an issue on the ball and Lewis often struggles to impact plays defending off of the ball even if he positions himself well.
His off-ball defensive impact centers around his playmaking, as Kira sports impressive instincts and awareness as a help defender. That intelligence combined with Lewis’ blazing speed allows him to jump lazy passes for pick sixes, slide down to steal passes in the pick and roll and create easy transition offense for his team. Lewis adding to the wealth of defensive playmaking New Orleans has already would be a welcome addition.
The Pelicans’ point guard room looks wide open for the 2023-24 season. Dyson Daniels could take a leap this season but his handling capabilities are more that of a secondary and he can function as a wing on defense, allowing him to play with other small guards on the floor. CJ McCollum functions as a high-volume scoring ballhandler which doesn’t overlap with Kira’s potential offensive role.
The only other guards on the roster are Jose Alvarado, Jordan Hawkins and Dereon Seabron, all who fill different niches than Lewis does. If Lewis shows progress as an outside shooter and intermediate scorer and, critically, if he can stay healthy, he could find himself usurping backup point guard duties at some point this season.
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