Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every weekday, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player on the Lakers roster. Today, we take a look at Maxwell Lewis.
The Lakers acquired the No. 40 pick from the Indiana Pacers on the day of the 2023 NBA Draft, trading their No. 47 pick and cash ($4.35 million) to draft Maxwell Lewis. The 6’7 wing from Pepperdine showed flashes of brilliance at Las Vegas Summer League with some explosive fastbreak plays against the Warriors in his Las Vegas debut, and a 12-point performance on 5-9 shooting against the Hornets.
In the midst of Summer League action, Lewis signed a four-year contract with the Lakers, with the first two years being fully guaranteed. The Lakers were able to secure Lewis for so many years thanks to the NBA’s new Second Round Pick Exception. The Second Round Pick Exception is a clause introduced in the NBA’s updated collective bargaining agreement. This allows teams to sign a second-round rookie to a four-year deal with a first-year salary worth up to the minimum annual salary for a player with two years of experience without cutting into their mid-level exception, something that was previously required to give a second-round rookie a longer contract than two years.
Sacramento Kings rookie Colby Jones was the first player signed using this second-round pick exemption on July 2 of this year and the Lakers followed suit just days later.
And so with all the work the Lakers had to do to draft Lewis, a four-year contract secured before he even plays a minute of NBA action and the impressive track record the Lakers’ scouting department has assembled in the draft, it’s understandable that Lakers fans might be overly excited about what this buy-in from the organization means about Lewis’ potential. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the possibilities for Lewis entering the 2023/24 season.
What is his best-case scenario?
Generally speaking, rookies don’t play much on championship-caliber teams. With the Lakers reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, looking on paper like an improved team and Las Vegas giving them the fifth-best odds to win it all, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, I think it’s safe to say we won’t be seeing a lot of Lewis minutes this season unless there are significant injuries.
Lewis should try to follow the Max Christie blueprint during his rookie year. Christie played in 41 games for the purple and gold and averaged 12.5 minutes, 3.1 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. Respectable numbers for a couple shifts a night over nearly half of the season. Christie also had a brief stint with the South Bay Lakers, averaging 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists in four games.
If Lewis can produce similarly to Christie this year, I’d call that a successful rookie campaign. L.A. won’t be relying on him to play significant minutes; he just needs to be a sponge and absorb everything he can from vets like LeBron James, learn how to be a pro and when his number is called, play respectable defense, knock down open jumpers, show off that athleticism and score a bit when driving to the basket.
What is his worst-case scenario?
There are two cases where Lewis has a bad start to his NBA career. The first one is not having much of a start at all. What if the Lakers are rolling and there aren’t any minutes for Lewis at all? He rides the bench and plays in less than 20 games, only being seen in garbage time a few times a month. Considered too good to play in South Bay but not good enough to earn time with the main team; a year where you can’t form an opinion on Lewis’ game because you never really saw him play would be bad for his career.
But what’s worse than not playing? Playing poorly.
What if Lewis does get opportunities like Christie, but his worst traits come out? Turns out he is too slow to defend the best wings in the league, his frame isn’t strong enough for the NBA and he’s being bullied on both sides of the floor; oh, and that 35% 3-point percentage from college? It plummets. He can’t throw a pea in the ocean in the league, and he’s either riding the bench or you’re begging for him to return to it.
What is his most likely role on the team?
Lewis will likely be a back-of-the-rotation player looking to take advantage of opportunities he’ll get during back-to-backs, weeks where the Lakers play four or more times and/or when filling in for players who get injured. If he can perform at a replacement level during those minutes and show flashes of his upside, I think Lakers fans will be happy with Lewis.
If time is not available for him, then I hope the value he gets competing with his teammates in practice proves beneficial, or hopefully he gets sent down to the G League and can get the necessary reps he needs to stay ready and grow his game. The Lakers have committed to four seasons with Lewis, so there’s no rush for him to be NBA-ready on this win-now team. He just needs to make marginal improvements and learn to be a pro.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.