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Can Maxwell Lewis become the wing the Lakers need?

There haven’t been many moments for Maxwell Lewis to show us what he can do at the NBA level. But he’s shown flashes of the promise and an ability to adapt his game into what the Lakers need in the future.

Los Angeles Lakers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

If you're having trouble thinking of Maxwell Lewis' best moments in a Lakers jersey during his rookie season, that’s understandable given his limited play.

Through 36 games, Lewis has only appeared in 11, has never played 10 minutes and his cumulative season stat line is three points, three assists, and three rebounds.

This isn't a shocker with the Lakers currently on a win-now mentality and having star power like LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the helm, but spending a lot of time on the bench and not getting any run is a huge change for a player who was the guy at Pepperdine last season, playing 31.3 minutes and averaging 17.1 points 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

The best moment in his young career happened during one of the season's biggest games so far. In the NBA In-Season Tournament semifinal, Maxwell Lewis closed out the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans.

With 3:21 left in the game, Lewis contested a Kira Lewis Jr. layup and turned it from an easy layup to a difficult up-and-under attempt, which Lewis Jr. missed. Christian Wood grabbed the defensive board and pushed the ball coast to coast, finding Lewis on the left-hand side where he drilled the catch-and-shoot three for his first NBA points.

Lewis celebrated the moment briefly in classic Laker fashion, doing the 'freeze’ celebration before quickly getting back on defense.

Yes, the result was in hand for L.A., but the energy stayed up thanks to the young Lakers like Lewis, Jalen Hood-Schifino and Max Christie. That's the life for young players on a winning team: take advantage of every opportunity, play your role, be patient and work hard.

While Lewis has spent the majority of this NBA season glued to the bench, he has also spent some time with the South Bay Lakers, including his most recent assignment last week when he suited up against the Ontario Clippers and sat with a non-COVID illness during the Santa Cruz Warriors matchup during the Lakers three-game road trip in Texas.

South Bay head coach Dane Johnson discussed the work Lewis is doing off the court to improve as a player whether in the G League or with the parent Lakers.

"Just coming to work and knowing that every day is an opportunity to get better," Johnson said. "Trying not to waste any days, whether it's in the weight room, whether it's in the training room, whether it's on the court, building those winning habits and he's doing a good job of it. He just has to continue to get better at it.

“We have the number one example in the world to learn from. And so following his footsteps in a sense, but doing it his own way, finding his routine and everything, just building that."

That example is, obviously, LeBron and Lewis also mentioned the King's work ethic as his welcome to the NBA moment.

"Just watching LeBron and AD my first training camp, just watching them warm up and them get ready and for practice and just seeing how early he is to everything," Lewis told Silver Screen and Roll before South Bay's matchup against the Ontario Clippers. "Like wow, he's been here for 21 years and he's still acting like he's trying to get a job. That's how he treats it. He's trying to get a second contract and stuff. So just watching him is a big role model for me."

So, how has that work translated on the court for Lewis?

Leading up to the draft, Lewis was loved for his size and shooting ability but wasn't considered a defensive stalwart, and it's one of the reasons he fell from the first round to the second.

His role so far in the NBA and the G-League is vastly different than it was at Pepperdine. He is no longer the man. He's not the center of the universe. In Los Angeles, he's just another crayon in a box trying to fit in while standing out enough to be let out.

He's not bringing the ball up the court and pushing the offense. Instead, he's running to the corner and usually waiting for a catch-and-shoot opportunity or on the opposite wing while pick-and-roll actions are happening, ready to cut to the basket or get fed the ball.

Whether with the Lakers or in the G-League, Lewis hustles to his spot and is eager to contribute without looking impatient or frustrated. Against the Ontario Clippers, he was able to log 34 minutes and scored 10 points on 3-5 shooting while also grabbing five rebounds and five assists.

What was most impressive about this game was Lewis replicating his role with the Lakers in the G-League. He wasn't hot dogging or trying to prove he was above this level of play. He still ran to the corner or anticipated the pass coming from a pick and roll.

NBA: In Season Tournament-New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

But again, offense isn't the issue with Lewis. The question is, can he improve defensively enough to be a rotation player on a winning team?

"He's a strong athletic kid, so he should be able to guard a bunch of guys," Johnson said. "So developing all those skills that he has, he just has to raise up to the NBA level and then he'll be a pretty good NBA player."

Lewis is well aware of this deficiency in his game and acknowledges it when discussing his biggest areas of improvement.

"I'll say just guarding off ball, a lot of actions and a lot of screen downs," Lewis said. "Guarding the pick and roll, I think, is a real big responsibility to guard.”

Defense is hard to get better at mainly because it's the one aspect in the NBA you can't replicate in drills or a controlled setting. The speed, physicality and different systems can only be worked on when facing NBA-level players and simulating that on five-on-five is tough.

While playing for the Lakers, you see his effort and his flaws. Off-ball, he loses his defender often. His head ping-pongs back and forth from the ball back to his defender and he often has happy feet moving around but going nowhere when things are standing still.

Improving on this will take time, and in the G-League, he looks much better. The speed is much slower, and he can handle these challenges better. The hope is that if he can dominate in this setting, he will eventually be just as good in the NBA once he gets more reps and more work on this aspect of his game.

Good things take time and for him to go from a mediocre defender to a better one requires permission to fail as long as the intention is present. So far, it is.

Whether Lewis joins the likes of Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, and Talen Horton-Tucker as overlooked players that turned into bonafide NBA contributors remains to be seen, but the natural tools are there. This organization has done this time and time before and he has the right mentality going into this process.

"I put in a lot of work and it's all going to pay off at the end," Maxwell said. “My dad's from LA, I'm playing for the Lakers and I'm from Vegas and it's just all a blessing. I wouldn't trade this, my situation for anybody else's."

You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.

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