In a sharp divergence from how they’ve tended to sign promising non-first round picks to shorter, non-guaranteed contracts, the Lakers have double-dipped on Maxwell Lewis, signing him to a four-year contract, after blowing a bag on the pick they used to select him just a couple of weeks prior.
In past seasons, the Lakers inked Max Christie, Austin Reaves, and Talen Horton-Tucker to two-year contracts as rookies, exposing themselves to the possibilities of losing them or having to overpay for them on the open market a season earlier than they may have had to. While none of those suboptimal potentialities ultimately came to fruition (...yet, with Christie soon to be in the same contractual position Reaves was in last season), the Lakers have avoided the possibility of them arising here by exploiting a form of NBA contract available under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The fresh addition allows teams to offer second-round draft picks three or four-year contracts at or below the league minimum without that number counting against the salary cap or luxury tax until July 31. Also, in the past, signing second-rounders to three-year deals required teams to pull cash from their mid-level exception, something they are no longer required to do with this new exception.
Here, the Lakers were able to spare their MLE for at least one free agent (Gabe Vincent), while locking Lewis into as many as four years for a max total of just over $7 million. Further benefitting the Lakers’ flexibility, if Lewis doesn’t pan out, they can cut him in his third season and pay him only $100,000, or refuse to pick up the team option on his fourth season.
In terms of financial stability, the deal is an even bigger win for the Lakers. Instead of worrying about having to pay him by the time he rounds into a complete NBA contributor, the Lakers have secured the possibility of Lewis growing into a dirt-cheap rotation player for the latter half of his deal. Presumably, the Lakers are betting on Lewis’s potential — and given his low cost, the glimpses of upside he’s displayed during his first handful of games as a professional, and the scarcity of big wings with legit scoring chops and defensive versatility — the team is right to do so.
While he looked a bit spooked by the bright lights during the California Classic and struggled to create as a primary option after the team lost their top dog in Max Christie for the final two games in Vegas, Lewis showed flashes of real promise during the Lakers’ middle stretch of the Summer League. Specifically, he showed promise as a secondary scorer and creator when attacking defenders off the catch.
Couple nice plays from Maxwell Lewis attacking closeouts. Looks very fluid out there. pic.twitter.com/cQPVGSwu5b— Raj C. (@RajChipalu) July 3, 2023
In particular, Lewis’s ability to read the floor quickly and extend an advantage over an already compromised defense was exciting to see, especially since he was his team’s clear No. 1 as an undergrad. These supporting offensive skills should help smooth his transition to becoming a supporting option at the NBA level when the time comes, even if that more than a season away. Overall, his shot was way too streaky (32.4 FG%, 16.7 3PT%, 75.0 FT%) to make the jump right now, but his career college shooting splits (45.4%, 35.6%, 79.1%) suggest a stronger foundation for him to build on.
Maxwell Lewis a guy i'm confident will pop next to better players. Guys fly at him and he's got such a good feel attacking closeouts. pic.twitter.com/NDqqtCcGVq— Raj C. (@RajChipalu) July 13, 2023
Although Lewis came into the draft process known primarily for his bucket-getting ability, he showed moments of disruptiveness on the other end that could help him find a place in the league sooner than later. At 6’7” with a 7’0” wingspan, Lewis is about an inch smaller than Jarred Vanderbilt in both measurements with superior athletic pop. On the ball, Lewis is probably 10-15 pounds of muscle away from being able to hold his own against NBA wings, but will need to improve his awareness off of it to earn coaches’ trust. Scouts I’ve spoken to see this as the area where he’ll need to improve the most for him to become a positive contributor. Particularly in those first couple of Sacramento games, Lewis’s defensive lapses looked ugly, occasionally getting back-cut for layups and fouling 3-point shooters.
There’s no doubt Maxwell Lewis is too rough around the edges to be an impact rotation player with the Lakers right now, but because he’s been signed on one of the new four-year contracts available to second-round draft picks, he’s got plenty of time to smooth things out.