New Orleans Pelicans: Kira Lewis Jr. is boosting the playoff push

(Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports) /

Kira Lewis Jr. deserves more minutes for the New Orleans Pelicans and Stan Van Gundy is starting to give them to him.

The New Orleans Pelicans’ four-game winning streak was snapped by the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, but fans should not worry. Stan Van Gundy’s squad was on the second night of a back-to-back and the Bulls had an outlier performance, hitting 53 percent of their three-pointers. These things happen in the NBA.

It’s tough to argue that the New Orleans Pelicans played much worse than they have during their recent resurgence, bar Eric Bledsoe perhaps. The former Bucks guard only played 17 minutes, scoring just five points and turning the ball over twice. However, Bledsoe has been inconsistent throughout most of the season. He’s shown some flashes of why he’s been an NBA point guard for a decade, but they have been very intermittent.

Bledsoe is not a cozy fit next to Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball. The latter has been mentioned in potential trade talks—Ball will be a restricted free agent this summer—but it should be Bledsoe that the Pelicans try to move on from more urgently. If the Pels decide to stay with Ball instead of Bledsoe (or end up moving away from both), the good news is that they have a ready-made replacement at home.

The Pelicans drafted Kira Lewis Jr. with the 13th pick in the 2020 draft, but the Alabama point guard barely saw the floor to start the season. That has started to change, with Lewis entering the rotation and averaging about 21 points per game over the last week.

Lewis was a bright spot for the Pelicans against the Bulls, posting a season-high so far in minutes and points. He gave New Orleans some much needed energy, although he was unlucky to play the bulk of his minutes when the Pelicans were already trailing.

Speed kills, as Pelicans color analyst Antonio Daniels reminded us, and that’s one thing Lewis has in abundance. At some point, he will be recognized as one of the fastest players with the ball in the NBA, but he can already make a difference using that skill right now.

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In his first play of the game, Lewis got the step on Coby White and finished at the rim. He gets knocked off balance and definitely has to keep getting stronger, but his speed makes the lay-up possible. Lewis excels at pushing the pace and getting into possessions quickly. That’s one thing the New Orleans Pelicans can use more of, as the attack can sometimes meander into a crawl on this young team.

Part of what has been so impressive about Lewis is that, despite his velocity, he doesn’t look particularly fazed by the speed of the NBA game. That’s not to say the game has “slowed down” for him, as you’ll often hear NBA newcomers say after a certain period of time in the league, but it isn’t especially noticeable.

Above, Lewis hits a pull-up three, which is always good to see from a young point guard. But it’s the way he gets into the shot that’s most impressive. Lewis plays Willy Hernangómez’s screen with great pace, but then waits until JJ Redick slips out to the perimeter. The space Redick’s movement provokes gives Lewis enough time to pull-up. He does so and swishes the triple.

If you compare Lewis with Nickeil Alexander-Walker, whose minutes have waned as Lewis’ have increased in the past three games, the difference is apparent. Alexander-Walker almost always looks rushed, like he’s in a hurry to execute whatever he has his mind set on doing. Lewis lets the game come to him, making good use of the ball whenever he has it but never forcing it.

Lewis has also been a contributor on the defensive end of the floor. He had two steals against the Bulls that generated scoring opportunities for the Pels. It’s encouraging to see Lewis embrace his defensive responsibilities, especially with a defense-first coach like Van Gundy, even when they don’t show up on the box score.

Lewis showed understanding and anticipation in his 24 minutes against Chicago. He made the right rotations, was alert to his assignment moving off the ball, and generally played with energy. In the clip above, Lewis anticipates the pass to Daniel Gafford, blowing up the pick-and-roll and then going the length of the court to finish.

With the trade deadline creeping up, it’ll be interesting to see how the New Orleans Pelicans maneuver in the market over the next month. It certainly seems like at least one point guard moving away is a very real possibility, which would free Lewis to see even more minutes as New Orleans continue to chase a coveted playoff spot.

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