Pelicans: How Kira Lewis Jr. can turn the bench into a weapon

Kira Lewis Jr. #13 of the New Orleans Pelicans . (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Kira Lewis Jr. #13 of the New Orleans Pelicans . (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans had one of the worst benches in the NBA last season, but an expanded role for Kira Lewis Jr. could change a minus into a weapon.

Speed was most often the first word used to describe Kira Lewis Jr. going into the 2020 NBA Draft, with good reason. Lewis has the kind of speed that makes the guys at NOLA Motorsports Park blush. There aren’t many players in the NBA with the end-to-end speed of Kira. Even the highlight package the team put together for Lewis focuses on his speed more than anything.

But all this talk of speed takes attention away from what Kira can do as a passer and playmaker. His scouting profiles would also mention his ability to make good passes but often said this was an area that he needed to improve.

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Improve he did. In his first year in the NBA, Lewis had a 3.65 AST/TO ratio, a number that would’ve ranked Lewis third in the NBA if he qualified for the leaderboard. This is very impressive for a rookie and for reference Chris Paul led the league with a 3.99 ratio.

It wasn’t just that Lewis created assists while limiting turnovers, it was how his style of play causes defenses to collapse and rotate. Lewis is able to create separation from his man and get into the teeth of the opposing defense and kick the ball out to an open shooter, something that was missing too often last season.

That ability to get defenses rotating would have been wasted anyway as the Pels were among the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA last season. Now though, the team has upgraded their shooters, and a drive and kick guard will be a real weapon for new head coach Willie Green.

New Orleans Pelicans: Kira Lewis Jr. was the table setter in Summer League

In what was the Naji Marshall and Trey Murphy III show in Monday’s Summer League game against the Bulls, Lewis had a couple of crafty passes that his teammates were able to put away. He finished with a game-high seven assists and zero turnovers. All of these players will be key components to the Pelicans’ bench this season and it’s good to see the three of them playing well off each other already.

There was a stretch about halfway through the fourth quarter where Kira showed what he can bring. First Kira drove into the lane and pulled up for a floater that made me miss Uncle E. Next he used a high screen near the three-point line, Lewis began to drive and forced Herb Jones’ defender to cut off him off. That allowed Lewis to kick the ball to Jones for a three. Finally, in a break started by Jones, Lewis made a quick read and fired a pass to Murphy, who buried the three.

Three good plays in about two minutes of game action. With the increase in opportunities that should come with being the third guard now, Lewis will be able to create more chances for himself and his teammates. Those chances will allow the Pelicans bench unit to play a real role in determining the outcome of games.

Here he is pushing in transition in the Pels’ win over the Thunder, as the Pelican defenders turn defense into offense.

No longer will the Pelicans bench be a killer unit in a bad way. This season, buoyed by the play of Lewis, Marshall, and Murphy the Pelicans can play their bench and not be worried about getting blown out of the water. Instead, the Pels can do some hunting of their own when this unit gets on the floor.

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