In a 2020 draft class that’s weak on wings, the guard position fills the void with plenty of names worth knowing.
You can find all different types: Those who shoot, are defense-first, are pure passers and those who are supreme athletes. Position and taste will dictate who goes where, not necessarily a clear hierarchy of consensus.
No one or two stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, but there are enough good players that at least one of them figures to be a gem.
Last week, Tyrese Maxey stepped into the point guard spotlight with his non-shooting, defense-first style. While I’m not overly high on Maxey, that reason boils down to my strong preference for shooters at the point of attack. So let’s dive into two guys who are pretty strong shooters and, in my opinion, aren’t being valued correctly in terms of production.
This article’s title and lead image already show we’re talking about Kira Lewis and Cole Anthony, but here’s a blind resume test from the 2019-20 NCAA season. Check out the stats below and tell me on Twitter (@Spinella14) which player would prefer just based on a per-40 minute basis (without cheating and looking up their names):
Both were in Power-Five conferences. Both were the best player on their team. Player A is eleven months older than Player B. Both have the same dimensions in regards to height and wingspan. There isn’t a definitive statistical profile that’s better than the other. Player A carried a much higher volume but was far less efficient scoring, had a much worse assist-to-turnover ratio and really struggled to score inside the 3-point line.
Knowing that Player A is older, a slight edge may be given to Player B.
It may be surprising, then, to learn that Player A is North Carolina point guard Anthony and Player B is Lewis of Alabama.
A preseason favorite for one of the top selections in the draft and a top-five recruit, Anthony is actually older than sophomore Lewis—who enjoyed a resurgent season under first-year head coach Nate Oats. Lewis recently made the decision to stay in the draft after hearing initial feedback that he was a late first-round prospect.
That assessment should improve even further through film and statistical analysis. Lewis is a top-ten prospect in my book and should be seen as a more consistent, well-rounded and favorable project to undertake than the North Carolina Tar Heel.
Sometimes the perception of prospects paints an unfair picture for draft teams to follow: They’re paralyzed by the consensus and look to verify what others around them see.
Anthony was heralded as a top prospect heading into his season. He’s going to be in that conversation regardless of how his freshman year went. Lewis is the newcomer to the discussion, and for some, that makes him a risk in a truncated scouting year.
But those who get to study Lewis’ game will see a prospect far more polished than point guards receiving significant fanfare.
Kira Lewis Jr. – Alabama
Lewis left high school a year early so he could begin his pursuit of a basketball career and signed on under former NBA point guard and head coach Avery Johnson at Alabama. The 17-year-old Lewis started in the SEC and showed flashes of potential, but as his team struggled, he was barely a high-level prospect on NBA radars.
A coaching change and shift in style of play—catered around Lewis’ blazing speed—brought out the best in the sophomore. Alabama didn’t win many more games in Lewis’ second season, but they whizzed their way to the second-fastest offense in the nation. Now Lewis hopes that scouts will see not just his blazing speed but a solid polish, nuance and well-rounded offensive game.
Lewis’s game relies on his speed, both in the full-court and when he gets a burst in the half-court.
He also checks three very important boxes in my book: he’s got a long wingspan, shoots well enough from 3-point range that teams cannot go under ball screens, and he is able to finish effectively with both hands.
That speed in the open floor is reminiscent of Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox: He’s so lethal at blowing past a retreating defense that it’s hard to account for that threat’s value. He’s a one-man fast break that can go coast-to-coast in an instant.
Lewis can shift from fast-to-slow or slow-to-fast in a hurry. His deceleration means he doesn’t force or rush the shot at the end of the play, which is the most important part. From a skill standpoint, the ability to play at an all-out sprint and still make accurate passes is highly coveted. Lewis has demonstrated he can do that in transition; He’s not just a black hole driving to the hoop.
Lewis was a really strong finisher, due mainly to how he can get naked at the rim by blowing past the defense. He’s a skilled pick-and-roll playmaker, too.
What I really love is how Lewis understands the threat his speed provides. Fast players force defenses to react earlier. It’s hard for a defender to play the cat-and-mouse game when everything he does needs to be earlier, (and therefore more committed one way or another).
Lewis makes reads early enough to take advantage of those teams.
It’s impressive that young players make kicks just as the defense commits and not after they do. It’s even more impressive when someone who plays at Lewis’ speed can do it.
To me, his passing instincts are superb due to the context they’re placed in. He has some impressive one-hand bullets with either, and he’s crafty with his bounce. He’s not the type of speedster who needs to play fast every possession. He slows down and can lull the defense to sleep, which in turn strengthens the value of his top gear.
A 41 percent catch-and-shoot threat, Lewis can play in an off-ball role at times and doesn’t need to be supremely ball dominant. The stroke is pure, and his range is solid.
Again, relate his shooting back to the speed: Most defenders will play a little farther back when guarding him, as they’re worried about the blazing quickness and blow-bys to the rim. As they cheat, Lewis has a quick enough stroke to rise up.
His release off the bounce is a tad low, but it isn’t a functional worry since he figures to operate with a cushion from fearful defenders.
In order to be a high-caliber point guard who is the focal point of an offense, you must be able to score late-clock.
We’re at a point where every NBA defense is constructed the same analytically: They take away the arcs and dare teams to beat them with tough twos. Well, when those are the shots you need your best creators to get late-clock, you must be able to score them.
That’s the Catch-22 with an analytic emphasis on skill development: You can tell guys to avoid the mid-range, but at the end of the day, elite players must be good at them since those are shots they’ll have to take.
Lewis is a little underwhelming in the mid-range. He’s not a tremendous vertical athlete and doesn’t finish at the rim most often. His numbers didn’t struggle from two-point land at Alabama, but there are some areas Lewis must add to his game if he’s going to truly be a high-caliber NBA scorer.
Lewis is as gifted as they come laterally. He sacrifices his verticality to get there, though. He gets a ton of shots blocked at the rim and doesn’t deal with contact well.
He doesn’t do himself any favors by being a low finisher to begin with: He loves scoop shots and other circus attempts that originate below shoulder level. Even in the clips of his struggles to finish, Lewis makes some ridiculous moves and high-level plays to get himself to the rim. I’m willing to bet on that skill giving him enough space to be okay.
The mid-range stuff is a little more of a worry.
Lewis is not really a tough shot maker; Very few of his makes make you turn your head and say “damn, that guy made him earn it and he did.” Instead, Lewis relies on his quickness to get to the rim or draw help so he can kick.
When he has to score one-on-one, he’s not great. Step-backs spray all over the place. Lewis was 4-for-20 on floaters. On middle isolations, he was 1-for-6 on dribble jumpers and only 2-for-12 on all jumpers out of isolation. If the type of lead guard you want is the guy who will go out and create a shot for himself late-clock, Lewis hasn’t proven he can be that guy.
Defensively, Lewis isn’t atypical for point guards. He’s extremely slender, and while that figures to change, he likely won’t bulk up to the point where he’s a sturdy defender on switches. In fact, trying to do so might negate some of the speed that makes him special. That’s the natural trade-off you get with lightning bolt guards.
Lewis made solid defensive impacts at Alabama, but he can stand to improve recovery angles after he gets screened. Lewis isn’t great at getting back in the play on the most direct path possible.
COLE ANTHONY – North Carolina
Anthony entered the season with a ton of hype, but his freshman season didn’t go according to plan. While he put up fine numbers, the North Carolina Tar Heels had their worst season in the Roy Williams era and were at the bottom of the ACC. That’s like LeBron James missing the playoffs.
It’s hard to blame Anthony, and you don’t want to hold a poor team against an individual when it comes to draft analysis. Carolina was dreadful in guarding the pick-and-roll, suffered from unbearably atrocious spacing on offense and never seemed to get into a rhythm.
Anthony’s most projectable NBA skill was on display in flashes at Chapel Hill: his ability to create his own shot.
As an isolation scorer, he’s a bit predictable, however. If he goes left, he’s going to step-back or pull up for a shot. If he goes right, he’s trying to get to the rim. Regardless, there are enough tricks in his bag and tough shots he’s made to give many the confidence that he’ll be a high-level scorer in the NBA.
It’s hard to say whether Anthony’s scoring out of the pick-and-roll would have been much greater if the Heels’ spacing had improved.
Anthony isn’t blazing quick, but he’s very sharp with his movements. He gets around guys and finds a way to his spot. He’s violent with his moves, especially when splitting ball screens. That same ferocity can get him into trouble, but it’s also the crux of his game.
Anthony makes some great dribble moves with the ball in his hands. His change-of-pace and burst from slow to fast is elite. When defenses give him the opportunity to get downhill and align himself straight to the rim, he takes it.
A guy who’s always in attack-mode is bound to be a high-caliber scorer.
And unlike Lewis, the mid-range pull-up is a huge strength in Anthony’s game. NBA teams run drop pick-and-roll coverage solely so they can encourage guys to take this shot. If it’s available to Anthony, he’ll make it. He hurt Michigan early in the year when they gave him pull-up after pull-up.
That isolation scoring is what draws so much fanfare around Anthony. Watch how he shoots it and it’s tantalizing. Sure, he was only 34.8 percent from 3, which is modest and unspectacular, but the high-level makes are something else: Deep range; Stepbacks; Games with five treys and heat checks.
At 6’3″, he’s likely to hit these against NBA-caliber defenders without much fuss.
Think back to those same boxes that lead guards must demonstrate to be strong offensive threats in my book: have a plus-wingspan, shoot from 3 off the bounce and finish well with both hands. Anthony checks two while missing out on the finishing aspect.
Here’s the tough part of the pre-draft process coming into play: Anthony was placed in really difficult positions. He drove into a clogged lane surrounded by below-average shooters. If he was to do what he does best and create offense, he’d have to accept the degree of difficulty presented.
While Anthony was really poor as a finisher and made many questionable decisions by over-penetrating into gaps that didn’t exist, we must try and imagine what he’ll be like in an NBA offense where those concerns don’t exist.
Will his finishing ability skyrocket with more space? Will he avoid the high turnover rate (4.0 turnovers per 40 minutes is really high) with clearer kickout avenues? So there’s likely a grain of salt to be taken with all the struggles.
As a decision-maker, Anthony got lazy at times. He sought the easy read, wasn’t careful with his lobs or entry passes and just seemed out of sync with his teammates. But that was a common theme for all the Tar Heels on both ends.
Still, Anthony needs to take greater care of the rock. He’s a fine creator who has flashed passing potential, but that assist-to-turnover ratio was unacceptable.
The finishing worries me and is probably why I don’t have as much confidence that a lot of this is solely dependent on the circumstances around him.
Anthony is as right-hand reliant at the rim as many lottery prospects I can remember. He’s a smooth athlete but doesn’t float through contact well. He got bullied with length and verticality, couldn’t adjust in mid-air and seemed to lack touch at times.
In the middle-third of the floor, scorers intuitively know whether to use a finger roll or push off the glass. Driving at a 45-degree angle gives the perfect angle to ricochet the layup off the glass. A more flat, linear path to the basket requires a nuanced finish that Anthony seemed to lack. He’d push to the right side and try to fling it off the backboard but wouldn’t have the touch to do so.
You could tell the season wore on Anthony from a defensive standpoint. Carolina struggled to get on the same page and had frequent miscommunications with on-ball screen coverages. It’s impossible to know how much of the blame lies upon Anthony’s shoulders, but the flood gates would open too frequently.
With the disappointing results, Anthony’s effort waned. He gave up on plays once he got driven past, came up flat-footed on several closeouts and laid down for bigger wings to whip him around on switches. I’d have liked to see more fight come from a lottery pick who was certainly leaving for greener pastures after the season.
overall analysis and Draft Predictions
Preseason projections really skew perception. Based on age, numerical output, team disappointment and red flag skills, Lewis is preferable to Anthony in every category. But Cole has that one, highly-coveted skill to create his own shot and make difficult step-backs, 3-pointers over contests and be a high-level late-clock option.
There aren’t many guys in this draft class with that upside.
Cole’s draft range is likely anywhere from 4 to 12. And that’s not undeserved. His shot creation upside is highly valuable. Film from his high school days illustrates some highlight-reel moments that surely led many to view him as a guy whose true ability wasn’t harnessed at North Carolina.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Lewis sniffs the top-half of the lottery just off perception alone. There are many names with so much more buzz. And with a potential cap on his one-on-one scoring and upside as a late-clock option, keeping him out of that range is likely justified. Anyone with a top-five pick that spends it on a scorer will need to find a transcendent one with more upside.
That likely limits Kira to being picked once guys like Anthony, Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball are off the board.
Anthony’s entire freshman season was a foggy one, with tons of questionable plays, subpar effort and an overwhelming lack of team execution. As draft experts, we can find compartmentalize some of those moments and find an excuse for them based on the situation in North Carolina. We know Anthony is capable of more.
But that’s where the preseason projections skew things. The only reason such context is applicable is because we had hype for Anthony coming into Carolina. Had that hype not existed, he would have just been a disappointing freshman with promise and upside as a one-on-one scorer.
The hype does exist, though. There’s not much we can do to prevent it, but we can choose how we frame it. Many are willing to take the gamble on Anthony’s upside since they’ve seen enough flashes through EYBL play and high school to justify belief in him fulfilling that potential. In a draft where you’re looking for primary scorers and high-ceiling guys, I certainly get why Anthony is almost a lock to be drafted ahead of Lewis.
But I’m still a guy who heavily values body of work and well-rounded players. If I’m betting on who will have a better pro career, I’m putting my money on Lewis.
Adam is a TBW staff writer and college basketball coach at Dickinson College. He loves watching for offensive schemes while specializing in individual skill development, shooting technique and coach-speak. Born in New Hampshire, Adam grew up as a Celtics fan but now claims to just love “good basketball”, which does not include mid-range jumpers.