When the Los Angeles Lakers swapped the 47th pick plus some cash considerations for rights to the 40th pick on draft day, it was clear they had a player in their sights. No team just trades up on draft day for no reason. Jesse Buss must have gathered enough intel to enable himself the courage to recommend trading up for a particular prospect.
If Jesse Buss likes a prospect then they typically turn out to be solid players in the NBA. So, whoever that prospect was, the Lakers knew the name that they wanted with their second selection in the 2023 NBA draft long before it was ever announced.
On June 22nd, 2023, the identity of the previously unrevealed target was disclosed. If history tells us anything, history tells us that the player we are about to dissect will more than likely develop into a fine player over time.
In the present, Maxwell Lewis is a project. Do not let his draft position fool you, though, because many people had him penciled into first-round territory. At first sight, he checks the boxes of a modern-day wing. His 6’7″ height coincides with his lanky wingspan and sneaky bounce to hint at a limitless defensive ceiling. Needless to say, a slender frame limits Lewis’s immediate defensive ability, but he should grow accustomed to the bumping and bruising in the league over time.
Still only 21, this is a young player that has a ton of potential. Over his two collegiate campaigns at Pepperdine, Lewis combined per-game averages of 14.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.7 blocks with shooting splits of 45.4/35.6/79.1. The outcome was a lot of respect from NBA scouts, even though many fans may not have been familiar with Lewis due to his school’s smaller prominence.
In college, he displayed functionality as a primary creator. He had a lot of responsibility in his sophomore season, particularly. With that responsibility, Lewis proved responsible all year in 2022-2023. He was handed the keys to the offense, and clearly offered enough to appease the appetites of NBA scouts hunger for the next crop of 3&D wings.
What will Maxwell Lewis bring to the Lakers?
Just like Jalen Hood-Schifino, however, Lewis will be on a leash in his first professional season with the Lakers. This is a roster of fully-grown pit bulls that are not afraid of a little bite, but it takes repetition for guys to reach that level. Two seasons ago it was Austin Reaves. We witnessed him come in as an undrafted 23-year-old free agent and slowly build his case for NBA legitimacy in year 1. In year 2, we progressively witnessed the promotion from hinge rotation guy to certified hooper.
Now with everything he has been doing ahead of training camp with Team USA, many wonder how high he would go in a 2021 NBA re-draft. Reaves looks the part of a full-blown dog as we approach year 3.
Sticking with the trend of the slow, progressive development plan the Lakers have exemplified, Max Christie was solid in year 1. While not even close to as impressive as the rookie season Reaves put together, Christie’s inaugural go-round with the Lakers was promising. But all promise aside, this was a team contending for a title.
With that in mind, the Lakers’ young rookie only saw the NBA floor 41 times in 2022-2023. There just was not a lot of margin for error, and rookies always need some time to grow through their mistakes. So Christie spent most of the year flipping back and forth between Los Angeles Lakers and South Bay Lakers jerseys in his rookie season, a route that could soon engulf Lewis as well.
It is important to recall that after the Lakers selected Christie with the 35th pick in the 2022 NBA draft, he too was labeled a project. A former McDonald’s All-American, he departed for the draft after struggling mightily with his shot as a freshman at Michigan State. Regardless, scouts were high on his physical tools and conscious feel on both ends. Now, Christie is making Rob Pelinka look like a psychic following the show he put on at Summer League.
When you analyze the cons of the Lewis selection, it has to be that he was competing against lower competition. Scratch that, he was killing against lower competition. But like Christie, scouts bought into his tangible gifts. In year 1 for Christie, he did not receive a lot of run but made the most of the opportunities he was given. In year 1 for Lewis, he will more than likely follow a similar trajectory in terms of playing: mostly mop-up minutes in the majors, a lot of run in the minors.
Maxwell Lewis may be the lesser-heralded of the two 2023 Laker draft picks, but he has all the tools to turn in the better long-term NBA career. And while he and his fellow first-year fella learn the ropes as professionals, they will also be responsible for remaining ready. In both cases, they would think to be break-in-case-of-emergency type options presently for Darvin Ham and his staff.
Emergencies happen, though. So while a lot of his learning will be from the sidelines for Lewis as a rookie, you never know when you might be called upon for some hands-on learning.