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Is Kira Lewis Jr. ready?
When the Pelicans unloaded Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe this summer, there was an implication that they did so to give more minutes and possibly a starting gig to both Kira Lewis Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. We had a report during the season at the trade deadline from Shams Charania of The Athletic that David Griffin was looking to move Ball and Bledsoe with the stated goal of siphoning minutes to Lewis Jr. and NAW, and another report dropped this summer from Jake Fischer at Bleacher Report indicating that Jacque Vaughn’s interview for the head coaching role fell apart when Griffin informed him that he wanted a starting backcourt of Lewis Jr. and NAW. It’s probably safe to assume that the new head coach, Willie Green, accepted some form of those terms, but I’d speculate that he may have convinced Griffin that Lewis Jr. still isn’t quite ready, which could explain why they went out and got Devonte’ Graham in free agency.
Graham started 44 of the 55 games he suited up for with the Hornets last season, and I’d say there’s a decent chance he’ll be the Pelicans starting point guard to begin the 2021-22 season, as he’s a significantly better 3-point shooter than Lewis Jr. Graham connected on 37.7% of his long-balls last season while Lewis Jr. shot just 33.3% from distance and 38.6% from the floor overall. Lewis Jr. also didn’t show much improvement in that are at Summer League, connecting on just 27.8% of his shots from beyond the arc to go with averages of 10.8 points, 5.8 assists, 1.0 triple, 1.4 steals and 2.2 turnovers per game. Additionally, the Pelicans can’t truly go through a full rebuild right now while keeping Zion Williamson happy, and it just seems like Lewis Jr. isn’t quite ready to be the starting point guard on a winning team.
We also haven’t even discussed Tomas Satornasky, who figures to at least be a marginal part of the rotation, so I can’t really get behind targeting Lewis Jr. on draft day. He’ll be an intriguing guy to monitor over the course of the season, particularly if the Pelicans find themselves getting mathematically eliminated from the playoffs early, but I think he’ll be a frustrating guy to have on your team in standard leagues to start the year. Alexander-Walker, however, does appear to be ready to take the next big step in his development, so I could certainly see him making some noise in fantasy hoops this upcoming season with a full-time, starting role.
A Decorated Rookie
Usman Garuba didn’t get to play too many minutes in Las Vegas, but when KJ Martin and Alperen Sengun were rested for Houston’s Summer League finale, he showed us his potential by racking up eight points (3-of-5 FG, 2-of-5 FT), 10 rebounds, six assists, five steals, one block and just two turnovers through 25 minutes of play.
The 19-year-old forward had one of the more impressive resumes in the 2021 NBA Draft, as he’s already played in 90 professional games for Real Madrid (one of the clubs in Europe), and he also took home the Rising Star trophy (given to the EuroLeague’s best player under 22), and the “Best Young Player” award during his time in Europe.
Now, he does have a lot of room to grow as an offensive option, and we saw that throughout Summer League, but his ability to impact the defensive end of the floor while gobbling up the boards and dishing out some dimes shows us his fantasy potential. He’ll probably begin the year playing limited minutes behind Jae’Sean Tate, Sengun and Daniel Theis, but it’s possible he could make some noise over the second half as the Rockets are not expected to be a competitive team in the postseason hunt. He’s not a guy I’m going to be drafting in most standard leagues, but I did snag him in a 30-man dynasty league I’m in because I think he could be a fantasy dynamo in a few years. Keep an eye on him.
Major Shot Blocking Potential
Another under-the-radar guy who caught my eye at Summer League was Isaiah Jackson, who posted averages of 9.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.0 steal and 3.0 swats per game in a mere 16.5 minutes per contest in Las Vegas. Now, he also shot just 41.9% from the floor and committing 3.4 fouls per game in his limited playing time, so it was far from perfect, but it was fun to see him tie a Las Vegas record in his final Summer League game when he sent away seven shots over 21 minutes.
Jackson’s got an elite physical profile as a 6-foot-11 forward with a 9-foot-5 standing reach and the ability to jump out the gym, but unfortunately for him, he’s going to be buried on the depth chart in Indiana. Unlike the previously mentioned teams, the Pacers should be poised to make a run at the postseason, meaning a majority of the frontcourt minutes will be soaked up by Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner with Goga Bitadze likely serving as the primary backup. Now, it is possible that things will fall apart with the Pacers, which would queue a rebuilding process and potentially give meaningful minutes to Jackson, but I’d say it’s a lot more likely they’ll stick with it for at least one more season.
So, like Usman Garuba and Kira Lewis Jr., Jackson is a guy I’ll be monitoring this season, but not necessarily a guy I’ll be looking to draft in standard leagues. He’s more of a dynasty league target.