Maxwell Lewis has a chance to be the highest selected player to ever come out of Pepperdine. The college in Malibu, California has produced the likes of Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson, current NBA player Kessler Edwards, and four-time All-Defensive player Doug Christie, who at 17th overall is currently the highest ever draftee from the school.
Lewis comes with his own merits, of course. As a 6’7” wing with true two-way potential, he broke out in a big way in his sophomore year, registering 17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. As a team, the Waves finished a disappointing 9-22 last season, and so Lewis was elevated to a lead role without the benefit of a high level supporting cast. That provides important context as to why hype surrounds a player from a mid-major program who was barely on the draft radar just a year ago.
Lewis’ shot mechanics look clean, with an easy shooting motion with no wasted action in his set or follow through. The career 35% shooting from three undersells him some, as he was thrust into a lead creator role early and as a result was forced into tougher quality shots. His catch-and-shoot figure from the most recent season are a much more respectable 44% from deep, and he’ll most likely have more of those opportunities in an NBA environment with other high level creators around him.
He has a projectable halfcourt handle, with the ability to attack closeouts and get downhill. Additionally, Lewis occasionally flashes his connecting skills with quick passes against tilted defenses. In total, it doesn’t quite suggest ‘point forward’ upside in the NBA, as he struggles with turnovers and decision making on the ball — he finished the season with more turnovers (102) than assists (87) — but his dribbling allows him to pull up into open mid-range attempts and slash to the rim against open lanes.
Lewis is more than just a functional off ball operator on offense as well. As mentioned before, he is a strong spot up shooter, solid screener, and uses timely cuts to catch the defense napping at times. A lot of that is the product of developing as a complementary role during his youth basketball days, as Lewis himself mentioned to ESPN’s Johnathan Givony.
I never had the role I had at Pepperdine this season, just being able go at defenders one-on-one and in ball screens. I was in the corner in AAU and high school, shooting 3s and waiting for dump-offs. Coach [Lorenzo] Romar gave me a lot of flexibility and trusted me. Having that role and [being] given that opportunity gave me the ability to do more. Also [working] harder and being in the gym more than I ever have.
Below in this clip, he turns the corner and uses his thin frame to get skinny to slink to the rim even against contact.
But too often Lewis is plagued with bad reads and lazy passes. He’ll need to clean this kind of thing up going forward.
There are NBA-ready tools like his 6’11” wingspan and agility to help bolster Lewis’ stock, but those tools will still need refining at the next level. Still, his size and quick feet give him the versatility to take on a variety of matchups and hold his own. Even at the point of attack against smaller guards, his great footwork allows him to stay in front of most opponents and active hands help challenge shots at the highest point.
As a couple of potential drawbacks, Lewis’ off ball awareness can be spotty, and his motor does run hot and cold depending on the flow of the game. Lewis is a wiry strong player, but could still stand to fill out his 195-pound frame as he looks to fight with powerful NBA athletes. He’ll need to find consistency to hit his defensive potential, but all in all the ceiling on that end of the floor is very enticing.
Possible fit with the Hawks
Lewis seems to be a late riser in mock drafts, with some projecting him to end up in the lottery and others having him slide toward the end of the first round. The Hawks could certainly pull the trigger at the 15th overall selection, although it might be seen as a reach around the league. Plus, the Hawks have a fairly stocked group at the wings — especially after using the 16th overall pick to grab AJ Griffin a season ago — so the value may not quite be there without some sort of trade down.
But the two-way potential may be too enticing to pass up, and in the modern game it’s often said that you can never have enough versatile wings. Of note, the Atlanta Hawks recently worked him out in Atlanta coming off a strong combine.
The Hawks are hosting (by far) their best slate of prospects yet tomorrow.— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) June 1, 2023
Multiple players who could be first round picks. pic.twitter.com/QXxRKyRfdP
After his freshman year, he was named to the 2021-22 West Coast Conference All-Freshman team, and he followed that up with an appearance on the 2022-23 West Coast Conference All-WCC second team. He’s an accomplished player with a tangible upwards trajectory, so I do think he’ll be on the Hawks’ radar in the first round.