Babcock Hoops’ Derek Murray and Grant Aqui recently visited Miami, Florida to spend time with and evaluate 2020 NBA Draft prospects Kira Lewis Jr. and Desmond Bane.
When evaluating prospects, film can show a lot. However, there is no substitute for being in a gym. An evaluation is inadequate without numerous other aspects outside of the film that needs to be taken into account. What’s the player’s mental makeup and personality? Is he a born competitor? What’s the work ethic like when the cameras aren’t rolling? What makes him tick? Once you get a taste of these parts of the process, nothing feels complete without them.
Due to COVID-19, we lost a lot of opportunities to watch live basketball: Conference Tournaments, NCAA Tournament, Portsmouth Invitational, and the NBA Draft Combine. Like many NBA teams, our Babcock Hoops’ staff spent the majority of the pandemic remotely diving into film, reviewing our boards, and on the phone gathering as much intel as possible. Once the window of opportunity opened for travel to resume safely, we capitalized. Recently, I have made some trips with Babcock Hoops’ founder and NBA draft analyst, Matt Babcock. We made stops in Atlanta and Las Vegas. We were able to see a large number of players and the improvements they’ve made during this extended pre-draft process. We were able to see many of them play 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 runs, as well as 1-on-0 drills and workouts, as well as talk to many of them directly. After being exposed to these parts of the evaluation process, I was hooked and I wanted more — I was itching for another trip. My next stop? Miami, Florida.
Upon arriving in Miami, I was picked up by Babcock Hoops’ prospect research associate Grant Aqui. Since he lives in Orlando, he drove down. Over the next few days, we were in various gyms getting our eyes on numerous prospects, including Kira Lewis Jr. and Desmond Bane.
On our first full day in Miami, we were able to see Kira Lewis in some 5-on-5 runs and he impressed us, as we expected. It’s evident that he’s put on some muscle, reportedly weighing in somewhere around 180 pounds after playing his sophomore season at 165.
Right off the bat, Lewis showed off his dazzling speed. It didn’t matter if he was in an isolation or in the pick-and-roll; he was easily getting around his man for easy lay-ins. He always got downhill quickly, staying on par with his success at Alabama. One of the most noticeable things during the runs, however, was how Lewis absorbed contact in the lane. During the 2019-20 season, Lewis proved to be one of the best point guards in the country with his blazing speed and live dribble passing, but one area of improvement was the rim finishing. He converted 57.9% of his attempts at the rim, a number that places him in the middle of the pack among guards in the draft class. Lewis showed us a stronger, more physical version of himself, attacking the rim and finishing through contact. He showed no fear in attacking bigs, displaying excellent body control as he hit floaters in traffic. I’m confident in Kira’s ability to put pressure on the rim at the NBA level. Players with his speed don’t come around all that often, and it’s obviously caught the eyes of many NBA front office personnel, but without capitalizing at the rim his speed could become null and void. Functionality and application of his quickness are what will ultimately allow him to have a successful career. Needless to say, I was happy to see his physical developments in person.
We also saw Kira play next to Terry Rozier and operate a fair amount off the ball, something that he did not do very often while at Alabama. It was interesting to see him without the ball in his hands as both a cutter and a floor spacer. His ability to shoot off movement may unlock a whole other level to his offensive ceiling due to his speed; a defender tasked with chasing him off screens for extended periods of time would be in for a miserable evening. While he’s not regarded as a combo guard or off-ball shooter right now, we got a glimpse into that becoming a possibility.
On our last day in Florida, we got to see Lewis again, spending some 1-on-1 time getting to know him before watching him go through a private workout. We watched as he and his trainer, Anthony Wells II, went through shooting drills, working on various pull-up and step-back shots, as well as some dribble moves. Lewis connected on 36.6% of his three-point attempts last season, 52.7% of which were assisted. His ability to shoot both off the dribble and off the catch (88th percentile), make him a tremendous threat to opposing defenses. His mechanics looked clean and crisp in person, giving me all the more reason to buy him as an adequate shooter at the next level.
When we arrived at the gym, Kira took the time to introduce himself to us instead of remaining aloof, as some players have in recent weeks on our trips. It is by no means a requirement or an expectation, but it’s encouraging when a young prospect has the wherewithal and willingness to meet people, especially when in his near future he’ll be bombarded with media and asked to assimilate into an entirely new organization and community. He says he prefers to lead by example, which is evident with his soft-spoken nature. A very personable young man, we enjoyed briefly talking to him about his time at Alabama, how he has handled the extended pre-draft process and his future in the NBA.
In the Babcock Hoops’ latest mock draft, we have Kira Lewis slotted at #13 going to the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s still just 19 years old after playing two seasons at Alabama and has plenty of room to grow. His speed is irrefutable, live dribble passing is sensational, and shows promise as a multi-level scorer. He’s also an underrated defender, as he uses his speed to cut off driving lanes, dig, and stunt when necessary. He racked up 56 steals and led all point guards in this class in blocks with 18. I believe Kira Lewis Jr. is a lottery talent in the 2020 draft class, and with proper development, can become a long-term starter and core piece for an NBA franchise.
Most NBA drafts seem to be centered around youth. Many front offices search fervently for 18 or 19-year-olds with a sky-high ceiling, and the media tends to promote younger players laced with “upside.” While building a team with long term plans generally requires this train of thought, it’s not always the move to be made. Every year there are a handful of production-proven, mature, NBA-minutes-ready upperclassmen who are more prepared for the next level than their counterparts; this year one of those players is Desmond Bane from TCU.
We had the opportunity to watch Bane workout all three days in Miami, meeting him bright and early starting at 8:00 AM. While that statement may not seem important, the timeline meant something to Grant and me. All prospects spend their pre-draft process trying to get better in some capacity; whether it’s working on their physique, improving via drills, or training for interviews. One thing that I appreciate about Bane is that he and his agent, Seth Cohen, are rigid with their early morning routine. No matter the situation, they are in the gym together at 7:30 AM every day — no excuses allowed.
The first thing that I noticed upon meeting Bane was his maturity. He exudes a tremendous balance of confidence and humility, understanding his own strengths and weaknesses. He earned First Team All-Big 12 honors after shooting 44.2% from deep as a senior, connecting on 92 of his 208 attempts. His shooting ability is widely known at this point, so his self-awareness and willingness to develop other areas of his game are important. While in Miami, we saw him go through numerous ball handling drills in an effort to tighten up his handle. He hopes to be able to contribute as an offensive driver at times. Nearly 70% of his three-pointers on the season were assisted, so he’s also put in a ton of work creating off the dribble and improving his pull-up jumpers. He looked incredibly balanced and equally comfortable shooting off the bounce with a hand in his face. Instead of being purely a catch-and-shooter, possessing versatility will make him more of a perimeter threat at the next level.
Regarding his shot-making, what Grant and I witnessed in Miami was absurd. It’s routine for Bane to knock down 25-30 three-pointers in a row; when he misses even one he’s upset at himself and expects better. His trainer, Ronnie Taylor, has a terrific drill for developing shooting stamina that he calls the “Five Minute Drill.” In the drill that we saw, Bane connected on 110 shots in only five minutes — yes, that’s incredible! His personal record is said to be 118. A key takeaway for me after watching these drills is that he didn’t seem to get tired. During the long stretches of his extended shooting drills, his stamina wasn’t an issue and fatigue never compromised his form or mechanics. He was able to hide the exhaustion until after the drill was complete through controlled breathing and tremendous conditioning.
Bane also puts an outrageous amount of work into his physical development. His agent, Seth Cohen, gave us a tour of the facility he trains in and outlined for us his routine in the gym, weight room, rehab room, yoga, and turf football fields; you name it, and Bane has been doing it. He has always been one of the strongest guys on the court; at 6’6” in shoes and weighing a lean 217 pounds, his frame is NBA ready.
He could stand to improve his flexibility, but I think it’s something an NBA staff can correct fairly easily. Something I found interesting during our time in Miami was that Bane’s name seemed to come up with people even when we were in other gyms. We were told that he has been dominating his peers and played really well going against current NBA players training in Miami. While I cannot discuss who or what we did or did not see in the live play, let’s just say it lined up with the rumors we had heard beforehand. When Bane pulls up from three in 5-on-5 runs, his teammates generally yell “layup!” without hesitation. He’s apparently created an expectation for everyone in Miami that his shots go in every time.
Desmond Bane is taking advantage of every opportunity he has been given during this extended pre-draft process. He’s been busting his butt since his TCU career ended. I’m excited to watch the 2020 Jerry West Award Finalist get his shot in the NBA. For a team with a win-now approach with a need for a player who can fill a role immediately, Bane would be a great selection. His intelligence, maturity, and readiness are up there among the best in this class, and his high-level outside shooting should translate very well.
During our time in Miami, we were able to see a ton of great basketball and meet many new people. Prior to our trip, we were assigned to gather new information on Lewis Jr. and Bane, which we did, but in doing so we were also able to see prospects Emmitt Williams, Freddie Gillespie, and Kahlil Whitney. All in all, our trip was extremely productive!
I’d like to extend a huge thank you to agents Aaron Turner, David Mariotti of Verus Sports, and Seth Cohen of SAC Sports Family. I’d also like to thank trainers Cory Underwood, Anthony Wells II, and Ronnie Taylor. And of course, thanks to Kira Lewis Jr. and Desmond Bane. Best of luck to both of you!