The Prospect Overview: Max Lewis Has Arrived
Max Lewis's ascension felt inevitable; now, it's here. A full scouting report on the Pepperdine wing, featuring comments from Max Lewis himself and Head Coach Lorenzo Romar.
Feature: Maxwell Lewis
The first basketball video game I ever played was NBA Courtside 2 for the N64. One feature appealed to me above all the others: Create-A-Player. I was a young basketball obsessive with dreams of playing in the NBA. The ability to create a version of myself and tear through the league was beyond exciting. In some senses, Video Game Maxwell Baumbach was true to life. I’m tall, so I made myself tall in the game. When I played basketball as a kid, I was a good rebounder, and the video game version of me was too. Even though I played out of the post, I was always a good passer, so the “created me” could also pass sufficiently. However, I got a little carried away in the creative process. I always loved three-point shooters. While I would have been immediately benched if I ever took a triple in real life, the video game version of me was a flamethrower from distance. I’m pigeon-toed. Chunky wasn’t just my favorite type of peanut butter, it was also my body type. But instead of being slow-footed, Video Game Me was a blur in transition who could keep up with anyone on defense. While I eventually got into shape and can currently do a basic, one-handed dunk, the Maxwell Baumbach who suited up in NBA Courtside 2 had a Kobe Bryant-like ability to soar through the air.
I never became the NBA Courtside 2 version of Maxwell Baumbach. But there is a different Maxwell, one who exists in real life, who plays a lot like him. That’s Maxwell Lewis. At times, the game looks overly simple for him, like he’s set a video game to the easiest setting while giving himself overpowered attributes. But the truth is much more complex. In hindsight, Lewis’s arrival felt inevitable. In reality, there were times it seemed out of reach, or perhaps even impossible.
There was no certainty that Max Lewis (he goes by Max, by the way) would even play college basketball. Originally, he had no intention of doing so. He partook in Chameleon BX, an alternative prep-to-pro platform started by Frank Matrisciano. An accomplished skills trainer, Mastrisciano took a group of young players (including recent first round pick MarJon Beauchamp) under his wing. His intention was to get them ready for the NBA Draft. The COVID-19 pandemic and other factors lead to the program crumbling. All four players in the program were left without a basketball home and their collegiate eligibility was uncertain.
Lewis went on to compete in a summer circuit. Pepperdine’s Head Coach Lorenzo Romar was tipped off about his potential eligibility. Lewis shared a mutual interest. “After everything I went through, going through club ball that summer, Pepperdine was the best thing for me,” Lewis stated, “Coach Romar’s background and resume was perfect to get to me where I want to go. I knew he could lead me down that path. It was the best option for me.” Romar’s resume is indeed impressive— he’s coached 21 NBA players and 3 NBA All-Stars over the course of his career.
Lewis’ freshman campaign was bumpy. Initially, he had to sit out before the NCAA granted him eligibility. As a result, he didn’t get the typical training camp time to acclimate. When he first stepped on the court, it was obvious that the challenge of college basketball was far greater than what he had previously experienced. "From AAU to college…it’s so different. I tell all my younger friends and younger players— it’s way faster, and it’s more controlled. I had a hard time knowing when to take the right shots, when not to take shots. I could not take four, five dribbles to try and score. You can’t do that. It’s more structured and you have to play in that system. Curls, fades, off-ball screens…it’s a system.”
Pepperdine was the youngest team in the West Coast Conference, one of the toughest in college basketball. The league finished sixth out of the 32 conferences in winning percentage last season, and ninth using SportsReference’s Simple Rating System. Gonzaga’s presence loomed large, Saint Mary’s was loaded with veterans, Santa Clara was led by a lottery pick, and both BYU and San Francisco were spearheaded by fifth-year guards returning after all-conference senior seasons. Those five teams all finished with over twenty wins. It was a difficult, experienced league. Three of Pepperdine’s top scorers (Houston Mallette, Max Lewis, and Mike Mitchell Jr.) were freshmen. It was a recipe for disaster. They went 1-15 in league play. When asked about keeping a young team engaged and developing during that type of season, Head Coach Lorenzo Romar explained, “It’s really difficult. If I had guys with different attitudes, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. These kids understood that we all had a lot to learn. They get along really well and banded together really well. We stayed encouraged and they wanted to figure it out. In college, it’s different, it’s a process, and they stuck together.”
Not only did they stick together through the season, but they also stuck together during the off-season. In a world where the Transfer Portal is king, none of Pepperdine’s intriguing young players left. “There were things they really believed in and were loyal to,” Coach Romar said. “We were trying to look for those types of kids. That’s what it was about. They came for a reason. Sometimes kids will go somewhere to put up numbers, but they came in with a belief in what they could do. There’s now a challenge for them to see it through, now that they’ve started it.”
While Pepperdine’s 7-25 record may have looked bleak on paper, outsiders were understanding. On top of it, they were hungry to see what such an intriguing group of young players would look like after an off-season together. The early returns have lived up to expectations. Pepperdine is 4-1 through their first five games. Max Lewis in particular looks to have taken the leap. Let’s dive deep into his progression.
Max Lewis was a solid scorer as a freshman. He posted 11.0 PPG on 42.2/36.3/80.4 shooting splits. There were a few reasons for excitement. First, Lewis’ vertical burst made it obvious he could become a legitimate rim finisher. Second, his ability to pull up from deep at 6’7” is enough to raise anyone’s eyebrows. Lastly, it felt like Lewis could both take on a larger workload and become more efficient if he reeled in his shot selection. That’s exactly what he’s done so far to start his second season. Through five games, Lewis is averaging 17.2 PPG on an astounding 65.2/58.8/84.2. While I don’t expect that level of efficiency to be sustained, Lewis is going about his scoring in a more controlled, mature manner. Lewis attributed part of it to feeling more comfortable with their offensive system. He told me, “First, it’s knowing the plays. I know everything like the back of my hand. I know how to execute and get to the free throw line…I’m getting to my spots better. If I’ve got my feet set, I know it’s going in.” On top of that, he’s trimmed the fat from his shot diet. “[Now I’m] knowing what to shoot and what not to shoot, and how much time is on the clock.”
“I think he can really shoot the ball,” Coach Romar said. “He’s a natural scorer. He can find ways to get shots and hit them. Now that he’s better offensive rebounder, he can post up, he’s a multi-dimensional scorer.” I couldn’t agree more with that assessment. Lewis is a confident three-point shooter. He can hit more complicated, difficult triples off stepbacks, and he’s money off the catch when he’s set. You can’t chase Lewis off the line, either. His burst allows him to get to the rim in a hurry. He’ll punish sloppy closeouts, and even relatively clean ones thanks to his speed. Lewis isn’t afraid of contact, boasting the ability to finish through it and relishing the opportunity to go to the free-throw line, where he’s been tremendous throughout his college career. He can punish the rim off-ball as a lob threat, too. His willingness to set screens will enable him to be a dynamic pick-setter, as he’s equally dangerous rolling to the rim as he is popping for a three.
The in-between stuff is enticing, too. Lewis gets great elevation on his shot. Paired with his reliable touch, that enables him to be a potent scorer in the mid-range. While plays aren’t often designed to set up mid-range looks, the best players are usually able to make them when they have to take them. Lewis has also developed the ability to punish mismatches more consistently. When he gets smaller players on him, he’s taking them into the post before using his length to shoot over the top of them. That recognition, along with his willingness to take the easy and simple advantage, has allowed him to score more efficiently. Lewis has already posted up 10 times through five games. On those possessions, including passes, Pepperdine has generated 19 points. Lewis has gone 5-6 on post-up shots and has also taken easy opportunities for assists when defenders come to help.
Turnovers, Passing, and Playmaking
If there was one thing holding Lewis back from being a truly draftable prospect last season, it was his turnover woes. As a freshman, Lewis posted 6.8 turnovers per 100 possessions, a ghastly number.
The most common occurrence was the “happy feet” turnovers in the video above. Lewis would catch the ball and take too many steps before putting the ball on the floor, overeager to start his attack. Coach Romar posited that this may have been a result of missing a lot of on-court, live, 5-on-5 basketball reps from the path he took prior to college. “He was trying to hit a home run every time,” Romar noted. “The game has definitely slowed down for him this year. [In the past] He had spent a considerable amount of time working on his game, but he was working with people who really helped him in terms of his individual skillset. He’s taken the time to learn how to play with four or five other players on the floor. He’s playing and learning to read situations as a whole with ten players on the floor. It’s hard to simulate when you’re not playing a team. I believe that’s been the biggest difference.”
This year, Lewis has slashed his turnover rate down to 3.8 per 100 possessions. Gone are the happy feet and overly ambitious passes. Even better, his assist rate has more than doubled. Lewis averaged 1.2 assists per game as a freshman, and he’s up to 3.8 per game as a sophomore. He is consistently leveraging his gravity as a scorer, recognizing help and then punishing the defender by rewarding his teammates with easy, open looks. If the defense collapses from the perimeter on a drive, he’ll find a shooter spotting up for three. When a big defender abandons their post, Lewis will sneak the ball to his own big man. Coach Romar pointed to his performance against Vanguard as a prime example of his growth. “Last year, I think he looked at games against smaller competition as a chance to score. Against Vanguard, he only took seven shots, but he went 7-7, had five assists, and only turned it over twice. He’s such a willing passer now. It makes us so much better offensively because he’ll find the open man. He’s playing very unselfish.”
Lewis himself said that this was the aspect of his game he was most focused on improving this past off-season: “I want to get my team more involved and get more assists. If I’m getting 20, and we’re losing by 20 or 30, it doesn’t matter. I need to help my team win.” When I asked how he worked on his game, he noted, “First, I’ll say watching film. Watching my mistakes over and over again. I would move too fast. Talking with my coaches and parents and hearing the same corrections, I just really wanted to make those adjustments so I can make it to the next level.”
Lewis isn’t dominating the ball to rack up numbers, either. He’s playing within the flow of the game and making sharp, accurate connector passes on the perimeter. As he continues to scale up in competition, this will be crucial for his game. In the NBA, only the very best players get to have the ball in their hands a majority of the time. Lewis’ newfound ability to make clever, quick decisions profiles wonderfully for a more complimentary role.
Rebounding and Defending
There were two other areas where it felt like Max Lewis was leaving something on the table as a freshman: rebounding and defending. We’ll start with the rebounding. A 6’7” player with Lewis’ ability to explode off the floor should have been cleaning up on the glass in a non-high major conference. His 6.6 per 40 minutes was okay but underwhelming. Now, Lewis is more active in that area. While foul trouble in his last game (more on that in a minute) sunk his ability to crash the glass in their last game, he’s making more of a point of getting to the boards. Lewis is up to 8.3 boards per 40 minutes. “He’s just going more,” Coach Romar said. “He kind of played more from three-point line to three-point line. He didn’t look to rebound as much because he would leak out on defense and try to get in transition. Now, he’s just going, and because he has good instincts, he can read where it’s coming off. And he can get to it, because he’s so long.” On top of that, now that Lewis has grown so much as a playmaker, he’s a true grab-and-go threat at this point. While leaking out makes sense on paper, Lewis can cut off the opposing team’s possession by grabbing the rebound and then starting a new, efficient possession in transition for his squad. Lewis told me, “I know I’m getting better and it’s feeling more comfortable. It comes from being in better shape. I ran a lot of hills this summer. I ran a 5:07 mile. I put in a ton of work to run, stay in shape, jump, and crash. Last year, I was getting tired. Now, I’m not.”
Lewis’s defensive efforts are much better this year, too. While he made plays on the defensive end as a freshman, at times, he was too much of a gambler. At the point of attack, Lewis is more disciplined. Coach Romar pointed out, “He’s getting so much better at not reaching. In the past, he had success with that, but now [at the college level] guys protect the ball better. The more you reach, the better the guy you’re guarding becomes. He’s staying in front better, and he’s hard to score on when he’s in front of you.”
Lewis is nasty on the ball. He’s long and he slides well. He stays big while on the move. His mobility and hip flexibility allow him to slink around screens. On the rare occasions that he does get beat, Lewis doesn’t quit on the play. He works to recover and has such imposing physical tools that he’s never out of the play. “We thought he could become an elite defender,” Coach Romar stated. “We’re starting to put him on the other team’s best defender, and he’s doing a good job with that.” He can still get into foul trouble, and he did against UC Irvine. Lewis ended up fouling out of the game. It’s still a work in progress, but he’s far ahead of where he was last season.
His level of attentiveness off the ball has gotten better, too. Even if his steal rate is slightly down, he’s playing within himself more and consistently getting his hands on the ball. “He’s a deflection machine, and he’ll become more of one as he continues to be in the right position more,” Coach Romar commented.
“I’m just making sure I see my man and ball all the time,” Lewis remarks, “I can’t tell you many times I got backdoored last year. I just made so many mistakes. I had to fix that to be the best version of myself. Seeing that over and over, hearing it from coach…I want to stay in games. I want to be great on defense.”
Lewis’s improvement here cannot be understated in what it does for his ceiling. I’ve covered the offensive side already— he’s a three-level scorer who is developing a punishing playmaking edge to his game. If Lewis can become a consistent threat on defense, both on and off the ball, he’ll be what every NBA team looks for. Complete, two-way players with size and athleticism are playoff guys. Winners. They’re who you fill out a championship rotation with. Lewis could well be on that path.
It looks easy for Max Lewis, but it hasn’t been an easy journey. His eligibility was in question, and when it was cleared up, he faced his fair share of lumps. Still, at every point in his journey, Lewis has pushed on through adversity. He’s kept his head down and done the work. Coach Romar concluded our conversation by saying, “I’ve been very pleased with how coachable he is. There’s a certain willingness about him for someone with so much talent that I really appreciate and love. If you say he needs to do it, he’s going to do it. You just don’t find that. He doesn’t act like he has all the answers. He’s just trying to learn. It’s refreshing.”
I spoke with Coach Romar before I had the chance to speak with Max Lewis. To say Coach Romar hit the nail on the head would be an understatement. I’ve spoken with a lot of players, but I don’t know if any were as humble as Lewis. He was brutally honest about his struggles as a freshman. Time and again, he would mention watching film and feeling frustrated seeing his mistakes. But Lewis is not lacking confidence, either. He knows that he’s put in the work, and he knows what he’s capable of doing. At the end of our talk, I asked about his goals for himself. “I want to stay consistent,” he started, “I want to be disciplined and do the right thing on the court all the time. I want to stay efficient, take the right shots, and go as far as I can. If everything goes right, I want to put my name in the draft after this year.”
What stuck with me was not just that answer, but the answer to the question before that. I asked Lewis about his goals for his team. They were largely what you would expect—win the conference, make it to March Madness, and beat the toughest teams they play. But it went beyond that. He spoke about the future of Pepperdine. He wants to help get Pepperdine back on the map. Lewis wants more four- and five-star recruits committing there, and he wants the program to eventually be held in the same esteem as Gonzaga. His voice was filled with conviction. Lewis has goals for himself, certainly, but he wants everyone else around him to succeed, too.
Let’s take a step back again, though. Lewis said that if everything goes right, he wants to put his name in the draft at the end of the season. I’ll say this: if everything goes right, Lewis could hear his name called in the lottery on draft night. He has ideal NBA size at 6’7” with a 6’10” wingspan. Lewis is a marvelous athlete, a seamless mover laterally with potent end-to-end speed and explosive leaping ability. He’s a knockdown shooter off the catch who can create his own shot at all three levels. When defenders rotate to help, he makes them pay. He can wall players off when he guards the ball. As an off-ball defender, he’s a steal or block waiting to happen. These types of dudes earn large contracts and play on winning teams. Given what we’ve seen on film and seeing the mental makeup he’s displayed to overcome the hurdles placed in front of him, I think it’s clear—Max Lewis is definitely that type of dude.
The Expanding Big Board
It’s that time, folks! We’re going to finally have a Top 5 on the board! My other four spots remain unchanged.
1. Victor Wembanyama
2. Scoot Henderson
3. Amen Thompson
4. Cam Whitmore
And the latest addition to the board is…
5. Brandon Miller!
I love what I’ve seen from Miller so far. He is the epitome of modern basketball. The 6’9” guard/wing/forward can do it all—put it on the ground, shoot from beyond the arc, and guard a variety of positions. I had a few concerns about his outside shot, but those have been alleviated by both his willingness to launch threes and his accuracy. Through three games, he’s 8-for-20 from long range, and a few of the makes would register behind the NBA three-point line. While his two assists per game might not blow the doors off you, he often ran the offense for his high school team while playing center on the defensive end. I trust him to handle pressure and make good decisions. Defensively, that time as a big man shows up in how he communicates. Miller is a talker on that end and points out rotations and switches to teammates. Sometimes, he has to do it rather forcefully.
A 6’9” player with plus athleticism, a growing jumper, high offensive feel, and defensive expertise? Folks, that’s a lottery pick. There are two concerns I’ve seen about Miller: his inability to get all the way to the cup and his age. The rim issue bothers me more out of those two, and it dates back to his EYBL film. With his handle and size, he should be getting to the cup more often and relying on his floater less. It would theoretically make him more efficient, but it would also better collapse opposing defenses. Regarding his age, Miller turns 20 the day this article comes out. Still, if he was a sophomore, I would still love what I’m seeing and what he can offer. Amen Thompson turns 20 in two months, and he’s still third on my board. It’s not like he’s Chris Duarte, who started to receive AARP benefits before he was drafted (I kid, I kid). Would I be higher on him if he was a year younger? Sure, and I might even slot him above Whitmore if that were the case. But as Jim Ross repeatedly said on commentary during the WWE video games of the early 2010s, “if wishes were fishes, the world would be an ocean.” I can’t shake what Miller is able to do, even if he’ll *gasp* be able to legally purchase alcohol early into his rookie NBA season.
-I had to pick Coach Romar’s brain about a few other Pepperdine prospects while I had him on the line! Houston Mallette has been a dynamite scorer yet again this year, and Coach Romar raved about his work ethic. “I would love to say that I won’t take any credit at all [with Mallette]. He’s as much a student of the game as anyone I’ve ever coached. He’s constantly in the gym and watching film. He’s telling me about guys he’s watched in Europe and putting their stuff into his game. He’s just obsessed with the process. He’s a self-made player.” Coach Romar also praised breakout freshman Jevon Porter as “the modern day, prototypical forward,” and touted his absurd 14.5 rebounds per 40 minutes.
-It’s a great feeling when someone with a great basketball mind gives me a deep-cut sleeper to check out. It’s even better when you watch the film, and the player is legit. Folks, let me tell you about Dwayne Cohill. The 6’2” guard from Youngstown State is a walking paint touch. He’s quick and knows how to make his man dance. Both his footwork and handle are slick, as he’s ready to counter and keep his man off balance. His burst after hesitating is nasty. Cohill puts constant pressure on the rim, and he’s a reliable finisher there who deals with contact and can adjust in mid-air. He’s made 60% of his twos through four games. He lit up Notre Dame for 18 points on 13 shots and added six assists, constantly forcing their defense to collapse on him. His efforts on offense were critical in keeping the game close. Cohill is a problem on defense, too. He’s so springy that his contests make shooting over him more difficult than most guards his size. He’s a real threat to block shots. His motor runs high, too, and he does an awesome job of getting around screens off the ball. Both his block and steal percentages are over 2% so far this season, a strong indicator of defensive competence at the next level. One of Cohill’s biggest questions is likely his outside shooting. He’s in his fourth college season and he’s only taken 134 threes. Because he gets into the paint so frequently, he doesn’t look to spot up or launch from distance much, which makes sense. He’s hit 37.3% of his college triples and he’s a career 80.5% free throw shooter, which is encouraging, but the sample is still small. The other concern is his passing. While he can leverage his scoring into easy passes, his career assist-to-turnover ratio leaves a lot to be desired. It looks like there has been a significant jump there this season, but he can still get too adventurous with his deliveries. Should he prove himself as a playmaker this year while hitting his threes, there’s a real Top 100-type case to be made for him.
-I’m looking forward to monitoring the development of Colorado’s KJ Simpson. He’s a few years away, but his stroke is clean, his touch is soft, and he’s shown a lot of creativity in getting to his spots. While he’s pouring in the points, his efficiency still has to come around, and he’s not a bursty athlete at 6’2” either. If he can become a more consistent scorer, he’ll have a shot at the NBA down the road.
-Terquavion Smith still has me torn. His shot-making remains unquestioned— his range is limitless, and he’s not shy about letting deep threes fly. His passing looks better, too. Smith is leveraging his scoring to make basic, easy passes on a much more consistent basis so far. Still, he’s yet to really wow me with anything more advanced, and his defense can be frustrating. In NC State’s game against Campbell, players successfully back-cut on him in ways that weren’t always capitalized on multiple times. Against better athletes and sharper passes, he could pay a hefty toll on those plays.
-Mike Sharavjamts is a hoot. I haven’t gotten to see as much Dayton as I would like, but he can play. The 6’8” player from Mongolia is a savvy passer, and pairs that with a clean stroke. I’ll be keeping an eye on his defense, as the offense profiles beautifully for the NBA. He’s a little too foul-happy right now.
-Marquette big man Oso Ighodaro is intriguing. The junior is still probably a year away, but he’s a fun watch. At 6’9”, he’s strong enough to play down low and quick enough to guard on the perimeter. He’s also a highly intelligent handoff operator and is capable of spacing the floor with his passing.
Oso needs to expand his range. He’s not consistent in the mid-range yet, though he has a solid floater at his disposal. Adding to his scoring profile would truly land him on the radar.
-Kris Murray is a smooth operator. Keegan’s twin brother is filling his shoes well at Iowa, and not just because they’re the exact same size. While he might not be built different (sorry, I had to), he is still built for the modern NBA. His jumper looks even better than last season and he’s scoring in a wider variety of ways. He’s tenacious on the glass and engaged defensively. Murray is up to snuff laterally and should be able to guard pro forwards without looking out of his depth. Though he just turned 22, late bloomers have been something of a market inefficiency (see: Murphy, Trey). Not every prospect progresses at the same rate, and a big leap from Kris should be taken seriously.
-This week’s Mid-Major Game of the Week was UNC Asheville vs. Eastern Kentucky! Eastern Kentucky’s Devontae Blanton remains intriguing. The 6’6” junior is averaging 16.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 3.7 APG. He uses his power, length, and footwork to get to advantageous spots on the floor. His vision is getting better by the day and he’s hitting 38.9% of his three triples per game. Defensively, he can be a bit heavy and needs to make more of an impact. No Stone Unturned prospect Michael Moreno has re-found his form from long range, taking 6.3 threes per game and knocking down 44.7% of them. He’s also gotten in better shape and it’s showing up on the defensive end, where he’s averaging over a block and steal per game. His finishing inside the arc has receded. While he’s largely a below the rim finisher, I anticipate that to come around as the year progresses. UNC Asheville’s Drew Pember was still likely the best NBA prospect on the floor. The 6’10” big is a devastating rim protector and a thief in passing lanes, tallying 2.8 BPG and 1.4 SPG. His fluidity and foot speed allow him to guard down well. Offensively, he’s looking increasingly more complete. He’s taking more threes and his conversion rate has climbed to 45.5%. Additionally, Pember is still getting to the line at will, taking 7.6 free throws per game and hitting 84.2% of them. The missing piece for him is still his strength. Listed at 190 pounds, Pember is light and too easy to push out of position. He’ll lose rebounds because he gets knocked out of position or turn the ball over because he can’t power through a double team. If he could finish through contact, he would be even more impactful as a scorer. I’ll still be keeping an eye on him, as his production has been off the charts.
-No Mid-Major Game of the Week this coming week, as I’ll be focused on taking the schedule as it comes with all of the MTEs and tournaments. That said, as of now, the planned feature for next week is focused on a mid-major prospect. Hopefully that gives you Draft Sickos your fix!
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