As April arrives, most of the top high school prospects from the Class of 2019 are declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft. A few, headlined by LaMelo Ball, skipped college entirely while others, namely James Wiseman, spent very little time on campus. Still, players like Anthony Edwards and Isaac Okoro have already announced the intention to enter the 2020 draft and many more will likely follow. Florida freshman Scottie Lewis will not following in their footsteps, however, as the 6’5 wing announced on Monday that he will be returning to Gainesville for another collegiate run.
Lewis, who was named a McDonald’s All-American, played alongside Villanova’s Bryan Antoine at Ranney School in New Jersey and he entered his college career at Florida with immense expectations. The 247Sports composite ranked Lewis as the No. 7 player in the country in the class, landing ahead of projected lottery picks in Ball, Onyeka Okongwu and Tyrese Maxey. In fact, many anticipated that Lewis would be making his way into the lottery discussion by June 2020, and the talented freshman was projected as the No. 10 pick in ESPN’s November mock draft.
In short, that ascent never fully transpired, with Lewis getting off to a slow start at the college level and Florida struggling mightily to live up to considerable expectations as a projected top ten team. Lewis was only a small part of the overall issues in Gainesville, but he did not produce (8.5 points per game) in a way that would traditionally be associated with a lottery pick, and his low usage (15.7%) jumps off the page as a stark contrast to many with his prep pedigree.
Overall, Lewis remains an intriguing prospect, however, and he is the rare case of a player widely expected to be drafted that could certainly (and vastly) improve his draft stock with a second tour of duty at Florida. Lewis was reasonably efficient on the offensive end in an overall way, posting a 56.2 percent true shooting clip, but his professional future is likely pegged as a “3-and-D” contributor with an emphasis on the defensive end.
The 6’5 wing is an excellent athlete, both horizontally and vertically, and that sets up Lewis as a potentially explosive defensive force. He moves his feet exceedingly well and, given that Lewis is well-known and well-regarded for his tremendous motor, there is every reason to believe that he can translate his tools into defensive production. It would be fair to say that Lewis has strides to make as an off-ball defender but, given his age, that is a normal concern and his off-court reputation as a smart thinker plays into the belief that he can figure things out.
While he rightly took responsibility for some of the issues at Florida this year, Lewis provided a window into a mature thought process with his comments while announcing his decision to return.
“I put the season we had on my shoulders,” Lewis told Jeff Goodman of Stadium when announcing his decision to stay in college. “I came in with a big head. I wasn’t promised anything, but I expected a lot. It didn’t just hurt me, but it hurt our team. It took me a while, but I learned how to be coachable and I thought it showed with how well the team was playing towards the end of the season.”
Offensively, Lewis doesn’t fit the bill of the player that a No. 7 national ranking would imply, which may have played into some of the noise he referenced. There is a lot to like athletically, but Lewis struggled mightily as a playmaker, passer and ball-handler in college. Realistically, those issues are smaller given his projection as a relatively low-usage player in the NBA but, at the same time, it would be nice to see development from Lewis in those key offensive areas.
As a shooter, Lewis struggled at times and that was likely part of his small role on the offensive end. It would be fair to say that his jump shot isn’t a lock to translate but, at the same time, he did improve as a shooter (albeit in a small sample) as the season went along. Lewis shot 49% from the floor and 45% from three in the last 15 games of the season, after posting ugly numbers (39% FG, 27% 3PT) in the first half of the campaign. Moreover, Lewis is a very strong free throw shooter (82%) and that often helps as a projection tool for effective catch-and-shoot ability at the next level.
Lewis did have curious issues as a finisher at the rim, especially when forced to do so in traffic. In the open floor, he is often breathtaking in translating his athleticism to explosiveness, but he will need to improve his craft to succeed at a higher level. Presumably, Lewis will be allowed to do that and, in garnering NBA feedback, he was likely informed of some of his current shortcomings.
Lastly, Lewis is likely making the right decision, as far as a pure evaluation of his NBA Draft stock by returning. It is fair to assume that Lewis would’ve been selected whenever the draft takes place, but it is hard to see a scenario in which he would have been taken with a first-round pick. The situation also plays a role here, as Lewis is the kind of athlete that would potentially explode in a workout setting but, with the uncertainty of the evaluation cycle in a COVID-19 world, teams will likely rely more on tape and Lewis was shaky for much of this season.
Realistically, Lewis won’t “live up” to the expectations some assigned to him as a McDonald’s All-American and a consensus top-10 prospect. In fact, he projects as a role player as a professional and, at least in some circles, those contributors are often undervalued. With that said, Lewis still has the physical tools to be a tremendous defender in the NBA and, if he can prove himself as a solid shooter and decision-maker on the offensive end, a return to school could help Lewis to reestablish himself as a first-round pick in 2021.