The Milwaukee Bucks actually have a first round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. It’s all the way down at number 24, and there’s no guarantee (at this point) that they’ll actually keep the pick, if general manager Jon Horst has anything to say about it. If they do retain the pick, it will be the first time the Bucks add a first-rounder since Donte DiVincenzo in 2018. It would be a rare opportunity for Milwaukee to reinforce the roster with youth that can (hopefully) support the team as the core ages around Giannis Antetokounmpo.
With that in mind, I made a bold – possibly foolish – decision with Brew Hoop’s pick in the SB Nation NBA Mock Draft, and at pick 24 I went with Justin Lewis, a sophomore forward out of Marquette University. For the record, trades were not included in the mock draft, so picking a player was the only option available. Here’s what I wrote about him in the main article:
Yes, this is a reach. Let’s get that out of the way immediately.
Marquette’s Justin Lewis is solidly rated as a second-round pick, so why should the Bucks select him all the way up at pick 24? For one thing, the remaining prospects on the board (particualrly at point guard) that are falling don’t move the needle for Milwaukee, and thanks to the Bogdan Bogdanovic fiasco the Bucks don’t have a second round pick to work with in this draft. That means this pick is the Bucks’ only chance to pick up a player who could contribute in the short-term, and Lewis presents that exact opportunity.
Lewis is 6’7” with a 7’1” wingspan, and at 240 lbs he appears to be a rare combination of strength and fluidity at the forward spot. He boasts a versatile offensive game, a seemingly-reliable outside shot, can rebound on both ends of the court, but has the most upside on defense. Depending on his development, Lewis could become a contributor in the style of Grant Williams, Jae Crowder, or fan-favorite PJ Tucker. Given how this mock draft has shaken out, that potential is more worth the reach than anyone else on the board for the Bucks.
“But Mitchell,” you may object, “there were so many other players on the board that are rated higher than Justin Lewis! What gives?” That’s a fair question, and it deserves an answer.
First off, there were admittedly a number of players still available at pick 24 in this mock draft. Most notably were a pair of point guards (TyTy Washington and Kennedy Chandler) that have generally been mocked before the Bucks’ selection, as well as the two best centers on the board (Walker Kessler and Christian Koloko) and a bunch of other, first round-grade wings (MarJon Beauchamp, Christian Braun, and Blake Wesley). There’s a case that could be made for any of them to be the pick, but I think that each of these prospects comes with too many significant questions about how well their game translates to the NBA level, whether because of their size, their consistency, or the level of prior competition.
With Lewis, I don’t have as many of those questions. Here’s what Sports Illustrated had to say when they ranked him 33rd on their list of 100 prospects:
Lewis comes off a breakout sophomore season, in which he emerged as a legitimate perimeter shooter with complementary skills as a rebounder and defender. There’s reason to buy his improved jumper, and he fits a viable mold as an athletic, floor-spacing forward (think Trey Murphy in last year’s draft) if he stays on track. He’s not going to create a ton of shots for himself or teammates, but there’s enough ability here to think it can work. He has a long, projectable frame, but doesn’t always put it to use in the flow of the game—if Lewis embraces doing the small stuff, there’s a pathway to him becoming a valuable contributor. He’ll need to convince teams he can be more versatile—if one were confident he’d be able to switch on the perimeter and make the occasional play, it would help—but he just turned 20 and offers upside, and first-round potential.
Adding any player, especially a rookie, is going to come with risk, considering factors both within and outside the control of the team. There’s absolutely no way to know that Justin Lewis will be a better player than any of the other players mentioned above, players I decided to pass on. But what I do feel confident about is how well Lewis specifically fits the type of roster that Milwaukee needs to build.
Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer wants his role players to be able to do three main things: defend, rebound, and connect on offense. Justin Lewis ticks all of those boxes in ways that I think the Bucks will need for years to come. As a small-ball power forward, Lewis has both the strength and length to potentially guard up a position, and his fluid athleticism should allow him to survive when switched out on the perimeter. He performs well on the boards, which is a crucial component of Milwaukee’s system. And while he was asked to be a primary scorer at Marquette, Lewis has displayed enough offensive versatility to suggest that he can provide stability on offense in scenarios where he’s not expected to hunt for his own shot.
Of course, the ideal scenario is that the Bucks could extract more value out of pick 24, and find a way to also nab Lewis in the second round. But with the Stepien Rule preventing Milwaukee from trading the pick outright (they can only send the rights to a player they draft at 24 after the selection is made this year) and the lack of a second round pick due to “tampering” last summer, there’s no guarantee that the Bucks can get an early-enough pick to be able to get Lewis. They could try to package their future second round picks to get something in the mid-30s range, or attempt to outright purchase a pick for a few million dollars...but how likely is that approach to actually work out?
It’s possible, but not probable. In that case, I would rather take a gamble on a guy I am confident can develop into a player that can contribute in ways the Bucks will need, both in the short-term and long-term, instead of taking a risk that could lead to missing out altogether. The talent is there, the fit is there, and that makes the reach worth it, in my opinion.