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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Curt Lewis

Curt Lewis has traveled a familiar road in arriving at Mizzou. How can his game benefit the new look Tigers?

Eastern Kentucky v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In the weeks leading up to the season, this series will dive deep into the players we see making a push for time in the rotation for the 2022-2023 Missouri basketball squad. Some installments might be more in-depth than others, if only because of the data and film available. In addition, evaluating players with multiple years of experience is more straightforward than younger peers.

The pieces read like a birds-eye scouting report. They skew more toward the offensive end of the court for two reasons. First, a player’s offensive metrics are more reliable than defensive data and less team-dependent. Second, it’s considerably easier to describe a player’s qualities with more well-known offensive statistics. As always, we encourage interaction from our readers. Please drop us a comment or find me on Twitter @DataMizzou.

The Player

Mizzou has added the NJCAA Men’s Basketball player of the year. Said player played two years of division one basketball prior to playing for a Coach named Smithpeters at John A. Logan. Said player hails from Louisville, Kentucky.

If you’re getting deja vu, it’s understandable. All of these descriptors accurately portray Sean East II. And now they apply to Curt Lewis.

Lewis played high school basketball for Aspire Academy where he averaged a lofty 32 points and 17 rebounds his senior year. He was then recruited by A.W. Hamilton to continue his basketball career for the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. Both seasons in Richmond, Kentucky, saw him average approximately 24 minutes a game, which ranked top 5 on the squad.

Upon arriving at John A. Logan, he suited up for the Volunteers head coach, Tyler Smithpeters. Lewis posted an impressive 14.3 points per game to go along with 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals per outing. He will now join Mizzou Assistant, Kyle Smithpeters, and have two years of eligibility remaining at Mizzou.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Kentucky at Xavier Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

Curt Lewis | 6’5” | Combo Guard

Curt Lewis Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
Curt Lewis Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
2022 EKU 60.6 95.2 21.5 49.6 4.8 19.9 9.8 2.5 17.9 21 52 46 34.8
2021 EKU 58.1 112.1 19.9 58.7 6.7 15.5 11.7 3 17.9 35.2 69.9 60.8 36.4
Career EKU - 103.4 20.7 53.7 5.7 17.8 10.7 2.7 17.9 27.9 62.2 54.3 35.3

Curt’s two years at Eastern Kentucky were uneven, to put it mildly. Despite playing almost exactly the same share of minutes and seeing his usage rate rise a small amount from 19.9% to 21.5%, his efficiency went Wile E. Coyote. In his freshman campaign, he posted an incredibly efficient 1.021 PPP. His sophomore year saw that figure plummet to just 0.820 PPP. And there are reasons for that.

The most significant of which was he simply wasn’t making as many shots. Simply enough, right? His eFG% dropped from a sterling 58.7% in his first season to just 49.6%. His three-point shooting remained fairly consistent at 36.4% and 34.8% respectively. However, inside the arc reveals a much more unappealing picture. His first year saw him produce makes on 60.8% of attempts whereas his second year that number dropped to 46.0%. Truly a tale of two seasons.

A large part of this was due to his shot profile. In 2021 Lewis took nearly 55% of his field goal attempts at the rim and posted an incredible 1.320 PPP. That changed year over year and in 2022 his marks were just a 32.2% attempt rate and 1.000 PPP. He was taking fewer point-blank attempts and making less of them.

His jump shooting also slid a bit, though not as drastically. His jump shot attempt rate ballooned from 42.4% to 66.3% and the efficiency dropped from 1.160 to 0.940 PPP. Nothing really changed in his ratio of dribble jumpers versus shots off the catch; he simply made fewer of the latter. On the plus side of the ledger, both seasons he’s been incredibly efficient when left unchecked on the catch, averaging 1.255 PPP on his career, a very good number.

The biggest source of the slide appears to be his work in transition. As a freshman over 31% of his offense came on the break and he scored 1.144 PPP. A year later, both numbers dropped to 24.8% and 0.607 PPP. Finding a team that encourages play in the open court and is able to generate quality looks around the rim appears to be key for his game.

Lewis has been a solid contributor on the glass posting a 17.8% defensive rebound rate and 5.7% offensive rebound rate on his career. He’s not a high-level creator for others but has managed a 10.7% assist rate. His turnover rate of 17.9% — both seasons and career — is a little higher than you’d like, but not prohibitive in the Dennis Gates ball security scheme. Where he really shines is on the defensive end creating deflections. Lewis has tallied a 2.7% career steal rate, which is right in line with many of the Tigers last season.

You may have noticed we didn’t touch on his junior year yet. Typically, I find Junior College statistics to be somewhat unreliable. Many advanced statistics are unavailable. It’s a hard way to do competent analysis.

Fret not, I spoke with a friend of Rock M and leading Junior College authority, Brandon Goble (@JUCOAdvocate) about Curt’s game. He provided the following scouting report:

“Curt is built like a linebacker. He’s physically ready for SEC play. In watching him this year I was impressed with how well he shot the ball on a consistent basis. He will be an impact high-major player because of that physical toughness and shooting ability. I see him as a combo guard.

He can play on the ball as he’s very good drawing attention but might lack quickness to turn the corner and get downhill. His game developed considerably at John A. Logan, and his physicality will translate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a bigger impact at Mizzou [in] Year 1 than we saw with Sean [East] a year ago.”

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Kentucky at Xavier Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Role

While I do agree with Goble’s thoughts on Lewis, the issue near-term will be the number of bodies at the off-ball perimeter positions. In addition to Nick Honor and Sean East manning the point and moonlighting at times off the ball, Mizzou will have Caleb Grill, John Tonje and Tamar Bates competing for minutes. Add in Kaleb Brown and freshman guard, Anthony Robinson, and Mizzou has an incredibly deep bench.

So how does Curt Lewis, or any of the others for that matter, separate themselves? Making shots and defending are the surest avenues. Mizzou will assuredly be playing a lot of guys in more moderate minute allocations compared to last season. To climb up that list, your play will have to be the differentiator.

With Lewis, I think that can happen. At the outset, I project him being a member of the rotation and earning about 20% of minutes played. I see his usage rate checking in around 18-19%, a slight reduction from his time at EKU. Should that play out over the course of the season, that would lead to a points per game mark of 2-4. The upward trajectory of Lewis’s standing will depend largely upon his ability to consistently make looks behind the arc, efficiency in transition, clean the glass and generate steals. Should he do that, I can easily see him climbing up the food chain into a more prominent role.

The Film

When Lewis committed to MU, the decision wasn’t greeted with uproarious joy from the fanbase.

Some of that muted response owed itself to timing. Lewis joined the fold in late January, and he’d only visited Columbia unofficially earlier in the season. And unlike East, Lewis hadn’t developed a reputation for volcanic scoring eruptions at Logan, where he never poured in more than 23 points in any outing.

Curt Lewis | Combo Guard | John A. Logan College | 2022-23

36 13.9 5.9 3.7 51.8 48.3 77.1 2.3 1.1 51.1 65.4 1.314
Data Source:

There’s nothing that quickly grabs your attention in that stat line. Dig deeper, though, and Lewis’ underlying metrics make a compelling case. He averaged 1.314 points per possession and posted an absurd 65.4 true-shooting percentage but only needed ten shots per game to hit his marks.

He didn’t run the point for the Vols, who won the NJCAA national title, but his assist-to-turnover rate (2.5) and BCI score (3.8) should make Gates grin from ear to ear. Lewis efficiently fills the scoring column, plays clean with the ball in his hands, and helps tilt the possession math in his team’s favor.

Goble’s pitch for Lewis as a combo guard is also a logical one. But it might not be by blending the job of point guard and off-guard. Instead, Lewis strikes us as a player in the same vein as DeAndre Gholston, who flexed between the off-guard and wing positions.

When Gholston and D’moi Hodge shared the floor last season, Gholston would be involved in actions that could put him on the ball, while Hodge spaced the floor as a wing who could knock down spot-up jumpers or make incisive guts. Swapping Hodge for East, however, nudged Gholston off the ball.

Moreover, Lewis and Gholston have similar frames and builds. They’re nominally perimeter players but have enough strength to catch at the elbow or back down smaller guards. Defensively, they can guard spots two through four and — every so often — front or dislodge a post player from the block. And as you’ll see on film, they sometimes operate from the same locales and with the same shot selection.

Unsurprisingly, there’s also schematic overlap between Logan, which Kyle Smithpeters’ younger brother still coaches, and the system in Columbia.

When Lewis played out ball screens, the mechanics could play tricks on your eyes. Logan’s alignment closely resembles the pinch series, a staple of Mizzou’s system. There’s even an entry pass to the elbow area.

Closer inspection, though, reveals it’s likely a modified version of pistol action. Once Lewis makes the catch, Logan’s big man sprints into a ball screen, allowing Lewis to turn the corner into a double gap in the middle of the floor.

After that, the fun begins. Secondary actions are distinct, a thumbprint hinting at the lineage that produced the head coach. At Logan, the approach could be barebones. The screener can pop or roll. Depending on the roller’s choice, the point guard on that side might lift to the slot or keep drifting to the corner. The tandem on the weak side might interchange, but their job is to hold the sideline. Lewis can kick the ball out if one of those weak-side defenders stunts to the middle.

Our sample size is small, but Lewis appeared more willing to attack the rim when running pistol action out of the left slot. But his preference still tilted slightly toward pull-ups around the nail.

When Logan ran pistol action on the right side of the floor, Lewis seldom played downhill with his left hand. Instead of rim attacks, he was more inclined to reject the screen and put up a 3-pointer from the slot.

There were times last season when it looked like Gates’ squad was running a pistol series, which is a staple of NBA offenses. But the person catching the ball at the elbow was a four-man, not a combo guard. And while there might be a bluff handoff, the secondary actions still hinted at pinch series.

That said, MU would use a guard at the elbow: Gholston. But instead of a ball screen, a big man would almost run a through cut to clear out the lane and let Gholston attack mismatches in isolation. It’s not hard to fathom or imagine MU running more pistol action, either. We didn’t start seeing faint traces of it until late in SEC play last season.

Lewis didn’t run defenders dizzy through a maze of screens to shake loose for jumpers. Typically, his catch-and-shoots came two ways. First, he would simply fill a vacancy in the slot and wait for an extra reversal.

The second avenue also entailed patience: camping out on the weak side right around the break and waiting for kickouts from a teammate.

Sometimes, the shooting tallies in box scores don’t quite align with what you see on Logan’s tape. Still, even if there’s a bit of a discrepancy, I’m not sure it would completely undercut Lewis’ gaudy clip (48.5%) from behind the arc. However, reconciling that with his catch-and-shoot work (33.9%) at EKU is trickier. When East transitioned to the high-major level, his percentage regressed closer to the marks he put up at earlier mid-major stops.

If Lewis has a similar experience, I don’t want to paint draining 34 percent of catch-and-shoot 3s as a failure. It’s within spitting distance of the D-I median. And that mark is drastically ahead of Gholston’s handiwork (29.6%) for the Tigers last season.

Lewis will attack closeouts, usually with his left hand, but is more of a bruiser when he gets going to the rack. He is pretty efficient in a straight line with one or two dribbles, but in our sample, which is limited, there’s not an abundance of dribble counters.

The other question: How much vertical pop does Lewis have? On tape, he dabbled with different finishes, but there weren’t abundant examples of him getting liftoff and finishing against length. Then again, translating from a JUCO setting to a power conference, where MU would presumably have better spacing, isn’t one-to-one.

Where Lewis and East do share a similarity is their tendency to do their best facilitating in transition. Once Lewis ramps up to speed, he makes timely hit aheads, drops the ball of the guards sprinting the wide channels, and will find a big busting it down the floor on a rim run.

In the half court, the sample size of assists is smaller, and most of them in our viewings came via making the extra pass to a shooter. Logan didn’t rely on him to leverage defenses as a second-side creator very often, and his career assist rate at EKU (10.8%) implies he’s more of a ball-mover.

There’s enough in the statistical record on tape to suggest Lewis can be a helpful piece. But as mentioned earlier, a trio of transfers have compelling arguments. Plus, all three have been more consistent 3-point shooters against Division I competition. The swing skill for Lewis might be the same as it was for Gholston: reliable touch from mid-range.

Last season, Gholston averaged 0.999 PPP on dribble jumpers, per Synergy, and was more efficient on those shots than launching spot-up 3-balls. Dree’s efficiency also improved (1.06 PPP) on attempts taken in the waning seconds of the shot clock. As we’ve seen, Lewis has familiarity playing in the spots and actions, and his career efficiency (0.835 PPP) far outstrips what Gholston had done (0.410 PPP) before dropping his bags in Columbia. With a little improvement, Lewis might emerge as a late-clock option.

Sketching a defensive profile proves a tad trickier.

Typically, we try to watch at least five games of a player imported by MU’s staff, and our sample tries to capture their median usage and production. Put simply, we want to see their baseline performance. But with Lewis, our trove from six games topped out at 26 defensive clips.

This all a way of saying to take these clips with a hefty dose of salt.

Our snippets show Lewis ticking off some fundamental boxes on the checklist. He can recover from the midline, stay under control recovering after helping down, and rotate back to a shooter. It’s rudimentary but better than nothing. Lewis also displays some core competencies when it comes to pick-and-roll defense.

What is potentially telling is Lewis’ motor runs hard enough that he won’t ease off in transition defense. He sprints back, contests rim attempts, and — if nothing else — enhances the degree of difficulty.

That said, Lewis still has moments where he might let his attention slip or get caught ball-watching. Occasionally, he’ll open his stance on a closeout, giving a spot-up shooter a crease to attack off the dribble. Lastly, a couple of opponents tested his ability to get skinny and maneuver around screens by running handoffs.

As a sophomore at EKU, Lewis’ defensive efficiency ranked in the 75th percentile nationally, per Synergy’s data. That year, over half of those defensive possessions saw him closing out spot-up shooters, allowing only 0.714 PPP. But even if Lewis had not taken a detour to Logan, we’d still have to see whether that proficiency scaled up to the SEC from the Ohio Valley Conference.

This time last year, our expectations for Gholston were similar to where Lewis starts this campaign. Gholston undoubtedly exceeded them, but the inconsistent availability of Isiaih Mosley also created a pressing need. Unlike last season, MU’s staff amply stocked this roster with perimeter players. If Lewis wants a steady supply of minutes, the merits of his play will have to make up his chief argument.

PPP: Points Per Possession
Min %: This is simply the percentage of minutes played by a given player.
Usage %: A measure of personal possessions used while player is on the court. This includes making a shot, missing a shot coupled with a defensive rebound and a turnover.
eFG%: Same as traditional FG% with the added bonus of 3-point shots given 50% more weight to account for additional point.
OR%: The percentage of possible offensive rebounds a player gets.
DR%: The percentage of possible defensive rebounds a player gets.
AST%: Assists divided by field goals made by player’s teammates while on the court.
TO%: The percentage of personal possessions a player uses on turnovers.
FTR%: A rate which measures a player’s ability to get to the free throw line.
FT%: Free Throw shooting percentage.
2PT%: 2-point field goal percentage.
3PT% 3-point field goal percentage.