With the 2021-22 season long, long since in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We’ll run through the roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, and today we wrap the entire series up, four months after the season ended, with a look at the sophomore star who is now on a two-way contract with the Chicago Bulls..........
Sophomore - #10 - Forward - 6’7” - 245 pounds - Baltimore, Maryland
Justin Lewis Traditional Stats
Justin Lewis Fancy Stats
** — notes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com
WHAT WE SAID:
I think any statement about what’s a reasonable expectation for Lewis comes down to what you think about how Shaka Smart is going to run his team. It stands to reason as the guy who returns to Marquette with the biggest statistical contribution to last year’s team that Lewis is going to be a primary focus of this year’s team. We saw that on display at Haunted Hoops with his team seemingly focusing on getting Lewis open corner threes on the regular. But that’s also with the team split right down the middle and Lewis essentially being required to play the entirety of the 32 minute scrimmage.
How much do things change when Shaka Smart has the full bench at his disposal to fill the five on-court spots for 40 minutes? How much does Shaka Smart’s “play with a bit of violence to you” defensive mindset mean for how Marquette gets after it on offense? Does that spread out the offense attack across multiple players — five different players scored between 10 and 15 points against Bowie State — and does that negate what we might think would be the natural tendency to feature Lewis?
Whatever implications the system being run has on Lewis’ output this season, it’s clear from Thursday’s exhibition victory that this is a different Justin Lewis that we’re seeing this season. Last year, it seemed that Lewis was content to be the third wheel behind Dawson Garcia and D.J. Carton and was able to just fit in between everything those guys were doing. That’s not the case now, as Lewis has clearly taken on a mindset that involves the realization that he has to be a big part of the solution for the Golden Eagles. He looked much more decisive and confident, particularly when making a move from the perimeter with the ball.
In terms of what kind of stats to expect from Lewis, in a weird set of circumstances, his stats against Bowie State are almost exactly what T-Rank projects. He went for 13 points, seven rebounds, and an assist in the actual game, and the website marks him for 13.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists a night. That’s wild, right? He did that in just 25 minutes against a wildly outgunned opponent, so the question is what can Lewis do in 30 minutes a night against Big East foes? There’s a real possibility that we’ll all look up in March and be very pleased with how Lewis’ season has gone, but he’s only averaging 10/5/1.
Why You Should Get Excited
In the exhibition game, Lewis went 2-for-6 from long range. If he can do that, shoot 33% behind the arc, then things are going to go very well this season. Lewis’ size makes him look like a guy that maaaaaybe shouldn’t be able to give you the business both shooting and driving from the arc, but he’s physically capable of doing it. If he can just shoot enough threes, or rather make enough threes to keep defenders honest this season, the sky is the absolute limit for what the Baltimore native can accomplish.
His longer than average wingspan — we talked about this in his preview last year — is going to give Lewis an advantage all over the court as well. Maybe he’s able to get to one extra deflection a game as a result. Maybe that means one more block a game that he really should get. Maybe it means he’s able to tip a rebound before anyone else gets a chance and oh well, that’s just an excuse to show the clip again.
Now imagine he’s healthy for the whole year, and he’s more confident on both ends, and he knows that his coaches are counting on him to make big plays on both ends.
What do you think that kind of evolved Justin Lewis is capable of?
I don’t know if there’s a real possible problem out in front of Justin Lewis this season. He was pretty good as the third banana last season, and he’s going to get more playing time on this team. If Lewis can keep the same level of production going with a 40% boost in minutes to around 30 a night, he’s going to do a whole heck of a lot on the floor, and everyone’s going to be pretty happy about it.
The only real problem I can see of him is whether or not he can take on the mantle of being The Guy on this team and thus being That Guy going forward past this season. Sometimes college basketball players are really good at doing the thing that they’re asked to do in the beginning, but once you start adding responsibility, things go sideways on them. What if Lewis isn’t that type of player? What if he’s a work the margins type of player, not a “this whole thing rests on you getting yours every night” type of player?
Maybe that doesn’t matter on this particular iteration of Marquette Basketball. I certainly got the impression of an egalitarian style of play from the exhibition game against Bowie State. If this team is going to be a “whoever is open gets the ball” type of team and not a “let’s get Justin his shots” type of team… and it works and leads to wins…. Well, then that’s the right way to play.
If it doesn’t work and doesn’t lead to wins, and Lewis isn’t stepping forward to be The Guy at Fiserv Forum? I don’t know if it’s a bad thing, but it certainly would go against a lot of things that a lot of Marquette fans were generally thinking about how this season and this roster would play out.
For a minute there, things looked like they were not going well for Justin Lewis this season. At the end of non-conference play, he had just finished an 0-for-7 outing against a ranked UCLA team that dropped his season long three-point shooting percentage to just 27.8%. In other words, a bad shooter (under 32% propped up by an 8-for-15 in two of the three Charleston games) had a bad night that he hadn’t actually earned. Sure, he was averaging 15.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and just over an assist per game, but both Lewis’ and Marquette’s potential were not being realized.
Big East play starts, and Lewis opens up the first three games by shooting 2-for-12 from beyond the arc and the Golden Eagles drop to 0-3. Again, the overall picture doesn’t look terrible as he averaged 14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds and the Golden Eagles weren’t that far off from recording wins in all three contests. But it’s clear for both the player and the team that this is not what anyone wants to happen this season, and things are wildly slipping away from everyone involved.
And then Lewis shot 49% from long range over the next seven games. All wins for the Golden Eagles. Extend it out to the next nine games, Marquette is 8-1 with only a microscopic loss at Providence marring the record while Lewis connects on 48% of his long range attempts. 18.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and just over a steal per game for the Baltimore native in that stretch, including a pair of wins over Big East power Villanova.
I think it’s safe to say at this point, looking back on things from early July, that this is where or at least why Justin Lewis decided to stay in the NBA Draft. Not that he couldn’t tell he was riding a hot streak in that stretch, but when you’re averaging 16.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and just over an assist for the entire season while shooting 35% from long range and firmly in the conversation for Big East Player of the Year through 12 games of the 20 game conference slate, well, how much better can things possibly get for you?
While Marquette’s record the rest of the way did Lewis no favors in that BE POY race (3-4 in the regular season while that trophy was on the line, 3-6 overall), you can’t say that Lewis was in some way responsible for the drop off. Sure, he stopped hitting every other three on average, but his stats in the last nine games were right on par, actually a little bit better, with where he was on February 3rd after beating Villanova for the second time: 17.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 35% from long range.
To summarize it, I think: Once Lewis got comfortable with all of his new teammates — Remember that Greg Elliott was really the only one that he had ever played with before — as well as comfortable with the system that Shaka Smart wanted to run for the Golden Eagles, he realized his potential as a collegiate player. He was able to take the mantle of leadership for the team and be the guy that this team needed to lead the way, or quite literally to be The Guy.
Marquette ended up with a much better season than probably anyone really thought was possible in October, or perhaps even back in April when Smart was hired. I don’t think that we can call it a great season by any stretch, especially not the way it ended in the final game of the season. When you start from “If everything falls together the right way, maybe they can be a tournament team” and end with “cleanly in the tournament without a doubt,” then you have to say things went well. A big reason, maybe the most important reason why that happened? Justin Lewis figured things out, both for himself and for the team as well.
Yeah, I’m not even bothering to look at anything else, the answer’s the road trip to Villanova. 21 points, including the game winning three-pointer as he salvaged a rapidly collapsing play, on 8-for-16 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists, and a steal. I will happily listen to arguments for another game, because I’m sure I’m missing a quality candidate. But when you shoot 5-for-8 from long range and hit the game winner for Marquette’s first ever win at Finneran Pavilion, I put a gold star on your homework and move on.
I’ve been thinking about this one pretty much ever since I started writing the Player Reviews. Not that I was grading anyone else against what grade I was going to give Lewis, but just as a function of What Did We Expect and What Did We Get and how the grade has to be applied as a result. Did we expect Lewis to play at a Big East Player of the Year caliber, or did we just want it to happen for the best case scenario for Marquette? How much do we knock his campaign for the rough start from behind the three-point line when it was clearly a point of emphasis for not only Lewis but everyone on the team to shoot a lot of threes?
Here’s where I landed with it: I’m giving Lewis a 9.
Here’s why: I can’t justify the 10 to myself. It’s close, I won’t argue with anyone who tries to tell me that the 10 is justified and correct here. But for me, I need to see something a little bit more for that 10. If Lewis had been POY? 10. If Marquette had won a Big East tournament game or an NCAA tournament game? Man, that’s probably a 10 as well. One of each? Definitely a 10. Is it fair to pin team success on Lewis relative to his grade for the year? Maybe, maybe not, that’s why I wouldn’t argue with you if you say you’d give him a 10.
But the 2021-22 season for Justin Lewis was pretty much everything else you could ask for from a guy. Maybe even more so, given the fresh slate that the program was handed when Smart took over the reigns. You can very easily argue that someone had to do what Lewis did for MU this past season, and even more easily argue that it needed to be Lewis to do it. He did, and that’s what matters here.