The FaceTime call to Alabama coach Nate Oats came from Miami. On the other end were Oats’ former point guard, Kira Lewis Jr., Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, general manager Scott Perry and senior VP William Wesley.
They were all having dinner Monday night in Miami and wanted to clue in Oats on the good time they were enjoying.
Yes, the Knicks are serious about Lewis, the 6-foot-3 speed demon who has climbed up draft boards during the pandemic. Under new NBA guidelines, the Knicks are allowed 10 in-person workouts. Lewis became one of them.
Whether the Knicks are looking at Lewis with the No. 8-overall pick if Killian Hayes is off the board or — more likely — in a trade back, still is unclear with the draft not until Nov. 18.
Oats said he believes Thibodeau can be great for Lewis, whose major question marks at Alabama were defense, 3-point prowess and strength. Oats said Lewis has used the pandemic to bulk up, through weight lifting and diet, to more than 180 pounds. Lewis was listed at 165 pounds during the Alabama season.
“I talked to Thibs two nights ago and Scott Perry and World Wide Wes,’’ Oates told The Post in a phone interview. “The area that Kira needs the most improvement on is defense. Thibs is renowned for his defense and he can help him become a great defender. On the offensive side of the ball, he’s got everything teams are looking for now with the speed.
“He really wants to be great. And if you play for Thibs, you got to love basketball. He’s going to grind it up. But Kira loves basketball and is in the gym grinding all the time.”
Lewis is the rare lottery prospect who is not a one-and-doner. He was, though, a young sophomore, and didn’t turn 19 until this past April. As an Alabama freshman, Lewis was 17.
The Hazel Green, Ala., native took off in Oats’ fast-paced offense, especially as a sophomore. Lewis averaged 18.5 points, 5.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds as Alabama finished 16-15.
“We played a lot more open like what the NBA is playing,’’ Oates said. “The system we played here, he thrived in that. He’s set up to be able to walk in and help somebody immediately. Maybe not necessarily as a starter, but rotation guy right out of the gate. His speed and skill level — he passes it at a very high level, makes good reads and he’s easy to play with.”
After a shaky start, Lewis’ 3-pointer got more accurate as he finished at 36.6 percent.
“I think a couple of question marks were could he shoot and is he strong enough?’’ said Oats, the former Buffalo coach. “If you look at it, catch-and-shoot 3’s are the highest percentage. We didn’t have anybody else to create much offense for him. He was creating for himself and everybody else. His percentages went up as the year went on. When you watch the film, they actually realized he could shoot the ball well.
“He played with a lot more confidence [as a sophomore]. At 17, he’s playing against all older kids. We gave him a system that fit his skills. Maybe we had the best point guard in the country to run this fast system and he saw the freedom.’’
In the spring, ESPN’s draft guru Fran Fraschilla thought Lewis was a perfect Knicks’ fit if they traded up from 27 — their other first-rounder — to around 20. But that’s probably not going to get Lewis anymore.
In mock drafts, Lewis is pegged in the 12-17 range — probably because of his defensive shortcomings. According to a source, the Kings, at 12, are very interested.
Applying himself on that end of the court was seen only late in the season.
“He’s always been able to impact the game offensively ever since he started playing with his athleticism,’’ Oats said. “He knows how to compete but more on the offensive end.
That’s where he effects the game more. As the year went, he got better and better defensively. He realized his speed can be a positive on defense too. He got better, but still not where he needs to be.”
The extra weight could make him a tougher defender.
“They’ve done a good job,’’ Oats said. “It’s hard to put weight on when you’re younger. He started to put weight on so they realize he can be more physical. His speed is elite. The way the game’s gone, and how open and fast people are playing in the NBA, the best thing he does is what they value most up there.”
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