Position: forward
Height: 6-10
Weight: 215
College: None (Alief Elsik High School)
Born: August 8, 1979, Pineville, LA
Opening day (2002) age: 23
Drafted: 1998, second round, pick 32, Seattle
NBA exerience: Four years (four with Sonics)
Hand: Right
Acquired: via draft
Nicknames: Shard, Quiet Man, Young Fella, Meat, Sweet Lew, Ice
Contract status: Signed through the 2008-09 season

Rashard Lewis Career Stats

2001-02 in Review: Rashard Lewis entered his fourth NBA season established as one of the league's brightest young stars but also still hoping to round out his game before becoming one of the most coveted free agents in summer 2002. Early in the season, Lewis looked to be off to a good start when he put together the best performance of his NBA career, netting 36 points and 19 rebounds in a double-overtime defeat of Orlando. Shifting to the power forward in a small lineup because of injuries to many of the Sonics' big men, Lewis stepped up his rebounding early in the season but was not as effective offensively. Back to his natural small forward position in December, Lewis began to consistently put up 15-20 points and 6-8 rebounds per game. He did add a dimension to his game mid-season, improving his ability to play the passing lanes after the beginning of the new year and nearly doubling his stealing average to date in the months of January and February. Of more note to many Seattle fans, however, was a January 13 article in the Tacoma News-Tribune in which Lewis compared himself to Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant -- another player who entered the NBA out of high school -- and declared that he expected to receive the maximum allowable contract from the Sonics this summer or he would explore other options, notably his hometown Houston Rockets. Though fans were initially upset, time closed any rift by the time Lewis' bobblehead was distributed on February 16 against Boston. Unable to avoid a bobblehead 'jinx' that affected many other players and coaches, Lewis was ejected during the third quarter of the game. Nonetheless, it would mark the beginning of the best stretch of the season for both Lewis -- who began to demonstrate more ability to create offense for himself either on the dribble or in the post -- and the Sonics. He continued to play at this higher level near the end of March, scoring 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a critical victory against Utah before he was felled by a sprained ankle during the Sonics' next game and missed the remainder of the regular season. Lewis was not fully ready to return by the beginning of Seattle's playoff series with San Antonio, sparking a whole new round of debate on his greed from fans when he suggested that his impending free agency might lead him to sit out. However, five minutes into game one, he was inserted and played as if he was never injured, gaining the respect of fans with his toughness and crucial late scores in a game two victory. Then injury struck again, with a non-contact dislocated shoulder finishing Lewis' season just seconds into the second half of game three. Lewis finished the season with averages of 16.8 points and 7.0 boards per game on 47% shooting.

Previous NBA Career: Considered one of the top high school players in the nation after his senior season at Alief Elsik High School and tabbed by many as their player of the year, Lewis was seemingly a sure first-round pick when he entered the 1998 Draft, likely by the Rockets, who held three first-rounders that year. Stunning the experts, Houston passed on Lewis, who was left in the "Green Room" all alone at the start of the second round and seen crying by viewers watching the Draft. The Sonics finally selected Lewis with their 32nd pick, and he immediately became the team's hope for the future, receiving a guaranteed two-year contract. More stunning then Lewis' fall in the Draft was his rapid rise to the Seattle starting lineup when then-coach Paul Westphal picked him to replace injured Billy Owens at shooting guard just a week into the season. Though Lewis barely played and the move was short-lived, by season's end the Sonics considered him a future All-Star. More of that potential was on display in year two, as Lewis became the team's top reserve over the course of the season before being thrust into the starting lineup during Seattle's first-round series with Utah. During those five games, Lewis was easily the second-best Sonic after Gary Payton, averaging 15.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. At the season's end, Lewis became a restricted free agent. After entertaining offers from a handful of suitors, he displayed loyalty to the Sonics by returning on a two-year deal with a player option for a third season. A starter entering training camp, Lewis started all 78 games he played in while emerging as the Sonics' second-best player, finishing second on the team in scoring (14.8) and rebounding (6.9). Displaying improved touch from the perimeter, Lewis' 43% three-point shooting was ninth in the NBA and he participated during All-Star weekend in the AT&T Long-Distance Shootout.

Shooting/Scoring: Lewis continues to carry the reputation for being a player who cannot create his own offense and is primarily a jump-shooter. While he did little to shed that label during the first half of the season, he created for himself far more frequently and effectively over the months of February and March and during the playoffs. In one notable game against the Golden State Warriors, he abused Antawn Jamison in the post. (In all fairness, this was partially attributable to a lack of defensive interest.) When playing power forward in the Sonics' small lineup, Lewis looked for more opportunities to get to the lane, where he is a very good free-throw shooter, hitting 81% last season. That said, the bulk of Lewis' offense continues to come from the perimeter. While his three point percentage dropped last season (39% as opposed to 43% the previous year), he continued to be a deadly weapon, leading to a 56% scoring efficiency, second on the Sonics after sharp-shooting guard Brent Barry. Lewis is very effective at finishing on the break, even if his aerobatic dunks have been dramatically overshadowed by teammate Desmond Mason.
Grade: A-

Floor Game: Lewis has made strides since entering the NBA on avoiding turnovers, but remains a substandard ballhandler for a starting small forward. For the first time in his career, Lewis recorded more assists than turnovers last season. This improvement came from dropping his turnover rate -- per minute, it's down 25% from his second season -- while his assist rate has stayed fairly constant. Lewis will not be bringing the ball upcourt anytime in the near future, and his hands are curiously poor for a player of his athleticism. On the plus side, Lewis has an excellent innate feel for correctly spacing the floor and moves well without the ball. He is not much of a pick-setter.
Grade: C

Rebounding: For some reason, Lewis has garnered a reputation as one of the league's best rebounding small forwards. While he led the Sonics in this category last season, the fact that the team was one of the NBA's worst rebounding teams means it is largely damning with faint praise. Last season, Lewis was in the upper half of NBA small forwards in per-minute rebounding. However, much of this work was done in the month of November, when he was primarily playing power forward. At the four, Lewis is far below average on the glass. His rebounding split between offensive and defensive rebounds is near the NBA average.
Grade: B-

Defense: During his first season as a starter, Lewis was probably underrated defensively as critics hastened to pick apart his ability to defend small forwards one-on-one. Last season, the opposite response to this was so strong that he might actually be overrated now. In terms of man defense, Lewis is below-average. He is the quintessential tweener forward in this regard -- a step slow on the perimeter against small forwards and too slight in the post against power forwards. Lewis is a far better team defender, though his rotation last season was slower than it had been the year before. During the first two months of the year 2002, Lewis suddenly and without warning began playing the passing lanes like he never had before, resulting in a steal rate over that period which would make him one of the league's leaders. It is an open question as to whether this will hold up over the course of next season.
Grade: C

Intangibles: Along with Mason, Lewis forms the core of the new Sonics, for whom personality and ability are both important. Extremely coachable, Lewis has yet to make waves in the locker room or off the court. That made his comments about getting the max out of character, leading to speculation that he was led along by the interviewer or his agent, Carl Poston. As well, Lewis' ejection against Boston was part of a season-long trend towards conflict with referees -- he was fined for comments made about refereeing in another game. The Sonics, knowing that Lewis is key to their future, tried to encourage him to take a greater leadership role by making him a co-captain last season. The move did little; Barry, not Lewis, took the unofficial leadership mantle while Lewis remained as quiet as ever. Of course, there are far worse things for contemporary NBA players to be than quiet.
Grade: B

Overall: Oddly, though he came into the NBA as an athlete full of potential, after four years Lewis' game is more befitting a player who has gotten to game's highest level as much on hard work as natural talent. After all, his main offensive weapon is his deadly shooting ability, not spectacular drives to the basket, and his footspeed is below average. This makes him an anomaly -- especially amongst the group of players who skipped college -- but also raises questions about exactly what Lewis' room for growth is. He certainly can stand to improve his ballhandling and post skills, but these are not as easily done as improving a jumper, for example. Everything about Lewis' game and personality seems to say follower, not leader. This is both a curse and a blessing. Lewis does not project as a star-level player in the NBA or his team's top offensive player -- which, as most experts agree, means he shouldn't be a max player, regardless his opinion. Oppositely, Lewis seems willing to accept the role of a sidekick instead of the hero and can be one of the best in the league. This summer, Lewis has emerged as arguably the best free agent on the market. He is clearly the top unrestricted free agent. Unfortunately, he has picked a poor time to become a free agent. Only one team -- the Chicago Bulls -- has the money to offer Lewis a contract even in the ballpark of what the Sonics can offer with their "Early Bird" rights. The Bulls' interest is questionable as the free agent period begins. Lewis and Houston continue to be linked, and both seem to have interest in theory. However, the Rockets have only their median exception available, and Poston has said that Lewis has no interest in foregoing as much money as he would by taking the median. A sign-and-trade is nearly impossible because Lewis' new contract will almost certainly make him a Base-Year Compensation player, meaning the Sonics could only accept half his salary back in trade. That essentially limits such a deal to teams with cap room like Chicago and the Washington Wizards. Unless these teams could sign Lewis outright -- and Washington cannot, removing its leverage -- the Sonics are not inclined to make a deal with Lewis. His free agency is not quite as urgent as it was two years ago, with many fans contending that Radmanovic -- who will probably play alongside Lewis next season if he returns -- has a greater upside. Still, Lewis is a hugely important player for the Sonics in both the near-term and the long-term. Expect him to return on a five- to seven-year deal starting at around $8 million dollars and post similar numbers to last season, with slight improvements in his scoring and steal averages. An early June examination revealed that Lewis' shoulder had healed and surgery would not be necessary, though he remains at a high risk for recurrence of the injury.
Grade: B+

During his rookie season, Lewis was my favorite Sonic, and I expected very big things from him. Because I am a very strange person, I have a tendency to like a second-round pick and then have the opinion fade (the same thing happened with Olumide Oyedeji). Lewis is still one of my favorite players; any doubts about his long-term potential are purely objective analysis. I'd prefer Lewis stay in Seattle for the balance of his career. As for the rest of the KeyArena crowd, Lewis is probably the third- or fourth-best liked Sonic. Fans were surprisingly understanding after his demand for a max contract. While I expected some scattered boos, I can't recall hearing any.

September 19 Update: After nearly two months of occasionally contentious negotiations, Lewis agreed today to return to the Sonics on a seven-year deal that will reportedly pay him $60 million dollars with $15 million in acheivable incentives.

October 14 Update: Lewis returned to action today against the Memphis Grizzlies after sitting out two preseason games with an injury believed to possibly be a re-dislocation of his shoulder that would necessitate surgery and put Lewis out for several months. Instead, the injury was merely a strain and he showed no ill effects.

December 1 Update: Lewis' first month this season can best be described as a rollercoaster. After signing a 7-year, $60 million dollar contract this off-season, Rashard was expected to step up as the Sonics "2nd guy." However, he started off the season slow, scoring only 10 points on 3-13 shooting in a win over Phoenix. Then five days later he scored an abysmal 4 points on 2-9 shooting from the field in a win over Utah. Things started to pick up from there as he scored a career-high 37 points in a win over Washington, hit a couple of key shots in a win over the Clippers, and was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for November 11-17. Lewis has been on a slump ever since. His scoring has been inconsistant, and his rebounding has gotten a lot worse after an excellent start. Also his defense needs work as he constantely makes above average forwards look like NBA superstars. If Rashard constantly played like he did in early- to mid-November, he could be an All-Star. His consistency remains the question.