Illinois basketball fans can breathe a little easier now. The Illini received good news Saturday night with the report that La Salle transfer Khalid Lewis is joining the team for his final year of eligibility. The move is especially important considering that it comes just weeks after Tracy Abrams suffered a torn Achilles, forcing the point guard to miss his second straight season. For a team desperately needing stability at the one, Lewis offers an experienced option who brings immediate eligibility with him.
But how big of an impact will the former Explorer have on Illinois in 2015-16? That obviously remains to be seen, but Lewis has never been a dynamic player in college and is coming off a season in which he averaged only 6 points and 2.2 assists in just under 28 minutes per game. Still, that doesn't mean he won't be valuable for Illinois. Let's take a look at what Lewis brings to the table.
Last season Lewis carved out a role as a defensive stopper for the Explorers. While he only averaged 1.0 steals per game, he posted a solid 2.3 steal percentage and had nine games with multiple swipes. But those stats don't totally do justice to Lewis' performance on the defensive end. Dating back to his high school days, the New Jersey native has had a reputation as a hard-nosed, gritty player on that end of the court. And although he's not huge at 6'3" and 185 pounds, he has enough size to guard some twos in addition to ones.
On the offensive end, he's much more limited as his stats would suggest. But he did a decent job avoiding turnovers last year, averaging just 1.4 per game. He also showed significant improvement from behind the arc, hitting 32.8 percent of his 3-point attempts after only making 21 percent the year before.
Most importantly, Lewis brings experience to a squad that only has one senior and just graduated it's best player in Rayvonte Rice. Lewis has also been through the transfer process before, having left Delaware after his freshman season in 2012. That doesn't guarantee he'll make a smooth transition again, but it shows that he can do it.
As mentioned above, Lewis simply isn't much of a force on offense. It's one thing to not be a huge scorer, but Lewis didn't create a ton for La Salle either, registering four or more assists in only six games last season. He also needs to improve his shooting. Despite only averaging six attempts per game in 2014-'15, he shot just 37.4 percent from the field, and a ghastly 39.6 percent on two-point attempts. Those numbers need to come up, as does his 66.7 career free throw shooting percentage. Lewis doesn't need to be an offensive stud to get on the court, but he will need to show some more consistency.
Despite his flaws, Lewis is a solid player who will compete with Jaylon Tate for the starting point guard job. His presence won't take Illinois to the next level, but he is a very good defender who will at the very least give the Illini some much needed depth and experience at the guard spot. In what was looking like a very bleak situation for Illinois, Lewis's arrival is critical to helping shore up a glaring weakness on the Illini roster.