Trey Lyles Is Making His Mark With the Utah Jazz

Mar 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) defends during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) defends during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

The Utah Jazz drafted Trey Lyles all but knowing he was going to be a project. What’s transpired over the course of the season has been quite the opposite, as Lyles continues to impress while proving his NBA worth.

With the NBA continuing to evolve and things like small ball and floor spacing gaining prevalence, the Utah Jazz had their sights set on a stretch power forward in the 2015 draft — a position that’s becoming more and more coveted.

So, at No. 12, they selected Trey Lyles, a six-foot-ten big man with a seemingly solid set of skills, hoping he would be the answer to all their floor-stretching prayers.

Excitement over his potential reached a fever pitch during the Utah Jazz Summer League, where Lyles exhibited an array of impressive skills — high basketball I.Q., adept defense, shooting touch, ball handling and some pretty passing.

There were even times where Trey was not only initiating, but running the offense. That’s not something a lot of six-foot-ten guys can do.

Though once the regular season came around, Lyles began showing some very real growing pains. At times it looked as though his NBA learning curve would be a steep one.

And then Rudy Gobert got hurt.

And then Derrick Favors got hurt.

These two injuries forced the Utah Jazz’s hand, giving them no choice but to switch out Lyles’ token minutes at the back of the rotation for starter minutes. Out of necessity, Lyles was thrown into the lions den.

The result has been one of the better stories and silver linings to an otherwise up and down season. Facing a sink or swim moment, Lyles flourished with increased playing time.

Since the beginning of 2016, Trey has seen his minutes increase by more than 10 per game and he’s making the most out of it. Since New Years Day, he’s putting up nearly 10 points and six rebounds per contest (nearly 12 and seven per 36 minutes).

Even with Gobert and Favors back in action, Trey continued to improve and develop while showing off his Swiss Army Knife array of abilities.

Moreover, Lyles is starting to fill the role that the Jazz both want and need. With Favors and Gobert being most effective within 10 feet, it’s crucial to have another big who can stretch the floor — opening up driving lanes for the points guards and wings — and knock down perimeter jumpers.

For the year, Lyles is hitting just under 38 percent of his three-point shots. In Friday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, he scored 18 points and hit two of four from distance.

Lyles’ shooting ability also allows Favors to wreak his havoc down low without having to worry about being trapped or double-teamed. It’s eerily similar to the dynamic former Jazz men Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur shared some years ago.

Okur was such a good outside shooter, that if his defender sagged off him to help with Boozer — a super-skilled offensive big man — in the post, he’d make them pay. Lyles has the potential to do the same with Favors.

This is all even better when you consider that Lyles, as a rookie, is coming off his third consecutive month of shooting over 45-percent from the field.

A deeper look at stretch fours around the league reveals the concept of the playmaking four. Guys like Draymond Green, Lamar Odom and Boris Diaw come to mind. ESPN Senior Writer, Zach Lowe, wrote about it at-length last year for the now-defunct Grantland.

In the article, Lowe explains how forwards who can shoot are a welcome addition to any team, but it’s the ones who can spot up, drive and make plays on the move who are the real paragons.

Trey Lyles is fitting that exact bill. Even more so when he’s showing us that his length, athleticism and headiness can translate to defense as well.

A great example of Trey’s playmaking skills came courtesy of the Sacramento Kings back on January 14. In the game, Trey dropped 19 points and a handful of highlight plays — most of which came off the dribble.

Both the progression and potential are there for Lyles. Just about every game he looks increasingly comfortable — making those early season growing pains a thing of the past. What’s more, by playing through his struggles, Trey’s continuing to earn the trust of his teammates and the coaching staff.

This is no longer your grandpa’s NBA. Players are now being required to both broaden and deepen their skill sets —  and do more than their traditional roles have ever asked of them. Trey Lyles is looking more and more like he’s on the front lines of this revolution.

And the Utah Jazz are going to reap the benefits, both now and in the future.

Oh, and one more thing. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Trey has shown us another hidden skill rare among power forwards in the league. He has, by far, the best bench celebrations in the league.

Flex on ’em, Trey!