Utah Jazz 2015-16 Review: Trey Lyles

Mar 30, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) dribbles the ball in front of Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 30, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) dribbles the ball in front of Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

Utah Jazz big man Trey Lyles ended up having one of the better rookie seasons, despite getting off to one of the roughest starts of anyone in the 2015 draft class.

Last June, the Utah Jazz used their twelfth pick to draft Trey Lyles, a forward from the University of Kentucky. He was greeted with a lukewarm welcome from Jazz fans, many of whom felt like the Jazz could have done better.

Lyles was a rather low-profile prospect leading up to the draft, despite being voted to take part in the All-SEC Freshman team and helping to lead the Wildcats to their 2015 NCAA Final Four appearance.

Perhaps fans were concerned with the underwhelming stats from his first and only collegiate season. He averaged just 8.7 points, 5.2 boards, one assist and shot 48.8 percent from the field while playing for a loaded team.

Or perhaps he was overshadowed by his college teammates who also entered the draft after losing in the semifinals to the Wisconsin Badgers. The 2015 draft class included fellow Wildcats Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison.

Utah Jazz Trey Lyles
Feb 3, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) goes up for a dunk during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 85-81. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

Lyles ulitmately proved to be a valuable addition to the Utah Jazz, finishing his rookie season averaging 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 43.8 percent from the field.

Lyles Style

As the regular season started, it was clear that the rookie was having a difficult time adjusting to the pace of professional play. He was struggling to connect with the basket inside and out, averaging under three points throughout his first 20 games. Lyles looked altogether lost when it came to defense.

Off the court, however, the typically reserved forward found his groove shamelessly cheering for his teammates in the dorkiest fashion on the sidelines. He celebrates big dunks and three-pointers Lyles Style: squatted down, biceps flexed, elbows jutted out at odd angles. During close games, he is on all fours watching intently.

In December, due to an injury to Rudy Gobert, Lyles was thrust into the Jazz starting lineup. He averaged just 4.1 points and 4.9 boards in 21 minutes. The 20-year-old rookie ended up starting in 33 games throughout the rest of the season.

During the second half of the season, Lyles was playing more minutes, and it meant two things. First, he was neglecting his bench duties. Second, he was able to prove that he was capable of stepping up. Lyles was playing on a whole other level.

Lyles had six double figure games in January alone. Most notably, at home against the Sacramento Kings, Lyles scored 19 points while shooting an impressive 61.5 percent. Lyles went on to score 16 points the next night.

Lyles put on another impressive performance, scoring 12 points in just 13 minutes in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers when he connected on five of eight shots. Lyles helped secure the win by scoring 10 of those points during the fourth quarter. The next night, in a win over the Phoenix Suns, Lyles scored 19 points in 19 minutes.

On the offensive end, Lyles proved to be a valuable asset. He’s a consistent threat from the corner, where he shot 44 percent. At 6-foot-10, the rookie also demonstrates an imposing ability to drive to the basket.

But above all, Lyles proved to have incredible instincts and keen ability to assess offensive situations.

“He makes good reads,” said head coach Quin Snyder. “As a young player, he’s not always going to be capable of making plays in every situation, but he knows the right play to make.”

A player can work to improve his shot, but knowing when to take the shot and when to make the extra pass is instinctive.

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Work in Progress

On the defensive end, there is still work to be done. The rookie struggles to stay ahead of opponents and allows too many easy, wide-open paths to the basket. He only contested 21 percent of shots around the rim when on defense.

Lyles isn’t going to be rim protector of Gobert caliber, but at 6-foot-10, 230 pounds and with a 7’1 wingspan, he has the tools to be a reliable defender. He needs to capitalize on his and develop some defensive grit.

“Defense is something I definitely need to work,” said Lyles. “I know that, the coaches know that, and it’s something I’m going to be focusing on during the summer…I definitely want to be as good of a defensive player as I am an offensive player.”

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Although fans initially had their doubts, Dennis Lindsey never doubted Trey Lyles. Lindsey, while appearing on 1280 AM The Zone, recently revealed that earlier on in the season, the team was offered a good veteran player on a solid contract in exchange for Lyles. But the Jazz passed and decided to keep Lyles.

And with his rookie season behind him, it’s clear that the Jazz made the right decision about Lyles. He got off to rough start but proved he was capable making valuable contributions on–and off– the court. And at just 20 years old, Lyles has time to learn, work hard and progress even more.