Utah Jazz Deep Dives: Trey Lyles

Trey Lyles’ tantalizing blend of size, shooting and passing has made him one of  the most coveted assets on the Utah Jazz. How good can he be next season?

Just one year into their careers, the 2015 draft class already looks like one of the best in recent memory. Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis grab headlines, while prospects picked further down the board quietly showed glimpses of their talent last season.

Every player picked 10th – 13th last year fits that mold to a tee. It’s hard to find one player like Justise Winslow or Devin Booker in the late lottery; it’s completely unprecedented to find four guys like that. But the group of Winslow, Myles Turner, Trey Lyles, and Booker all project to become starting-caliber players — at the least.

Of that group, Lyles is probably the least heralded. That’s not without good reason — scant playing time and a low usage rate meant he was practically invisible for the first half of the season.

Nevertheless, the Saskatoon native is not one to complain about his role, even predating his NBA career. As a college freshman, Kentucky’s overfilled stable of bigs forced Lyles out to the wing as an oversized three.

Despite his gargantuan measurables (6-foot-10.5 height, 7-foot-1.5 wingspan), Lyles instead focused on his perimeter game. He honed his jumper, and worked the pick-and-roll as both screen-man and ball-handler. While playing out of position suppressed Lyles’ draft stock, it developed his offensive game into one suited for the modern NBA.

The stretch four is old news — even dinosaur coaches know that it’s virtually impossible to maintain efficient offense with two non-shooters at the big spots. Instead, the playmaking four is in vogue, with guys like Draymond Green, Kevin Love and Jazz newcomer Boris Diaw at the forefront.

They can nail open threes and, more importantly, make the right decision with the ball in the pick-and-roll. We all watched the Steph-Draymond P&R become the NBA’s most unstoppable play, and while many gave sole credit to Curry’s absurd range, it was Green’s playmaking that greased the wheels.

Hedge toward Steph, and you let Draymond (with his point guard skills) go downhill in a four-on-three. The takeaway is easy: Bigs who are able to shoot, dribble and pass can raise the offense to new heights.

Lyles has the skills for that, even if they have yet to show up on a regular basis. He can weave out of a screen into open space before draining a three, or fake a handoff and drive to the cup. As a freshman he was guarded by versatile wings, and Lyles is now enjoying the privileges that come with playing his natural position. He can blow by fours with ease, which was put on display during Summer League.

Las Vegas was a chance for Lyles to dominate, and he did not disappoint. In just two games (67 minutes) he logged a combined 58 points, on easy .472/.571/.941 shooting splits. Lyles won’t have that kind of athletic edge against NBA defenders, but it was a nice continuation of his late-season surge, when he upped his usage dramatically.

Pre All-StarPost All-Star
Games Played5030
Minutes (per game)17.117.5
Usage Rate15.123.6
Three-Point Attempts (per game)1.02.6
Shooting Percentages (FG/3P/FT).419/.408/.630.457/.367/.778
True Shooting Percentage48.754.7
Offensive Rebound Percentage5.53.5
Free Throw Rate 2.83.6
Assists (per 100 possessions)11.28.4
Turnovers (per 100 possessions)12.59.1

Rookies (obviously) mature throughout the season itself, so a late bump in stats is fairly commonplace. Even Towns had one. But Lyles’ is notable because it was so pronounced, and it translates to the film too. As he became indoctrinated in Snyder’s offense, his reads became quicker and errors more scarce. Lyles started shooting more — a lot more — especially from deep.

“What you see out there is a kid that played the wing when he was at Kentucky and is now a power forward playing against other power forwards.”
-Jazz Summer League Coach Mike Wells

Best of all, Lyles appeared to develop a rapport with the starters. He played the four alongside either Derrick Favors or Rudy Gobert at center, with the usual suspects flanking them in the backcourt and wing spots (Neto/Hood/Hayward).

Those lineups eviscerated opponents (both had positive net ratings above 10 pts/100 possessions), and Lyles’ presence showed on offense.

The Neto/Hood/Hayward/Lyles/Gobert unit tossed up 113 points/100 possessions, higher than Golden State’s starters. Swap Gobert with Favors and the offense barely suffered, still managing better than 108 pts/100 poss. And those lineups should be even more potent this year after upgrading from Neto to George Hill.

Factor in Hood’s and Lyles’ natural development, and Utah could lay waste to opposing defenses.

If Trey pans out and reaches his ceiling, it will make things difficult for management. He’s currently blocked by Favors, and is nominally splitting backup minutes with Diaw (although I think Lyles will seize the role entirely). That’s fine in his rookie and sophomore seasons, but what about down the road when his extension clock begins to tick down?

Playmaking and shooting makes Lyles a skeleton key on offense, but defensively he can’t stick to wings. If he’s to truly fulfill his offensive potential, it will probably cost Favors — either minutes or a roster spot.

Still, it’s far too early to forecast contingencies for Lyles’ stardom — that’s obviously no sure thing. He still needs to develop an off the dribble game, as 121 of his 127 3PA’s last season were catch-and-shoot. He struggles to finish over adept rim protectors, shooting just 54 percent in the restricted area (league average is right around 60 percent). And his free throw rate is abysmal, especially if he continues to be the high-usage player we saw following the All-Star break.

Defensively, he’s not quite there either. He loses his man through off-ball screens, and has a proclivity for ball-watching. Those deficiencies were more visible at Kentucky, when he was tasked with handling slippery wings.

While Lyles should be helped merely by circumstance — blow-bys are less costly when you have Gobert roaming the paint — his awareness will need to improve before he’s a league-average defender.

But when those are the primary flaws from your 20 year-old rookie, I would say you’re doing all right. The Jazz seem to have a knack for nailing these guys after the marquee prospects are off the board.

I wrote about Rodney Hood last week, and pegged him as one of the biggest steals in recent drafts. Gobert (no. 27 in 2013) is certainly another candidate. Now, it’s starting to look like they may have done it again with Lyles.