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Instant impact: Trey Lyles

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Perhaps Tim Connelly knew all along, and perhaps the Nuggets got lucky. Either way, Lyles is the man.

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I’ve always been a big fan of Danilo Gallinari. In fact, he was one of the players that helped me get really excited about the Nuggets again after a long winter as a fan. Although he stands at 6’10”, he’s incredibly versatile offensively, and his contribution to the Nuggets was irreplaceable. Or, so I thought.

Fast forward to the NBA draft, where the Nuggets had a very “bizarre” night, and I was left absolutely bewildered at the events that unfolded. As an armchair critic, it appeared that the Nuggets picked up a lot of what they didn’t need, and not a lot of what they did need. I’m still peeved about the Los Angeles Lakers picking up Kyle Kuzma when Denver could have had him, but I am just going to have to let that go.

Disillusioned, and frustrated, I watched in horror as the Nuggets then lost Gallinari in a sign-and-trade with the Los Angeles Clippers leaving them without their best scorer, and woefully understaffed at the 3. “What the devil is happening with this organization,” I thought. Everything seemed to be reactionary, and nothing appeared to be planned.

Looking back at the events that have unfolded so far this season, it’s hard to tell if it was luck or planning that led the Nuggets to where they are now. Whatever it was, I’m glad they have Trey Lyles on their side as they develop their roster. I realize Lyles’ position doesn’t replace Gallinari’s, but with Will Barton serving a hybrid 2/3 Lyles has placed nicely with the Nuggets roster. So much so, that I hardly think about missing Gallo anymore—especially with his continued struggles to remain healthy.

Typically, it takes a little while for a player to adjust to a new city, new coach, and new teammates. If the player is new to the league, this adjustment period can last multiple seasons, and sometimes the fit never does sort itself out. Fortunately for the Nuggets, that’s not the case with Lyles.

If there was a phrase I could use to describe Lyles’ contribution, it would be, “instant impact.” Ironically, it was almost a fluke that Lyles even saw any minutes this season. With Paul Millsap injured, Lyles had to come off the bench for Kenneth Faried at the 4, and I was certain Millsap’s injury would be a death sentence for the Nuggets’ playoff hopes.

Luckily, I was wrong, and I’ve been nothing short of amazed seeing Lyles work his magic on the roster. In the last 10 games, Lyles has averaged 16.7 points at a respectable 52.6% from the field, and an impressive 45.5% from distance while also bringing in at least 5-10 rebounds per game. At just 22 years old, he brings confidence and poise that many NBA veterans still lack, and he’s quickly made himself a staple of the Nuggets’ roster.

Lyles’ numbers are impressive on their own, but what has really stood out to me is his ability to protect the ball. As we all know, 1st and 2nd year players typically struggle with turnovers, but Lyles has only produced three turnovers total in the last 10 games. This means he’s not only effective at scoring, but he’s not providing the opponent with many opportunities to get points from his offensive mistakes. In terms of efficiency, that’s probably the most ideal situation to ask for.

Defensively, Lyles has also shown aggressiveness and confidence proving overall better than Faried. His 6’10” stature is certainly preferable, and while he’s not the biggest guy in the league he’s certainly not getting pushed around under the rim. The Nuggets are improving on defense as a team, and I expect Lyles to grow with them as they make their way toward the playoffs.

When Millsap returns, the Nuggets are going to have to make some adjustments to make sure Lyles gets the minutes he needs, but I’d imagine Malone can strike a nice balance between the two, and perhaps Millsap can stay healthy for longer if Lyles shoulders more minutes than Faried was getting with Millsap starting.

Either way, I’m very pleased with the way the Nuggets roster has developed with Lyles getting more minutes, and I hope to see him continue to grow with the team long term. Who knows, once Millsap retires, Lyles could be the Nuggets future at the power forward position.