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Player Evaluation - Can Trey Lyles be more than just a guy?

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

Trey Lyles was one of the 2017 offseason acquisitions by Tim Connelly, the first part of the Nuggets draft day trade of Donovan Mitchell, with Tyler Lydon as the No. 24 pick coming later in the evening. The third-year forward was in need of a change of scenery after inconsistent minutes in Utah under coach Quin Snyder, and the move to Denver gave him an opportunity to show what he could do with a new team.

The former Kentucky forward was thrilled with the opportunity to start over, and spent most of the offseason sharing photos of him getting after it in the gym, which was exciting for Nuggets fans. With the decision to bring back Mason Plumlee, however, the Nuggets frontcourt became even more crowded, and the chance for Lyles to really thrive with a consistent role became difficult to see.

A post shared by Trey Lyles (@treylyles) on

Lyles played well in training camp, and was able to beat out Kenneth “I’m a starter on 29 other teams” Faried for the backup power forward spot in the rotation. He didn’t really get a chance to play significant minutes until December, and he went about making the coaching staff look silly for burying him on the bench.

Lyles shot 43 percent from behind the 3-point line in December and January, on a healthy volume of attempts. His ability to stretch the floor opened up his dribble drive game, and he was able to show off a strong first step and straight line driving ability to create shot attempts for himself at the rim. He rebounded the ball well on the defensive end, and looked like a player that could have a solid future with the Nuggets.

After Plumlee and Millsap returned to health, however, Lyles minutes began to dwindle, and by the end of the season, he was barely part of the rotation. Now Lyles enters the 2018 offseason in the same situation he was in last year with the Jazz - an inconsistent role on a team that has a ton of options at power forward. It’s up to the front office to figure out, for once, who their best players are at each position and how to get them on the court.

Key Stat - 60% DFG < 6 ft.

We know that Lyles can shoot 3-pointers. We know that he can attack closeouts and finish. We know he has the athleticism to rebound and guard on the perimeter after a switch. But the thing that will help him get on the court is being able to defend in the paint.

Lyles has a long, solid core, but there are too many times where it looked like his footwork was poor inside the paint. He needs to be a better interior defender, especially if he’s going to play alongside Nikola Jokic (66.8% DFG < 6 ft.) who defends the rim like a guard.

Best Moment

Lyles started two games all season - one against Boston, the other against Phoenix. In the game against the the Celtics, Lyles had one of the best dunks of the season by a Nuggets player, yamming on Jayson Tatum.

While that was his best moment, I’m going to say that his big game against the Jazz was a little more meaningful for him. The Maple Bros. each scored 26 points, lighting up the Jazz in an 8-point win. For a brief, brief moment, the Donovan Mitchell deniers had a case to make that Lyles was more impactful than the player he was traded for.

Areas of Strength

Offense. Like many of the Nuggets players, he can get the ball in the basket. He can stroke it from the perimeter, score from the free throw line, and finish near the rim. He’s a valuable player in the league if he can shoot 40 percent on 3-point attempts - being consistent and automatic from there makes it difficult to keep him on the bench in a league that is seeing the need for hulk-sized big men that can’t shoot diminish year after year.

Areas to Improve

I touched on this already in the key stat segment, but his rim protection needs to improve. He has the physical tools - length, explosion, quickness - and in my opinion, he just needs to improve his footwork and awareness. That’s a lot of film work and time in the gym with a coaching staff.

Every member of the Nuggets could improve their conditioning, and Lyles is no exception. Having strength in his legs at the end of his rotation, whether off the bench or as a starter, would be a huge boon to the Nuggets, who often melted into a puddle when it was time for the lineups to change.

Finally, he needs to add core strength. Hopefully he’ll be able to work out with members of the Kentucky family over the summer, and get reps against NBA players. If he has a transformation like Julius Randle, he could be in line for a big year.

Expectations for Next Year

He won’t play unless the following things happen:

  • Wilson Chandler opts out and isn’t brought back
  • The Nuggets diminish Mason Plumlee’s minutes
  • The Nuggets diminish Paul Millsap’s minutes

First off, Chandler is a power forward now. He should be transitioning to a bench role as a small-ball four. Unfortunately, that’s the role Lyles fills for the Nuggets.

Second off, Plumlee gets a lot of backup power forward minutes (or second big on the floor minutes). I’ve never thought this was a good idea, and would love to see Plumlee share the court with Jokic extremely sparingly. Lyles is a better offensive player, and the Nuggets strength is offense. Play to your strengths!

Third off, the Nuggets shouldn’t diminish Millsap’s minutes. He’s a damn good player, and should be at full health next season. Lyles would have to really improve in order to take minutes from Millsap.

If Lyles can’t be a better rim protector (Torrey Craig had the same block percentage), he doesn’t deserve to take minutes from Plumlee. But if he improves in that area, there’s a case to make that he could be more valuable than the current backup center.

Lyles only has one more year left on his contract with the Nuggets. If they don’t see a path for him to play 20-25 minutes a game with them, they should either ride out the season with him or look to trade him before the season begins. If he turns into the next version of Patrick Patterson, I wouldn’t be surprised. Denver could use a guy like that, but he’ll have to earn that opportunity.