Tyler Lydon is not the first of his kind. The 22-year old from Hudson, NY is not the first, nor will he be the last player to have the circumstances surrounding his arrival be so disastrous that it bleeds into our collective evaluation of his place on an NBA team. By now, you should know the story. At this point, none of us would like revisit it. I’ll keep it brief: after trading the rights to the 13th pick (used to select Donovan Mitchell) to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Trey Lyles and the rights to the 24th pick, the Nuggets had the Jazz select Lydon, the 6’8” forward out of Syracuse.
Lydon’s career will forever be attached to that of Mitchell. With each bucket the latter poured in during his spectacular rookie season the hole that Lydon must climb out of to earn the trust of Nuggets fans grew deeper. Lydon is not the talent that Mitchell is, and he never will be, but he’ll forever be compared to him thanks to a trade that he had no control over.
It’s a tough spot for a rookie to be in and the odds continued to spiral out of his favor when he went down with a torn left meniscus in early 2018. After completing his recovery from an arthroscopic surgery, Lydon has been practicing and scrimmaging with the rest of the 2018 Summer League roster.
“It feels really good to be out there,” Lydon told the media after Monday’s practice. “Especially after having everything taken away so fast. You know, I never thought I’d get injured—I don’t think any basketball player really thinks that. For it to happen so fast and everything, you know, you step back and feel grateful just to be playing.”
The learning curve is a steep one for most rookies. This was especially true for Lydon, who spent his college years developing his defensive instincts in Jim Boeheim’s famous zone. But Lydon didn’t get to spend his rookie season adjusting to the new pace and transforming his game into something more suitable for the next level. Robbed of that opportunity, Lydon was forced to find other ways to get better. It wasn’t easy, but he did manage to find a silver lining in the process.
“The hardest part was just learning how to still get better,” Lydon admitted. “I took the time to really work in the weight room and work on my body and stuff like that but I also had to look at the game from a different perspective. I’m usually out there playing, so for me to be able to sit back and actually watch the game, and study it, and talk to the veteran guys and stuff in the locker room was huge for me.”
Lydon apparently used his down time to add some muscle. Gangly has always an apt description of the sharpshooting forward but the Lydon that stood before the media on Monday featured a much improved upper body—not to mention a bitchin’ new tattoo.
“I think I’ve put on quite a few pounds of good muscle,” said Lydon. “I feel really good about where my body is at for sure.”
The biceps were a little thicker and the shoulders were a little broader—though the giant owl featured on his left side served as an effective distraction from his improved physique.
The tattoo isn’t important, but I’d be remiss not to include it here. Look at that freakin’ owl man. Just peering into your soul. Lydon is a strange dude.
More important than a dope new tattoo is a renewed and improved sense of confidence for a player that has several reasons to doubt himself. Lydon seemed to take pride in how he’s handled the recovery process so far and now he’s ready to get back out there.
“I have one hundred percent confidence in the knee. Ive been playing for the last like 3 weeks or so, so each day it gets better and better and I feel more and more comfortable with it. But mentally I know the knee is good, I know it is one hundred percent so I’m ready to go.”
Lydon will get a chance to put his money where is mouth is next week in Vegas as he is expected to start for the Nuggets Summer League squad. After an underwhelming performance in Vegas during his first go round, Lydon, his new knee, and that billboard sized tattoo will have as much to prove as anyone at the tournament.