This edition of Stat of the Week will focus on the growth of Trey Lyles, the throw-in to the trade that Utah used to nab Donovan Mitchell. Little did most Nuggets fans know, Lyles wasn’t just a throw-in. He’s a damn good player.

Paul Millsap injured his wrist during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 19th this year. During that game, Lyles filled in, putting up 10 points and 8 rebounds in 16 minutes of time neither he nor the Nuggets expected him to play. What the Nuggets have found out since that moment is that Trey Lyles should have been playing since the beginning of the year.

Here are his averages since November 19th, including the Lakers game:

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks FG% 3P% FT%
10.7 5.3 1.2 0.5 0.5 51.0 48.8 67.7

That’s a 13-game sample size of largely bench production, and the key indicator here is the efficiency. Lyles has done a great job of capitalizing on his opportunities in the flow of the offense.

Lyle’s role offensively stems from his two most intriguing skills: catch & shoot three pointers and face-up drives to the basket. Since November 19th, he leads the team in effective field goal percentage on catch & shoot threes, shooting an astonishing 75.0 percent. Among all players to average at least 2.5 catch & shoot attempts, that ranks eighth in the entire NBA. Eighth! Watch how he confidently rises up to shoot after lifting from the baseline to separate from Jayson Tatum.

Lyles is also driving to the basket well. One of his best advantages as a player is that he knows how to use both his size and athleticism to get around all player types. Whether his defender is smaller like a wing or bigger like a center, Lyles has shown the dribble skills and the physical ability to get to the basket, and it’s shown up in the numbers. In the same 13-game timeframe, Lyles ranks third on the Nuggets in field goal percentage on drives to the basket at 47.8 percent, behind only Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. Another key factor? He has only turned the ball over 3.6 percent of the time when driving to the basket. That’s the lowest percentage of any forward in the NBA not named LeBron James.

Now, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for Lyles. His rebounding at the power forward spot is slightly above average, with a rebounding percentage of 13.5 percent since November 19th that ranks in about the 60th percentile. He’s shown some passing skills, but other than this alley-oop play to Kenneth Faried, it hasn’t been much more than simple passes.

The most positive thing that can be said about Lyles so far is that he’s a smart offensive player. He understands his game and his role within the flow of the offense, and it’s rare to see him take shots out of rhythm. He doesn’t turn the ball over often, averaging less than a turnover game since he joined the rotation regularly, and it’s helped the offense.

Above all though, he’s hitting his shots, AKA, the ones he’s supposed to hit. Open three pointers? Shooting 50 percent. Wide open three pointers? 47.6 percent. Shots less than five feet away from the basket? 64.1 percent. Those numbers are elite efficiency wise, and they should be encouraging to Nuggets fans who thought the Nuggets made a panic trade.

Defensively, Lyles still needs work, but as a 22-year-old, he has time to get better. There are games where he’s contesting shots all over the floor, like against the Detroit Pistons.

Oh yeah, he shot perfectly that game.

But there are also games where he struggles to contest shots. He’s only averaged 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks during his stretch in the rotation, and both numbers are pretty low for a power forward playing his minutes. He can also forget to rotate at times, leading to open shots for the opposition.

His technique also needs work on switches. As a power forward, it would be ideal if he could switch onto smaller guards and slide his feet with them. Unfortunately, when the Nuggets were switching pick and rolls against Indiana, he couldn’t keep his feet in front of Victor Oladipo at the end of the game.

He has some things to work on defensively, but again, he’s 22 and playing his first regular rotation minutes in awhile. He was drafted as an offensive-minded forward who had defensive concerns, so this is more or less what the Nugget should expect going forward. Still, he has time to make improvements and show that he can not only be a rotation piece going forward, but maybe even a starting caliber player.

Still, the report on Lyles’ play over the last month should be seen as glowingly positive. The Nuggets identified him as a player they really liked come draft time, and they made a move to acquire him. The Donovan Mitchell thing will always follow the Nuggets around throughout his career, but Lyles has an opportunity to prove that he’s still a quality piece who can contribute to wins.

Based on his efficiency and production over the last month, he’s well on his way to doing just that.

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