At the beginning of the season, the only highlights Lyles seemed to provide were those from the bench; his on-court play had many Jazz fans asking if Dennis Lindsey whiffed on the #12 pick, especially with Devin Booker still on the board.
And those highlights from the bench have been some fantastic highlights—we’ve got one of the most entertaining, dorkified cheerleaders on our bench. Trey Lyles has been solely responsible for a large number of remarkably retweetable gifs this year, all during bench celebrations.
But his recent play has created a first-world problem: he can’t be kept on the bench, so his epic bench celebrations have been cut down to a minimum.
What has made his play so refreshing lately?
Against the Milwaukee Bucks the other night, Trey’s passing stood out, specifically three consecutive assists to Joe Ingles at the corner three. Andy Larsen highlighted these passes in his KSL Triple Team, but it was the second pass that stood out to me in the video clip Andy posted.
Lyles’ body control as he spins by Parker and has the court awareness to swing by ball over to Ingles on the second pass in that clip? Gives me goosebumps—it’s so beautiful.
I used to have some nerves and trepidation about Lyles earlier in the season, not seeing the kinds of glimpses you hope to see out of a rookie—the glimpses that let you know that with more playing time, some seasoning, and a couple years of NBA play under the belt, the kid’s going to be okay. But I got down on Lyles far too soon; the last few weeks have been thrilling to see as Lyles has pieced together several great moves in a row, or three great passes in a row, or a fake at the three-point line and a drive that is so tantalizing, I might need to lie down.
The fact that Lyles has developed enough range where he can shoot the three is great—he was a 13.8% shooter in college from three. Add to that the fact that he can drive the ball with the ease and athleticism of a much-smaller forward, and you’re starting to see the beginnings of a pretty lethal forward. Throw in the fact that he’s 20 and is 6’10” and it’s hard not to get excited thinking what he can do when paired with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, to say nothing of Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward, similarly multi-talented and mobile forwards.
Overall, Lyles is shooting 39% from three. In the NBA. After shooting 14% in his lone season at Kentucky. I know I’ve already said that, but I think it needs to be said again. This is a very skilled player whose shooting has improved in the NBA from college; that’s impressive.
Another interesting stat about Lyles’ shooting? His TS% (True Shooting Percentage, which includes free throws and threes) has risen almost month to month, with January being the lone month to not follow the pattern: 12.9%, 41.1%, 45.3%, 54.8%, 51.4%, and 59.5%. That’s the sign of a player whose shooting is improving as he gets more comfortable with the NBA game, and he’s learning how to be more efficient—learning to play within his skillset and within what defenses are giving him.
Interestingly, Lyles’ usage rate was lowest in December and January, the months he was getting the most minutes of the season due to injuries to Gobert and Favors. Playing with the starters meant he didn’t have to shoulder much of the offensive burden. That seemed to help him become more comfortable within the system, as his turnover ratio has gone down from 18.6 the first month of the season (admittedly, just three games), to 9.1 so far in March. He’s learned how to better take care of the ball, and how to better pick his spots.
One other interesting point to me was how Trey Lyles stood his ground in the confrontation with Channing Frye last week in the Cavs game. Lyles was trying to complete a sweep-through move, just like he had earlier in the game, but this time he hit Frye below the belt and Frye offered a seemingly exaggerated reaction before quickly recovering to give Lyles a piece of his mind. What impressed me was that Lyles stood his ground; he didn’t back away. He wasn’t escalating the situation at all—he seemed very calm and collected. But he also wasn’t backing down, and I thought that showed a strength and a maturity that was refreshing. We need some tough guys on the team that play with a little fire and stand their ground when needed.
Overall, I’m thrilled with Trey’s development; his skillset might turn out to be just the offensive skillset that we need to complement our bigs in Favors and Gobert. The Warriors have their version of the skilled passing big who can do it all in Draymond Green, and Lyles might be our mini-Green that enables us to do some pretty remarkable things in a few years.
We can only hope.