A lot of NBA fans probably got their first look at Utah Jazz rookie Trey Lyles on Wednesday night, when Utah was in Oakland against the imposing Golden State Warriors. After this shot from Lyles (wearing #41) went up, just before halftime, I saw rumblings of “bust” on Twitter:
Yup, airball. And this is true of Lyles’s game so far: his shooting game almost visibly lacks confidence. Or, at the very least, it’s just not effective at this point. His 36.8 percent field goal accuracy and paltry 2.6 points per game are some of the least explosive offensive numbers from any regular starter in the league this year.
But look at that clip again. Even though Lyles’s defender, Draymond Green, wasn’t too concerned about tracking Lyles to the perimeter, note how he took advantage of that inattention by proactively cutting open off the ball. This was a smart play from any player, and as a rookie, Lyles pulls off these types of cerebral cuts all the time.
Here’s a great possession from the previous Utah game, a blowout of the Phoenix Suns. Lyles did a brilliant job of moving off the ball, then entered into a slick two-man game with guard Trey Burke. His decision to shoot was also a wise one — only, the lay-up lamely bricked off the rim:
Even the shots that go in don’t always look like sure things. Here’s a very rickety layup from the first minute of the Warriors game:
That ball hit every part of the rim before dropping in. Not exactly highlight material. Look at all the great work Lyles did to get himself in position for the shot, though: it looked like the Jazz stalled out the possession, but Lyles entered into a two-man game with Rodney Hood, once again making a brilliant cut before finishing over imposing shot-blocker Andrew Bogut.
There are still plenty of examples of Lyles successfully getting results in that fluid, smart style of basketball that we’ve all been calling “Spurs-ian” for a while now. Again from the Suns game, look at how comfortable Lyles was handling the ball in the frontcourt, which he followed up with a simply brilliant pocket pass to a cutting Gordon Hayward:
Because Hayward got fouled on the drive, Lyles didn’t get credit for an assist! But his vision and decisiveness were essential in the Jazz putting points on the board. Passes this fluid and creative rarely come from rookies — and from rookie bigs even rarer still.
Here’s a great sequence from the Suns game where Lyles showed off a lot of talents in sequence. First, he got back down the floor on the fast break to prevent the easy basket; then he provided help defense on the shooter; then he collected the defensive board; then he made a brilliant cut and a confident slam:
Lyles’s final stat line from the Phoenix game was hardly impressive: 24 minutes, six points, seven rebounds, one assist. However, these many examples of superior court vision and fantastic instincts show that he’s a creative and imaginative player whose impact will ultimately be felt in ways that are deeper than per-game averages.
Plus, in the preseason, I examined how Lyles’s combination of size and mobility make him something of an ideal defensive answer to the smaller and more spaced-out lineups that are so en vogue across the league. His personal statistics will likely remain underwhelming all the way through this year, but the Jazz have shown phenomenal patience in allowing their rookies to work through struggles: from Rudy Gobert to Rodney Hood to even Derrick Favors, the Jazz have shown that they’ll stick with their young talent despite sub-par first-year statistics. Soon enough, we’ll consider Lyles just as important as the rest of Utah’s ascending young core.