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Utah Jazz Rookie Trey Lyles is Proving His NBA Worth

Nov. 12, 2015 - Miami, FL, USA - The Miami Heat's Chris Bosh, right, goes to the basket against the Utah Jazz's Trey Lyles in the second quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015 (Photo by Pedro Portal/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
Trey Lyles

Early in the 2015-16 NBA season, it looked like the learning curve might be a little too steep for Utah Jazz rookie Trey Lyles. But rotation minutes then and starters minutes now (in the wake of a glut of injuries) have helped Lyles adjust.

And after stumbling through those early-season minutes, Lyles is showing off the skills that led Utah to draft him with the 12th overall pick.

In the 2015 calendar year, Lyles averaged 14.7 minutes, 3.6 rebounds and three points, while shooting 37.5 percent from three and 35.7 percent from the field. Since the turn of the new year, he’s going for 9.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game (11.5 points and seven rebounds per 36 minutes), while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.

He’s looked every bit the part of a stretch 4, particularly from the corners, where he’s shooting 55 percent on the year. It’s a skill that’s particularly important for the Jazz, whose starting bigs are non-shooters Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Utah needs a third big who can play with either starter as a floor-spacer and Lyles is showing he’s that guy.

Trevor Booker had the role initially, but his productivity and efficiency have both dipped this season and Lyles may be ready to step in.

Season MP FG% 3P% eFG% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
2014-15 19.8 .487 .345 .518 .581 5.0 1.1 0.5 0.5 1.1 7.2
2015-16 22.9 .431 .235 .441 .709 6.6 1.0 1.0 0.5 1.2 5.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/15/2016.

When he was drafted this summer, general manager Dennis Lindsey called Lyles a “mobile 4,” adding a comparison to Boris Diaw, touting Lyles’, “…ability to drive a gap and dish off and play unselfish basketball.”

When he was at Kentucky, Lyles was forced to play out of position because of the excess of size on the roster. With Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns entrenched as the frontcourt, Lyles had to spend the season at the 3.

He hasn’t logged a single minute there in the pros, but the time spent on the perimeter in college has served Lyles well.

Position Estimate
Season Age G MP PG% SG% SF% PF% C%
2015-16 20 37 653 79% 21%
Career 37 653 79% 21%
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/15/2016.

In recent weeks, his ability to pump fake and drive has been on display over and over. When opposing big men try to close out to him on the perimeter, they simply don’t have the quickness to contain Lyles’ first step, which has led to more plays like this:

In addition to his catch-and-drive game, he’s also showing a general comfort with handling the ball, as he did here when faking a handoff to Raul Neto:

It’s becoming clear that Lyles has the physical tools and potential to be a part of a big-man revolution described by Grantland’s Zach Lowe last May:

A few executives have dumped the term “stretch 4” altogether and replaced it with “playmaking 4” — a term I’m officially stealing right now. Shooting is nice, but it’s not enough anymore as defenses get smarter, faster, and more flexible working within the loosened rules. Spot-up guys have to be able to catch the ball, pump-fake a defender rushing out at them, drive into the lane, and make some sort of play. If they can’t manage that, a possession dies with them.

Possessions are dying a lot less often with Lyles recently, thanks in large part to a coaching staff that allowed him to play through those mistakes early in the season.

The patience is paying dividends now, as Lyles is looking more and more like the kind of “playmaking 4” described by Lowe.

And now that Lyles has shown that he can be a part of that big man revolution, he can now try to work his way to the forefront.

Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com, and through games played on Jan. 15.

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