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Gauging Tyler Lydon’s potential role in the NBA

Syracuse's Tyler Lydon (20) runs back to the position after shooting a three point basket during the second half of a college basketball game against Virginia in the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 27, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

During last year’s surprising Final Four run, Syracuse freshman forward Tyler Lydon created some buzz in NBA Draft circles. Entering his sophomore campaign, he’s poised to flourish as a legitimate first-round prospect with a magnificent collection of skills.

Thanks to an athletic 6’9” frame, terrific instincts and a polished jump shot, Lydon exceeded expectations for the Orange in 2015-16. Although he averaged a modest 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 30.3 minutes per game, his impact was multidimensional and invaluable. He thrived on both ends during the NCAA Tourney, getting timely buckets and swatting 19 shots over five games.

Lydon’s role will likely expand in 2016-17; it’s an opportunity to show NBA scouts and executives that he can play the 4. He may not have electrifying, star-like upside, but he has the qualities of a high-end role player.

The first trait that jumps out is his shooting touch. Lyon has great form for a tall forward, and his catch-and-shoot skills are pretty much NBA-ready. He catches, gathers on a hop and smoothly delivers the ball at a high release point. As a freshman, Lydon averaged a hearty 1.22 points per possession in catch-and-shoot situations, including 1.1 points per possession on pick-and-pops.

On several occasions, Lydon confidently launched from way beyond the college arc last season. It won’t take long for him to acclimate from NBA range because his body mechanics and shooting motion are streamlined. He clearly has the potential to be an impact floor-stretcher in the Association:

 

Lydon fills up the hoop in other ways, thanks to his agility and feel for the game. He moves extremely well without the ball, and he’s a graceful finisher on pick-and-rolls thanks to his athleticism and court awareness. While he’s not an explosive leaper, he moves his feet well and can bounce well above the bucket.

At 200 pounds, Lydon struggled to consistently score through contact against bulky centers last season. He reportedly put on 26 pounds this offseason, so let’s see whether he improves during battles around the rim. He spent time at both the 4 and 5 last season, and he’ll do so again this year.

The main reason Lydon will be an NBA role player rather than a star is his underwhelming shot-creating skills. Other than straight-line drives or the occasional up-and-under move, he’s not adept at manufacturing his own points. Lydon’s not the type of player who can shake his man with crossovers, spin-moves or elaborate post moves. He’ll get the majority of of his points as a cutter, three-point shooter and offensive rebounder.

Speaking of offensive boards, Lydon’s a decent rebounder for his size. He won’t overwhelm NBA opponents or grab a high volume of rebounds, but he has great timing and coordination for put-backs.

Lydon’s offensive repertoire is rounded out by his passing vision and dexterity. Despite his lack of shot-creating ingenuity, he enhances the offense by coolly and decisively finding soft spots in the defense. He makes crisp kick-out passes from the low-post and deft bounce passes from the high post:

 

If Lydon’s NBA squad utilizes and develops him optimally, he could be a key bench player or maybe even a starter. He would probably be the fourth or fifth scoring option no matter who he plays with. However, his floor-spacing threat will boost the value of the entire lineup. In the right situation, he could play 20-plus minutes per night and score 8-12 points per game as a supplementary scorer.

Lydon’s defense is both compelling and enigmatic. Much like other Orange draft prospects, the jury is still out on him because he hasn’t played any substantial man-to-man defense in college. However, we might get a clearer glimpse of his on-ball aptitude in the near future. Syracuse played its first stretch of man-to-man defense in seven years during Tuesday’s exhibition against Indiana (Pa), and they expect to sprinkle it in more throughout this season.

For now, Lydon’s general strengths and shortcomings are as follows: he’s great at contesting and blocking shots as an on-ball or weak-side defender, and he struggles to defend ball handlers away from the basket.

There’s a reason Lydon had the best block percentage (7.0) and the second-best defensive rating (96.7) of any Syracuse rotational player last season. He has great awareness and timing as a help defender, and that yielded a heap of blocks in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Cole Zwicker of Upside and Motor noted how Lydon is adept at keeping tabs on both the strong side and weak side of the court:

He only has average length for a 4 (unofficially around a 7-0 wingspan), but compensates with plus instincts, especially in recovery situations. Lydon shows good recognition of spacing between the dive threat and the weak side shooter, and has the reactionary athleticism to get over to close the play with a block. He also has pretty good range on the court as a shot-blocker.

No block was more crucial than this one against Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins in the Sweet 16:

 

That being said, guarding NBA forwards won’t be a cinch for him, and he’s not multi-positional. Lydon doesn’t own the lateral burst to stymie speedy slashers, which is an issue on two fronts. He’ll intermittently struggle against face-up 4s who operate on the perimter, and he’ll be vulnerable on pick-and-rolls if he gets switched onto a guard.

Lydon’s also not strong enough (yet) to tangle with bruising big men. He’ll guard mostly stretch 4s and small-ball 5s until he adds a few more pounds of base weight. Controlling the defensive glass will also be an uphill battle.

Given Lydon’s projected NBA role, he should land somewhere in the middle tier of the 2017 draft. It’s still way too early to get a clear picture of the class’s hierarchy, but Lydon’s gift of shooting efficiently at 6’9″ will draw interest in the 15-20 range. Teams are always looking for power forwards who can stretch the floor and compete smartly on both ends.

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