2017-18 Nuggets Player Breakdown: Trey Lyles
Trey Lyles’ postseason tweet from his account, @TreyLyles, was short but substantive.
“Year 3 in the books. Best year so far! Thank you Denver for a great year!”
Perhaps no Nuggets player has a more fascinating arc of potential than Lyles. And few players got more out of their time on the court than the third-year forward did in 2017-18.
Let’s start with his raw stats. Lyles, who the Nuggets acquired in a draft day trade with the Utah Jazz last June, averaged 9.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and shot 49.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from the 3-point line. Lyles’ points, rebounds, assists and overall shooting percentage were all career bests. He played an average of 19.1 minutes in 73 games.
So, basically, Lyles averaged 10 points in 19 minutes per game, which is solid.
Here’s where things get real interesting real fast. Lyles’ Per 36 averages are these: 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Even more intriguing? When Lyles played at least 25 minutes in a game, which occurred 23 times, he averaged 17.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field and 44 percent from the 3-point line. So, both in a realistic sense and in a projected sense, Lyles is a player that profiles to being a highly productive player the more he is on the court.
One last stat: Lyles had six double-doubles, which was second only to Nikola Jokić (38) on the team. That is remarkable given his unpredictable playing time, and, again, lends itself to evidence of how much Lyles was able to do in limited minutes.
At the time he met media for his postseason press conference he had not yet met with coach Michael Malone on what the future might hold. He did put his season into perspective.
“Personally, it was up-and-down,” Lyles said. “From not playing, to playing a lot, to playing a little bit, to not playing at all. But that’s how it goes and this summer I’m looking forward to getting better and making sure next year that I’m playing all the time.”
OFFENSE: Lyles’ 3-point shooting and post-up combination was arguably the best on the team, this side of Jokic. As a spot-up shooter – the majority of which were 3-point shots – Lyles averaged 1.101 points per possession, per Synergy stats, and shot 44.1 percent in those actions. Spot-up shooting accounted for 29.4 percent of all of Lyles’ offensive actions. Lyles was good in catch-and-shoot situations, making 40.3 percent of those tries.
Add to that Lyles’ ability to post up – and be very effective in doing so. In fact, among players that used post ups at least 13 percent of the time, Lyles was in the top 10 in the NBA at 1.045 points per possession. And Lyles was smart about when he stepped out to hit a 3-point shot, or took the post-up, usually taking advantage of the matchup. He ran bigger, slower players around the perimeter, or caught the ball at the arc and drove to the rim. When smaller players were deployed to guard him at the 3-point line, Lyles simply posted them up and scored in the paint. Getting Lyles the ball on the left block was a key for the Nuggets’ offense when he was on the court.
Overall, Lyles proved to be a capable offensive player in nearly every category. At 6-10, 234 pounds, he was stronger than opponents thought, more explosive than they thought, and had great touch in the paint and on the perimeter. Lyles was over a point per possession – which is good – in spot-up, post-up, transition, pick-and-roll, and cuts. He shot over 50 percent in post-ups (55.9), pick-and-roll (51.9) and cuts (79.1).
Last season, it was Will Barton whose on-court stats suggested he should see more time. This season, Lyles is that player.
DEFENSE: As quiet as it’s kept, Lyles was one of the Nuggets’ better big defenders in pick-and-roll circumstances. He adhered to the principles taught, rarely getting too deep when ‘catching’ the ball handler coming around the screen. And then Lyles did a couple of things well after that: First, if the ball handler got a shot up in the paint, Lyles was good at getting both hands up to get a solid contest of the shot. Second, he was sneaky athletic, and could recover to get blocked shots if players did get by him and get to the rim. Opponents shot just 30.5 percent when he was the big defender in pick-and-roll.
And, as with his offense, Lyles showed nimble feet on defense in getting out to shooters. Opponents shot just 33.9 percent against him in spot-up shooting situations. Lyles was one of six Nuggets to have at least 30 steals and 30 blocks during the season.
Lyles has a lot of hope for the future, and with good reason.
“I think (this season) shows everybody that this is my best year so far, without a doubt,” Lyles said. “I felt – and feel – really comfortable on this team, and I’m looking forward to next season.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.