Second Time the Charm as Nuggets Nab Trey Lyles on Draft Night

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

After getting within inches of a big draft-night trade, the Nuggets did get a player they’ve long coveted in another -- Utah forward Trey Lyles. Lyles’ acquisition was the highlight in a night where the Nuggets welcomed four new players in total to the Mile High City.

The Lyles trade was essentially a two-for-one swap. The Jazz received the rights to the Nuggets’ 13th pick, Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell, while the Nuggets got Lyles and the rights to Utah’s No. 24 pick, sharpshooting Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon.

In the second round, the Nuggets selected Slovenian forward Vlatko Cancar and Iowa State guard Monté Morris with the 49th and 51st selections, respectively.

Lyles was the big prize. The Nuggets have long liked what they’ve seen from the 6-10 forward, who played his college ball at Kentucky. His pre-draft workout for the team in 2015 solidified their affinity for him, but they only had one first-round draft pick to work with and took guard Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh overall selection in that draft. Lyles went 12th to the Jazz. There was some symmetry, then, in the Nuggets acquiring Lyles during an NBA Draft.

Nuggets president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly, envisions Lyles as an eventual regular contributor in the rotation.

“He played a lot of minutes for a playoff team,” Connelly said. “Flexibility is what makes him unique. We have a crowded frontcourt and competitive frontcourt, so it’s going to be up to him to earn his stripes. …Lyles is a guy that can step into rotational minutes and make an impact.”

Lyles averaged 6.2 points and 3.3 rebounds for the Jazz last season. And while he didn’t shoot a high percentage from the 3-point line (31.3 percent), he profiles as a player that has the ability to be a real threat from deep.

“We thought the ability to pick up a lottery-level talent, who has some experience -- in addition to a guy like Lydon, who we are pretty high on – while it does not address some of roster jumble that we certainly have to address in the coming weeks, we felt it was too good of an opportunity to pass up two guys like that.”

Moving back in the draft wasn’t too much of a risk, Connelly explained.

“Our thinking in trading back was we didn’t see huge separation in the overall talent from 13-to-24,” Connelly said. “So, we thought we could add two pieces. It would be better than adding a piece at 13 in a very much divided room. … We thought with the ability to take two guys, you can never have enough talented players. It increases your flexibility.”

Lydon made nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers during his sophomore season at Syracuse. Connelly acknowledged there could be a bit of a learning curve for Lydon defensively, given he played in a primarily zone scheme with the Orange. He’ll be on the Nuggets’ summer league team, as will Morris, a cat-quick guard who boasted the nation’s best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.17). Cancar is expected to spend next season overseas before the team revisits whether to bring him to the Nuggets in 2018-19.

Connelly did say there was a little frustration in not being able to get the big trade over the finish line, when it appeared they would at the start of the night.

“We were very far along in one,” Connelly said. “We thought it was done. At the 11th hour, one of the teams involved had a change of heart. So, I think while we had countless conversations, where was one in particular that we thought...was going to take place. It’s never a deal until you have a handshake and a deal and we never got to that point.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv or @chrisadempsey on Twitter.