Kentucky's Lyles faced NBA-caliber talent every day in practice, brings scoring potential to the pros
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
(Editor's note: Pistons.com continues its NBA draft preview series with a look at one of the candidates to be taken with their lottery pick at No. 8, Trey Lyles of Kentucky. Coming Wednesday: A look at Wisconsin's Sam Dekker.)
You think it's easy to look at a college player's body of work and project how it translates to the NBA? Maybe when it's Anthony Davis or Kyrie Irving. For the other 99.9 percent of players, you're going to be wrong as often as you're right. Nobody was any better at it in his day than the Logo, Jerry West, who once said if you bat .500 on personnel decisions, you were ahead of the curve.
Which probably means one of Bobby Portis and Trey Lyles will hit his mark in the NBA and the other won't. Stack them shoulder to shoulder and it's a coin flip which one lands on the right side of that divide.
Portis, profiled in the kickoff to our run of 12 candidates for the Pistons No. 8 pick in the June 25 lottery, has a quarter-inch and 5 pounds on Lyles, who measured 6-foot-10¼ and 241 pounds at the draft combine earlier this month in Chicago. Their reach and wing span came in just as evenly matched.
Portis had bigger numbers as an Arkansas sophomore than Lyles as a Kentucky freshman, but how much of that do you chalk up to one extra year of college experience and a much bigger role on a far less talented team?
Both project as NBA power forwards with just enough positional flexibility to get by, in a pinch, one position up or down in certain circumstances and matchups.
Portis appears the more equipped immediately to guard NBA power forwards and even centers in a pinch, but Lyles looks to have that one special offensive tool – a potentially deadly mid-range jump shot – that Portis might lack the capacity to achieve. Portis just turned 20 in February; Lyles will be 20 in November.
DraftExpress.com lists Portis as the No. 18 prospect and Lyles as No. 19; ESPN.com goes with Lyles at No. 12, Portis at No. 16.
Choosing between them is hair splitting on a CSI level.
The Pistons will have far broader options to consider, of course, and Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower have been clear that they're out to take the player they feel has the greatest chance to reach the highest ceiling. But Van Gundy also has said that if there is a group of players similarly ranked, then roster fit will come into play.
Given the hole that will be left in their lineup if Greg Monroe leaves as a free agent – a possibility the Pistons must confront as they prepare for the draft – if Portis and Lyles are ranked in a group with the other candidates on the board at No. 8, it could well come down to a choice between one over the other.
What does Lyles offer?
He'll tell you that by playing at Kentucky, he already is familiar with knowing how to fit in. He was one of nine McDonald's All-Americans recruited to Lexington by John Calipari – and that number doesn't include a player even more likely than Lyles to go in the top 10, Willie Cauley-Stein.
"It was great," Lyles said at the combine. "You're on a team with nine McDonald's All-Americans, guys who have to share with one another and transition into the NBA. I think it helped all of us out."
The Kentucky frontcourt was especially loaded with potential No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns, Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee fighting for minutes in addition to Lyles. Lyles, in fact, spent much of his 23 minutes a game in Calipari's two-platoon system out of position at small forward, especially once junior Alex Poythress was lost early with a season-ending knee injury.
There he showed off shooting touch – not yet with great range, but it doesn't take much projection to believe Lyles can rather quickly become a plausible 3-point threat – and the ability to put the ball on the floor enough to get a defense moving. Combined with good footwork and the tools to build a sophisticated post scoring array, Lyles might someday develop into a reliable No. 2 or 3 scoring option.
"I've been working on mid-range stuff since I was young," he said. "My dad always taught me that mid-range is where the game's going to be played at, where you're going to make your money. So it's something I've always had in my game."
Lyles was born in western Canada but moved to Indiana with his family when he was 7 and went on to become Mr. Basketball in 2014. He originally committed to Tom Crean and the home-state Hoosiers before becoming enamored of the Kentucky machine churning out NBA prospects. Had he stuck with Indiana, he would have carried a heavier burden and surely would have spent nearly all his time in the post. Did stretching his boundaries but losing the opportunity to hone his specialty at Kentucky help or hurt him? That's for NBA personnel departments to decide.
As for the Pistons, it's worth noting that one of the first comparisons a young Lyles drew was to Monroe for the versatility of his scoring, his passing ability from the post and elbows and his feel for offensive rebounding. He's a long way from touching Monroe's package of post scoring options, but he'll come to the NBA as a more comfortable face-up shooter. Lyles, conscious of the influence the 3-point shot has on today's NBA, exudes the confidence that he'll be able to fill a "stretch four" role while offering more traditional power forward attributes, as well.
"I have a lot of confidence in my shot and my range," Lyles said. "I know I can make shots, so it's not going to be a big adjustment for me. You have to get a lot of reps. That's what it is. You just have to get comfortable with shooting that far out and just get a lot of reps."
He's aware of the potential roster fit with the Pistons, too, and envisions himself playing next to Andre Drummond.
"I watched them play a couple of times this year. I know they're a young team on the rise," Lyles said. "It would be great if I would be drafted by them."