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Lyles helps Pistons hold down the fort in Olynyk’s absence

A guy named Trey shouldn’t have to be coaxed into launching 3-point shots, but Dwane Casey found himself in that position after watching Trey Lyles pass up a handful of open triples in last week’s loss to Miami.

It was hard to ignore the box score, even if Casey hadn’t just seen Lyles pump fake against Miami’s zone defense several times and pass up the 3-point shot begging to be taken in the process. In a season-high 25 minutes that night, Lyles – for the only time in the season’s 20 games to date – failed to attempt even one triple.

The next night at Milwaukee, after Casey’s pep talk? Eight 3-point tries. In three games since the Miami incident, Lyles has averaged five 3-point attempts a game and made 7 of 15.

“I tell Trey, ‘Just shoot the ball. That’s what you do. Any time you touch it, let it fly,’ ” Killian Hayes said after Lyles played a big role in the Pistons rallying from 19 points down in the third quarter to put themselves in position to win over the final six minutes of Sunday’s game with the Lakers. “It started in Milwaukee. Hit a couple of big shots. He’s being aggressive – taking threes, making ’em. That’s what Trey does.”

Lyles, in fact, has been a slightly below average 3-point shooter over his NBA career, now in its seventh season. But he’s shown flashes, including a career-best 38.7 percent when he played a career-high 20 minutes a game with San Antonio two years ago, also the season Lyles started a career-high 53 games.. And one of the reasons Lyles was taken with the 12th pick in 2015 after one season at Kentucky was the projection that he’d develop into a premium stretch four.

Just having turned 26, Casey sees that as still in play.

“He’s smart,” Casey said. “People forget how young he is. He’s on the same timeline as some of our other young players, which is a plus.”

Lyles has had to adjust to playing almost exclusively at center over the past few weeks while the Pistons grind through Kelly Olynyk’s absence with a knee injury, which figures to keep him out for most or all of December and possibly longer. While Lyles doesn’t have the length of explosiveness to become a true rim protector, he’s held his own defensively and as a rebounder, averaging 9.4 boards per 36 minutes.

“He’s been great for us,” Grant said of Lyles. “Being able to spread the floor, they have to guard him out there. A great shooter, but also a real smart player. He knows what passes to make, what cuts to make. And on the defensive end, he’s really good.”

Lyles spent his first two seasons in Utah and his next two in Denver, then signed with San Antonio as a free agent in 2019 and spent the past two seasons with the Spurs. The Pistons saw a young player with an identifiable skill set perhaps ready to blossom and were able to land him on a two-year contract at the relative bargain price of $2.5 million a year.

He'll likely slide back to power forward behind Jerami Grant when Olynyk returns, but he’s proven capable of playing either spot now and gives Casey even greater lineup flexibility.

“When Kelly comes back, he’s really going to fit in well at the four with his shooting ability,” Casey said. “He’s smart. He knows how to space at the five position to create his own shot. He’s a weapon.”