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NBA Rookie Week: Trey Lyles is your new, modern era power forward overlord

Approaching the player evolution curve

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz were contenders for a few reasons, but each time they've gone to the Western Conference Finals it has been with a) a great head coach, and b) significant 1st round talent. Yes, we remember all the talented 2nd rounders in Utah Jazz history (Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, heck, Mark Eaton as a 4th rounder...), but talent wins games. And with how well scouted the world is in this internet-era the top talent rarely falls out of the first round. This build of the Utah Jazz has 9 of 15 players all products of the first round of the NBA Draft. (Derrick Favors #3, Dante Exum #5, Gordon Hayward #9, Trey Burke #9, Alec Burks #12, Trey Lyles #12, Rodney Hood #23, Trevor Booker #23, and Rudy Gobert #27) And six of those players were lottery picks.

One of those lotto picks, the only first rounder in their rookie season this year, is Trey Lyles. He's not a world weary veteran from some random league trying to make it in the NBA. Or an undrafted player. Or a Euro draft-and-stash. He's a rookie who is supposed to help sooner, rather than later. Why? Because he's one of the most highly scouted and recruited players in Jazz history. His pedigree is nearly flawless, and his potential is nearly endless. And so far in this season he is making a lot of fans all around the league. But what Utah Jazz fans want is a player who can help the team win.

With the changing winds of the NBA strategy, rules, and player concepts, he may just be the best placed player to do just that.


At a Glance:

Trey Lyles is 20 years old. He started this season at 19 years old. Trey Lyles was a teenager when this season started. Trey Lyles is so hot that Dateline's Chris Hansen wants you to have a seat over there, before you read any more of this post. Trey Lyles is thankfully not a girl, otherwise my wife would divorce me for spending so much of my free time googling pictures and videos of him. (Instead she'll just focus on the other more tangible reasons to divorce me, namely that I spend my free time writing about the Utah Jazz.) Lugubrious obsession aside, Trey Lyles is super young and already so good. And because he's so good at such a young age, he is oozing with potential.

The best way to describe his game? He's that kid you play pick up ball with who is much younger than you, that you routinely beat. But you know that every day he's gaining on you and at some point in time, maybe a year, maybe a month, he's going to end up being better than you. And you will never beat him in a game again. And you just accept it.

Offensively he's a combination of a number of great theories, concepts, moves, and strategies. He can play the pick and roll / pick and pop game. He can face up. He can drive. He can pass. He has three point range. And he can run in transition. He has post moves. And, at the risk of repeating myself here, he's only 20 years old. Defensively he is less complex, but not completely helpless out there. He had to play (and thus, defend) both forward spots in college which allows him to be a more versatile defender when his defense catches up to his offense. At the very least, he gets rebounds, blocks shots, and knows how to defend both players in a pick and roll situation.

The last time the Jazz had a bigman rookie who had these many tools was Andrei Kirilenko. And that guy was waay ahead of the curve for what you want from a bigman. This time around, paired up with an intelligent, advanced head coach in Quin Snyder? This time around it's going to work out better for all parties.



Lyles was born in the Prairies of Canada, outside of the influence of the major urban areas of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. He has a little bit of a small town flavour to him, but he went to school in America for both high school and college. The one year at Kentucky really helped him understand the game, as did him attending high school at Arsenal Tech, in Indiana. (The same high school of countless NCAA and NBA players, like Leroy Edwards, Frank Kendrick, Jim Price, and brother Mark Price for starters.)

He was ranked a five out of five star prospect as a teen, and the major agencies were all over him: ESPN had him 6th overall, Scout at 11th, Rivals at 13th, and 247Sports at 10th in the country. You get a rank like that average averaging 23.7 ppg, 12.9 rpg, and 3.5 apg on your way to winning the State Championship and being crowned "Indiana Mr. Basketball". (Point of reference, some other winners were Oscar Robertson, Jimmy Ray, Tom Van Arsdale, Dick Van Arsdale, George McGinnis, Kent Benson, Steve Alford, Glenn Robinson, Jared Jeffries, Luke Zeller, Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, Tyler Zeller, Deshaun Tohmas, Cody Zeller, and Gary Harris.) Lyles was also a McDonald's All-American, Parade Magazine All-American, Gatorade Indiana Boys Basketball Player of the Year, and a Jordan Brand Classic player in his senior year of high school.

Trey was so good that he went on to play for legendary head coach John Calipari -- and he was so good that as a freshman he was able to start 21 of 36 games OUT OF POSITION for a team that went on to the NCAA Division I Final Four. He was also good enough to play for Team Canada at the U-19 FIBA World Championships, and was a part of the 2014 Nike Hoops Summit.

Compared to the other Jazz rookies this year, he doesn't have the vast experience that they have, but they don't have his potential.


The NBA Draft and Historical Revisionism:

Our man Lyles went 12th in the 2015 NBA Draft. The Jazz got this pick because they missed the playoffs last season, and never have lottery luck.

Picked right after (#2-11): D'Angelo Russell (LAL), Jahlil Okafor (PHI), Kristaps Porzingis (NYK), Mario Hezonja (ORL), Willie Cauley-Stein (SAC), Emmanuel Mudiay (DEN), Stanley Johnson (DET), Frank Kaminsky (CHA), Justise Winslow (MIA), Myles Turner (IND).

Picked before (#13-22): Devin Booker (PHX), Cameron Payne (OKC), Kelly Oubre (ATL), Terry Rozier (BOS), Rashad Vaughn (MIL), Sam Dekker (HOU), Jerian Grant (WAS), Delon Wright (TOR), Justin Anderson (DAL), Bobby Portis (CHI).

The first thing you have to notice is all the talent in the 1st round of this draft -- and that doesn't even include the Karl-Anthony Towns. It's going to be a few years before we know which of these guys step up the most; however, right now it's fair to say that you can argue the virtues of many of these players. There's no secret that I liked a lot of these guys before the draft, but Lyles wasn't one of the guys I liked. I'm okay that with being wrong because Dennis Lindsey knows more about the game than I do.

This could be a historic draft for the NBA, but I think for the way that the NBA is changing it could be a change of strategy that really helps the team in the long run. The old method was to draft best player available, and that's what this move was played off as. I mean, how else do you explain drafting a power forward when you already had (at the time) Derrick Favors, Trevor Booker, Jack Cooley, and Grant Jerrett on the team already? Cooley was on a non-guaranteed, but Booker and Jerrett both had money on the books for 2015-2016, while Favors needs at least 30 mpg. It didn't make sense. But that's because I was looking at what I thought the Jazz were getting relative to what the Jazz are actually eyeing to do.

I think we got hung up on the idea of playing big because it worked in a small sample size. Utah wanted to either be ahead of the curve, or approach the curve when it comes to the evolution of this game. And Lyles helps the team do that. Seriously, he was a highly ranked high school player who ended up playing small forward in a power forward's body at the NCAA level. And while he didn't shoot threes there his private workout -- that we fans don't have access to -- went a very long way.

Clearly, who he was pre-draft is a pale comparison of who we have today.


Coming to the Jazz:

The Utah Jazz under Dennis Lindsey don't leave any stones unturned. They work out free agent vets. They work out guys projected to go undrafted. And they work out every tier of the NBA Draft. Last year they brought in the following players for a work out all on the same day:

Some of those names may look familiar. Turner went one spot ahead of Lyles. Grant went a few spots after. Hanlan was drafted by the Jazz. And O'Brien made it all the way to training camp and a spot with the Idaho Stampede. Suffice to say, the Jazz scouting department and brass went to work in this workout as well, not just the players.

Lyles was going up against Turner, who is taller and reported to be a better shooter. I wanted Turner on the Jazz. But behind closed doors Lyles made up the Jazz' mind on who would be a better fit down the road in this changing NBA. A big part of that was the deep shot.

In college Lyles went 4/29 from deep. In the NBA so far this season he as gone 24/63. Between his last game at Kentucky and his first game with the Jazz he really worked on his shot. And he showed it off in that pre-draft workout.

After being selected there was some posturing on both sides before he signed his contract, and his hold out prevented him from playing in all but one of the summer league games in Salt Lake City. However, he played in all five the Jazz were in down in Las Vegas. Overall he averaged 11.3 ppg off of 12.2 fga. That's not that impressive, but he did stuff the stat sheet with 5.6 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, and 4.8 free throw attempts a game.

Yes, he only shot 26.1% from outside, but was still taking 3.8 shots a game from there, and thus making at least one of them a game. From the onset it was apparent that Lyles wasn't just going to be there to be a Jeremy Evans / Trevor Booker style power forward. He was there to have an expanded offensive game -- with a healthy diet of three pointers.

Lyles did not play for Team Canada in the summer, despite the Great White North being the host to the PanAm games. (Canada placed 2nd and enjoyed the Silver medal here.) He also missed out on the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico as well. (Canada placed 3rd in FIBA Americas and missed out on an automatic Olympic berth, despite finishing with the same 8-2 record as Argentina.) I don't know if Lyles helps Team Canada go from Silver to Gold and Bronze to Silver. But what he did do this summer was really work on his game -- he does honestly looks so much more competent than what he was as a freshman in college.


The Rookie Year so far:

Lyles has done it all this year, from being the starting power forward (due to Derrick Favors missing 1/3rd of the season), to getting DNP-CDs (because Trevor Booker is somehow as valuable to the team right now or more than the rookie is). The Maple Mamba is averaging 16.2 mpg, and has played in 62 of 64 games this season. Overall he's averaging just 4.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.2 spg, and 0.3 bpg. His shooting splits are unremarkable, .423 / .381 / .656 -- save for his work from downtown. If you boost his play up to 36 minutes it's a much more acceptable 10.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.4 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.6 bpg rate, but still far from that of an All-Time great. But don't be fooled!

When he actually gets a chance to play he produces. In games where he gets between 20 and 29 minutes of action he averages 7.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, and 0.9 apg while shooting 48% of his threes. When he plays 30 minutes and above he averages 10.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.2 apg, and shoots 42% from downtown. Do you see what I'm getting at here?

Lyles has had some big games this year when called upon.

His play this season is making people take notice. Ian Levy (of everywhere) puts him as a mix of Detlef Schrempf, Michael Beasley, and Jared Jeffries (Full article here). Jesus Gomez (of SB Nation) suggests that he could be some sort of mix of Boris Diaw and Draymond Green down the road (Full article here). One thing that you notice is that all of these forwards would have been "tweeners" in previous eras of the game. In this era their abilities are much coveted. And the Jazz have a really good prospect here with Lyles. From Gomez' article:

Lyles has the tools to be the perfect modern power forward

Lyles is a smart offensive player. He doesn't have any one tool that stands out, but manages to make himself useful by doing the work necessary to get free. Whether it's screening as many times as needed to finally get the defense in a tough spot or moving without the ball into open space, the rookie forward finds a way to make himself available in a scoring position.

His success starts with his three-point shot. Lyles is shooting 38 percent from behind the arc, a fantastic and unexpected mark as a rookie considering he barely attempted three-pointers in college. He's not bad from mid-range either, connecting on 37 percent of his looks, though he could afford to limit the amount of attempts he lets fly from there.

Lyles does more than shoot, though. He's also an expert at anticipating which spots will become open and filling them to present himself as a target for his teammates' passes.

"Paying attention to details, just focusing and being able to depict things in my mind ahead of time is definitely something I take pride in and know that I am capable of doing," Lyles told the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat.

Lyles is right. He adjusts to how the offense is unfolding in real time, something players much older than him do poorly. He's also developing a driving game that could make him a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Lyles averages just over one assist per 36 minutes, so any comparison to hybrid forwards like Boris Diaw or Draymond Green is highly optimistic based on his early record. If he can prove he can score consistently when he puts the ball on the floor, however, defenses won't have a choice but to help when he does. He clearly has the vision and the unselfishness to make the extra pass in those situations, so that part of his game should develop organically with time.

All the ingredients for a prototypical playmaking power forward are there. It just seems like a matter of time before Lyles puts it all together and becomes the perfect fit next to either Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors.

- Jesus Gomez, SB Nation, 2016

It's easy to see why the people who watch the game hold him in such high esteem. The NBA thinks so as well, as he played in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge this year for the world team (along with Raul Neto). National writers are getting back on the Lyles bandwagon after taking a back-seat (for the good of the team) at Kentucky.

I did some of my own number crunching as well, and he's one of very few players 6'8 or taller, who play 15 mpg or more to average at least 35% from deep, while getting at least TRB 15% and BLK 1% in their rookie seasons. Some of the other guys on the list (who actually take threes) are Chris Bosh, Serge Ibaka, Meyers Leonard, Joe Smith, Nikola Jokic, Michael Beasley, Lamar Odom, Ryan Anderson, Derrick McKey, Vladimir Radmanovic, Raef LaFrentz, Chris Morris, and this Larry Bird guy. (Larreh Burd? Never hurd of him.) (Full list here, data from

I don't think most of those players are like Trey, and vice versa. But to put this into a more Jazzy frame of mind, I do see bits and pieces of former Jazzmen bigs Donyell Marshall (scoring and blocks), Carlos Boozer (inside / outside game and finishing), and Mehmet Okur (driving ability, pick and roll defense) in his game. Each of those guys could hit the midrange jumper (and more), while doing their duty on the glass. Each played with emotion -- which is probably where Lyles gets most of his notoriety this season. His sideline reactions and celebrations are epic. But I will expand on this somewhere else.


The Future:

He's already 13th in Win shares for the 2015 Draft class, but I expect him to rise on that list if he gets more and more regular playing time. The sky is the limit right now for Lyles. He may never be as individually excellent as Marshall, Boozer, and Okur were at their pet moves. And he may never develop into a mix of Detlef, Dray, and everyone in-between. But one thing he is, clearly, is a top level talent that needs to develop as much as possible. His understanding of the game and willingness to work are very rare for someone so young. The way he turned around from being a non-three point shooter to one of the best on this team over the course of one summer astounds me. Who knows what else he will work on and master this off-season?

I think that this team wants to play small when they need to. Lyles allows the team to do that, which is absurd because this is a guy taller and with a longer wingspan than Karl Malone -- who at times played center for the team in the early 2000s. Lyles may end up being an under-rated defender (like Memo), but his length and education will help make him a much more capable two-way threat than Trevor Booker. His offensive skills will make the question even laughable.

Via Moni

Lyles fits the future of the NBA. And for a team that at times seems stuck in the stone age, I welcome our new power forward overlord.