Why did the Utah Jazz pick Trey Lyles? One thing to consider when looking at draftees is a team’s weakness. One of the obvious weaknesses for the Jazz has been the need for shooting, especially from a big. Someone in the way of Channing Frye or Patrick Patterson. Lyles might not be a “stretch 4”, but the Jazz likely see Lyles more as a “playmaking 4”
On Grantland, Zach Lowe breaks down the need for a stretch 4 to do more than just shoot. Lowe says, “Shooting is nice, but it’s not enough anymore as defenses get smarter, faster, and more flexible working within the loosened rules. Spot-up guys have to be able to catch the ball, pump-fake a defender rushing out at them, drive into the lane, and make some sort of play. If they can’t manage that, a possession dies with them.” From watching the playoffs and especially the Finals, defenses do quite a bit of switching on the pick and roll. If someone like former Jazz man Steve Novak is involved in the pick and roll, defenses will just switch a smaller defender onto him, and with no other real NBA skill, Novak is taken out of the play and the possession dies.
The last three Finals winners — Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat — each had a playmaking 4 in Draymond Green, Boris Diaw and the best stretch four LeBron James. These players can shoot, pass, push the ball up the court and defend multiple positions, which helped their teams achieve the highest reward.
Can draftee Trey Lyles become a playmaking 4 for the Jazz? A 6-foot-10, 240-pound freshman from Kentucky with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Lyles is a skilled, inside-outside big man with great footwork and a soft touch around the basket, according to the scouting report. Lyles is a good shooter but needs to improve his 3-point shot. He is a jack-of-all-trades kind of player but doesn’t excel at any one thing.
The first trait of a playmaking 4 is shooting. Lyles has range out to the 3-point line but only hit 4 out of 29 during his freshman season, a terrible 14 percent. All hope is not lost however; statistics have shown that free-throw percentage is a good indicator that a college player can develop a 3-point shot in the NBA. Lyles shot 73.5 percent from the charity stripe, and his mechanics look good. An example of this is Frye coming out of Arizona. He averaged 26 percent from the 3-point line but his free-throw percentage was 76 percent, and he has developed into a pretty good stretch 4.
Lyles also has a nice midrange game, shooting 37 percent from 2-point range. But playing out of position as a small forward at Kentucky might have hurt that, forcing him to shoot more long twos. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express said, “He was somewhat of a mixed bag at Kentucky in this area only converting 32/87 jumpers (37 percent) overall according to Synergy. With that said, Lyles has good shooting mechanics, both with his feet set and off the dribble.” Putting him in a pick and pot game, like LaMarcus Aldridge was with Damian Lillard, he should be able to flourish.
One thing a stretch 4 doesn’t do very well is take advantage of switching. Stretch 4s, like Frye, don’t have very impressive post moves and can’t put the ball on the court and make plays. Lyles on the other hand has shown these abilities. Givony said Lyles is “showing advanced footwork and very soft touch, he's strong enough to make some plays with his back to the basket, something that wasn't a featured part of his game at Kentucky, but he's nevertheless capable of. He finished 50% of his field goal attempts in the post according to Synergy Sports Technology, and drew a free throw on 25% of his possessions on top of that.” These are nice stats that show he has the ability to make defenses pay for going small against him.
The next trait is passing or playmaking. Lyles, playing roughly 23 minutes a game at Kentucky, averaged 1.1 assists a game. Green at Michigan State averaged 3.8 assists his senior season, but he played 10 more minutes a game and had the ball in his hands more often. Lyles was on a loaded Kentucky team, which cost him chances to show off his abilities. Chad Ford’s player card on Lyles says he’s a “good passer with a high basketball IQ” and is a “solid ball handler for his size.” His college coach John Calipari had high praises for his former player: “He’s the one that makes us go from pretty good, to really good to, ‘Uh-oh, what am I watching?’” Lyles has the ability to push the ball up the court and make good basketball decisions, he said. Calipari also called Lyles the “X factor” on his team, which sounds like Green on the Warriors. He struggled during the first few games of the Finals and the Warriors went down two games to one, but Green stepped it up and helped the Warriors take the next three for the championship.
Defense, the fourth skill a playmaking 4 needs, is Lyles’ biggest weakness. He isn’t an elite athlete and lacks the lateral quickness to be a lockdown defender but does have good length. Lyles plays below the basket and won’t be known for his shot blocking. One good thing that came from playing out of position in college was he was forced to play against smaller and faster players. He had to learn how to stay in front of them. Being only 19, Lyles needs to continue to add strength, which will help him guard power forwards in the NBA. Givony also said, “On the interior, Lyles is far from perfect as well, as he has a tendency to give up deep post-position and shows average toughness fighting with stronger players inside the paint. Since he's unlikely to be a rim-protector due to his lack of lift, and doesn't sport great lateral quickness, he'll have to show better effort, fundamentals and awareness here than he has over the course of his career to not be a negative on this side of the floor.”
One of the best things to like about Lyles is his love for basketball. According to Tajh Jenkins of NBAdraft.net, “Trey is a fierce competitor and a great teammate who is a natural leader on the floor. He is very unselfish and excels at getting teammates open looks.” The Jazz right now have a great locker room, and bringing in the wrong guy, like a Kelly Oubre type, could ruin that. Lyles seems to have what it takes to fit in with this team.
Lyles is not a sexy name or someone who is projected to have a ton of upside. But ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said, “Right now, Lyles is more potential and promise than production, but his being hidden at Kentucky will make some NBA team very happy. They are getting a guy who would have been the best player on most Top 25 teams this past season, and he turns just 20 in November.” Lyles could be this draft’s diamond in the rough. He fits in with what Jazz coach Quinn Snyder wants to do — play with the pass. His strengths can complement Rudy Gobert or Derek Favors.
Kincade Upstill has lived in Utah County his entire life, graduated from BYU, and would follow the Jazz to the ends of the earth, if his wife and three daughters allowed it. Contact him at [email protected]. or on Twitter @kincade12