Trey Lyles: A Pleasant Surprise No One Saw Coming

When it was announced that the San Antonio Spurs were signing Trey Lyles, it left many of us scratching our heads. Lyles could barely get off the bench in the hard-fought first round series with the Denver Nuggets last season. He failed to make a lasting impression with the Nuggets or the Utah Jazz, two well-run franchises, so what did the Spurs see in him? At best, it looked like he could be an end of the bench big man.

However, once the regular season began, many were surprised to see that not only was Trey Lyles starting games, he was closing them as well. In a season where the Spurs have struggled from long range and lack consistency from their bigs, Lyles has been a welcome addition. His outside shooting, smart passing and tenacity on the boards have been a bright spot in the Spurs starting lineup.

The Evolution of Trey Lyles

The knock against Lyles coming into this season was his shot selection. In his previous stints with the Jazz and Nuggets, he was very trigger happy. He would take the first shot as opposed to the best shot. This appeared to be a cause for concern on a Spurs team that is proud of its “good to great” philosophy.

Strangely enough, Lyles subverted his reputation by barely shooting at all in the first six games this season, as he shot only 17 times in 108 minutes. While he contributed with some much needed rebounding in those games, the Spurs starting lineup was really struggling to spread the floor.

Eventually, Lyles began being more aggressive with his shot and the results have been promising. Starting in the seventh game of the season, Lyles is shooting 57.1% from the field and 58.3% from deep. All told, even with his shy start, he’s shooting a career-best 48.8% from the floor and a respectable 36.8% from three-point range.

With Lyles shooting well and increasing his aggressiveness, the starting lineup has found it much easier to score. In the first six games of the season, the starting five scored 96.1 points per 100 possessions. Since then, that number has skyrocketed to 111.1 points.

Let It Fly, Trey Lyles

As the season has worn on, we’ve seen Lyles shoot with much more confidence. It’s clear that the coaching staff has given him the green light to shoot when open and he has started to hunt for his shots by flaring to the three-point line whenever his teammates make a move toward the paint.

Here, DeMar DeRozan sucks in multiple defenders, including rookie Grant Williams, who overcommits and makes a clumsy close out. Lyles is ready to instantly catch and fire, which is exactly what you want your stretch four to do and will make help-defenders think twice before clogging the lane.

Lyles shooting with confidence opens up a lot for the Spurs. In the next clip, DeRozan makes his move, the defense collapses in the paint and again Lyles flares to the nearest open three-point spot. By this point, Jayson Tatum is too late to recover as Lyles drains the three.

As great as Lyles shooting has been for the Spurs as of late, he has also shown a knack for passing. In the clip below, we see Lyles receive a pass and fake a shot to draw in two defenders. He then splits CJ McCollum and Anthony Tolliver with a nifty pass to LaMarcus Aldridge for the easy two-handed jam. As teams start to recognize Lyles as an outside threat, his passing skills will become even more of a weapon.

You Can’t Teach Length

The Spurs are the fourth best rebounding team in the league. A large part of the credit goes to Lyles. He is the leading rebounder on the team, averaging 8.0 boards per game. He grabs 19% of all available rebounds, including 30% of all available defensive boards.

Lyles is like a pogo stick on the glass. He has great instincts and times his jumps very well. If he can’t grab the rebound immediately, he has a knack for tipping it in the air until he can control the ball.

In the above clip, you can see Lyles swoop in from the three-point line when the Atlanta Hawks fail to box him out. It happened multiple times and Lyles was quick to take advantage.

Defensively, Lyles is able to use his length to bother shooters all the way up to the three-point line. He does well enough on the perimeter to switch against pick-and-rolls without getting burned.

However, his interior defense could use work as he tends to get overwhelmed in the paint from time to time. As he gets more playing time and becomes more comfortable with the defensive schemes, you hope to see a lot of improvement on that end.

Carry On, My Wayward Son

This season has been a peculiar one for the Spurs. They’ve been struggling as of late and could use any help they can get. When the season began, most everyone imagined Lyles would be behind Rudy Gay, Jakob Poeltl and DeMarre Carroll in terms of getting playing time next to Aldridge. For Lyles to be playing well in the starting lineup is something few could have seen coming.

Seeing as how the Spurs are nearly dead last in three-point makes, it would be great to see Lyles shoot even more. Opposing defenses haven’t quite caught on to Lyles being a legitimate threat from deep but that will come if he keeps shooting and making threes.

Hopefully this trajectory continues for Lyles. As long as he remains aggressive and spreads the floor for a starting lineup that desperately needs it, Lyles can continue being a surprise contributor to the Spurs.