Exuding the personality and playstyle of a player beyond his years, San Antonio Spurs forward Trey Lyles is becoming a glue guy despite the circumstances.
One of the most underrated aspects of the San Antonio Spurs’ 2014 championship run was the influential play of big man Boris Diaw, who would’ve won the Finals MVP had Kawhi Leonard not come alive while matched up against LeBron James. Diaw did exactly what was asked of him: Rebounding, defending, spacing the floor and operating within the flow of the ‘Beautiful Basketball’ offense.
Diaw was the glue that held the team together and San Antonio has grasped for a player like that ever since his departure. By a twist of fate triggered by the dramatic change of heart by Marcus Morris, the Spurs landed fifth-year forward Trey Lyles on a two-year deal to fill the final roster spot.
Lyles made an immediate impact in training camp, leading his place in the starting five.
Though he struggled with his shot early in the season, Lyles has really come along over the course of the last three and a half weeks. In his last 14 games, the 24-year-old is up to 50.6 percent shooting from the field, 42.1 percent shooting from deep and 70 percent shooting from the charity stripe. Lyles has been more aggressive, seeking his shot by forcing defenders to the perimeter and dribbling into mid-range jumpers and shots near the rim, which he excels at.
The third stop of the Rodeo Road Trip, a Thursday evening in Portland, saw Lyles post the best game of his Spurs tenure with a season-high 23 points on 11 shots. He made a whopping 81.8 percent of his attempts including 4-of-6 three-point shooting while dominating the glass for 10 rebounds, earning his first double-double of the year.
This is the most comfortable Trey has looked within the flow of the Spurs’ offense. He got to his spots and took high-percentage shots, whether it be as a result of his own creation or because of a dime dropped by his teammates. Lyles and starting point guard Dejounte Murray have developed strong on-court chemistry as two of the more team-oriented players in the lineup.
Lyles knows his role and sticks to it, which is a likely reason why head coach Gregg Popovich trusts him so early into his time with the organization. He’s never been a volume scorer and doesn’t demand the ball to be effective, and yet can still be an influential cog on that side of the game.
However, Lyles’ defensive effort is growing with each passing week. In the Spurs’ final game before the All-Star break, Lyles blocked a career-high four shots against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s not the most athletic or lengthy individual, but he has active hands and a high basketball IQ at his disposal that he’s applying to his defense more often lately.
What’s more interesting than the volume of the blocks is the many ways in which they came to fruition. Lyles opened the game by blocking a Steven Adams layup attempt and foiled Adams once again on a hook shot in the second quarter.
He also tipped one of Danilo Gallinari‘s three-point attempts late in the fourth quarter by chasing the Italian forward down and reaching with a full extension of his body. This kind of effort does dividends for a team that’s struggled closing out games.
*Clip courtesy of NBA.com, h/t 3Ball*
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The most impressive of his four blocks came while defending shifty point guard Dennis Schröder in his drive to the rim. Lyles stuck with Schroder at the top of the key and tracked him on his way to the basket, pinning his layup attempt against the backboard in a truly demoralizing play.
This is the kind of energy I want to see from Lyles moving forward. His swift nature for a player of his stature is one of the biggest strengths he has. He applies it on offense by moving well off the ball, leaking out in transition and running the fastbreak with intensity.
If he can apply that same intensity to defense, he’ll be a truly memorable player in San Antonio for years to come. At just 24, Lyles is somewhat of a tweener in this league. He’s not quite a true-blue veteran, but he’s still young enough to keep learning and growing before reaching his prime years.
Now that he’s showing flashes of who he can truly be and what role he can fit within the Alamo City, Trey Lyles is looking like a better investment than anyone expected in the offseason.