Now I like Trey Lyles, ever since the draft actually. I also feel like he didn’t get a fair shake in Utah. That said, I don’t believe he is the long term answer at power forward for the Denver Nuggets. He’s coming off of a career year, and his value is likely as high as it will be. So, I believe it’s time the Nuggets moved on from him.
Trey Lyles took on Paul Millsap’s minutes after he went down to injury last season, and had a breakout year offensively. Lyles proved himself to be a capable shooter and a decent creator, however upon Millsap’s return his minutes were reduced dramatically and his game suffered because of it.
It feels like we have enough evidence now to surmise that Trey Lyles is a rhythm scorer. He needs time to find his shot each game, time that he just won’t have on the Nuggets this season. With a healthy Paul Millsap getting 30+ minutes and Mason Plumlee likely to get his 20 a night, Lyles will have a hard time cracking the 15 minute mark, and that’s without factoring in any small ball lineups.
Trey Lyles played 20-29 minutes in 32 games last season and went for 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 50.2% from the field, 40.2% from 3 and had a true shooting percentage of 61.2 in those games. However in the 25 games he played only 10-19 minutes he averaged 7.4 points and 4 rebounds while shooting 45.1% from the field, 30.6% from 3 and had a 53.4 TS%.
His efficiency decreased dramatically when his role changed and his minutes disappeared; this trend holds true if you look at his career splits as well. The role he has struggled in throughout his career is the exact role he’ll be asked to play this coming season.
In addition to this, the combination of Lyles and Jokic was not particularly successful last season. The net rating of those two, while still a positive was significantly worse than when Jokic played with Plumlee and Millsap. It seems the Jokic/Lyles lineups just can’t hold up very well defensively. This tells me that in the absence of Millsap in the 2020 season and beyond Lyles is not an obvious replacement in the starting lineup. So when his contract is up next summer the Nuggets will be looking at him as their backup power forward, and I have a feeling he’ll be paid more than they want to give him for that role.
If Lyles is not their power forward of the future it makes sense for the team to see if that player is already on their roster. Juancho Hernangomez is currently stuck behind Lyles in the rotation and he seems to have more upside as both a shooter and a defender at the 4. He’s also shown great chemistry with Jokic by making cuts and knocking down jumpers and shown that he can thrive even in limited minutes.
Juancho had a great rookie season shooting 40% from 3 and showed flashes of being a decent help side defender and shot blocker (even if he got lost at times and struggled to stay with his man). In his second season he got sick and then lost his backup job because of how well Lyles was playing. Hernangomez struggled to find minutes as he was slow to come back from the illness. I still believe in Juancho and believe that he has a better chance at fitting in alongside Jokic in the starting unit than Lyles has, but he needs an opportunity to prove himself at the power forward spot.
Lyles has been forced to play small forward quite a bit in his career so far and while he can play that position, his natural spot is clearly at the 4. His shooting is very real and his ability to stretch the floor like that is more valuable from the 4 spot than the wing. Lyles’ defense definitely needs more work, but he’ll find better success in that area guarding slower fours than chasing around wings on the perimeter.
Moving Lyles is a win on two fronts; it brings value back for a player who is likely not a long term fit, and it makes room in the rotation for another promising young player to prove himself in a role that makes sense for him (maybe Jarred Vanderbilt?). It’s tough to say goodbye to players who have done well for the team, but sometimes the fit just doesn’t make sense and there’s more value in making a move than waiting for the awkward fit to become obvious. The longer the Nuggets wait to make this decision the lower his value will drop.