As the result of a nice stint with the Kings following the trade deadline last season, Sacramento did the predictable thing and picked up the $2.6 million team option on Trey Lyles’ contract.
They acquired Lyles from Detroit last February as part of the four-team trade that sent Marvin Bagley to the Pistons and likewise landed Donte DiVincenzo with the Kings. After the 6’9″ power forward averaged 10.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game on 48.9% shooting from the field and 36.5% from three through 24 games last season, it was to nobody’s surprise that the team chose to retain him.
Following limited action in his first four games suiting up for Sacramento, Lyles proved he could do something particularly valuable for the team, something the then-starter Moe Harkless couldn’t. In fifteen minutes played on the road against the Nuggets, Lyles nailed 2 of 3 looks from deep in a close loss.
For the next game in Oklahoma City, Alvin Gentry made the decision to insert Lyles into the starting lineup, something he would do for the remaining 19 games that followed because the former Kentucky standout scored 24 points on 10 of 14 shooting, including 1 of 4 from deep, while also grabbing 6 boards and posting 2 assists.
It wasn’t like this high scoring role was ever expected or required of him, and he certainly didn’t repeat it night after night, but when Lyles’ place as a starter was secured, it became a turning point for this team as it made its discernible shift.
Sure, Lyles didn’t offer the same magnitude of change that Domantas Sabonis’ presence did, but he filled a major hole that in turn opened things up for the new-look offense.
Prior to the lineup change, Harkless was the closest thing to an offensive hole in his five game stretch as the starting 4. Excluding his 5 for 5 performance, that included 3 made from deep, against Washington, Harkless went on to make just 1 of his next 7 attempts from deep.
In fact, in those next four games, when he was off standing in the corner, defenders would not really be concerned with how much space they left for him. And even when Harkless shot it, it didn’t go up with the most confidence. Sometimes, he would hesitate, and other times, his teammates would hesitate to swing it to him.
The Kings had lost 4 straight going into the game against the Thunder that saw Lyles start for the first time, and through those 4 games, the team was not rolling to maximum efficiency. Though they put up tough fights against the Bulls and Nuggets, they looked a little more lost in a second matchup against Denver and the game in Brooklyn, inconsistent in the big picture the whole way through.
Of course, it’s fair to say Sacramento never got it rolling as best as they could since they missed the play-in entirely. However, they did produce improvement as well as a nearly 360-degree flip in competitiveness, and a fair deal of the reason why was due to the harmonious and balanced presence of Trey Lyles on the floor.
Again, it was obvious that he was going to have the option picked up. At the end of the season, Monte McNair noted what he liked about Lyles.
“I think it was great to see Trey down the stretch. As we’ve been talking about, we’re looking for shooting, right? Trey is somebody who combines the size of a power forward with the ability to shoot like a guard,” McNair lauded. “And he had some huge games, not just shooting the ball, but I think he had 18 rebounds in a game. So I think Trey — he just has a solid way about him, he does everything well on the court and he was a great fit. I would say — [he’s] certainly somebody that we’ve looked at, but you know, pleasantly surprised with his play.”
During his time in Sacramento last season, as mentioned, Lyles showcased an ability to shoot the three that forced defense’s to stay honest and keep an eye on him, something desperately needed with an offense that frequently sees Sabonis directing traffic from the post or Fox exploding into the paint. And with the ball already moving around more, and set to do so even more next season, that poise and ability is crucial.
As a catch and shoot threat from deep, Lyles hit 39.7% of his looks, helping to contribute the 40% three-point clip he displayed in the month of March. He was exceptional from the wing area of the arc, shooting 46.7% from those areas and, more specifically, 50% from the right wing. As for hitting corner threes, it’s not much different as he hit 45% of them.
Lyles, as McNair noted, offers a big body in addition to the shooting prowess he displayed in Sacramento. He uses his frame to his advantage on the glass, boxing opponents out, and utilizing an active energy in that component of the game. With it he’s also able to defend those bigger offensive players while remaining decently versatile against more perimeter-oriented players.
Perhaps just as important as the shooting ability is the fact Lyles possesses a great basketball IQ. For whatever amount of lateral quickness he lacks, he’s aware enough to be a good help and team defender. For whatever limited ability he has to create his own shot, he knows when to pass the ball to help his teammates get open looks while also knowing when to be decisive and shoot the shot in front of him. And for whatever margin of deficiency there is in his skillset, he makes up for it with hustle and effort, setting picks, drawing charges, or anything else that make an impact for his team.
He’s simply the type of guy who will find his own way to affect the game in a positive manner without ever trying to do too much. Maybe he won’t be able to replicate his numbers through 24 games last year in a full season, but it’s that intangible fact, at baseline, that makes Trey Lyles valuable.
The outlook all along was that Lyles was going to be on this team next season, and now there will be a nice combination at the power forward position with rookie Keegan Murray and Lyles likely backing him up.
In a lot of ways, Lyles does many of the same things Murray has the outlook of doing. Of course, Murray is more athletic and skilled, but it’s clear Trey Lyles will be a nice backup and a key member of the rotation off the bench next season.