Eye on the Draft: Trey Lyles

The tournament is over, and NCAA underclassmen are reaching decision times on whether or not to jump to the NBA or stay in school. Many of the important prospects have already made the move to the pros official. One of those players that the Celtics may be targeting, is the big man from Kentucky. No, not Karl-Anthony Towns (stop daydreaming), and no not Willie Cauley-Stein. Neither projects to be in the Celtics' draft range. The big man I'm talking about is Kentucky's 6'10" freshman power forward, Trey Lyles.

Lyles is a long, tall forward that moves well in the paint with great footwork. Very productive at the cup, but can stretch it out to the perimeter as well. Length and strength is Lyles' calling card. He’s got a 7’4” wingspan, great hands, and an above average mid-range game. Some weaknesses are that he's not very athletic, and isn’t going to scorch the nets from downtown. He shot just 4-for-29 from 3-point range this season for the Wildcats. But the combination of his post-up game, and his ability to spot up and knock down jumpers, will make him a sure first rounder.

By way of necessity, Lyles played a lot of his minutes with UK at the small forward position due to the injury to Alex Poythress. He finished the year with averages of 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while playing about 23 minutes per contest. On the defensive side don’t expect any Sportscenter highlights, but he can hold his own against both the PF and SF positions. His ability to keep up with some of the bigger small forwards in the NBA will certainly help his stock. He proved to be able to do that this season with the Wildcats, even though he is probably more of a natural power forward.

Lyles will have difficulty defending bigger, taller opponents, but with his length I think that is something he can improve upon quickly. By all accounts he’s a very heady and intelligent basketball player. Now it’s time for him to put it all together and work on his weaknesses.

Lyles' inside-out game is above average but not flawless. Via ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla:
While he made 74 percent of his shots around the basket this season, his game is often based on guile and intelligence. He is an up-and-under guy who will not be able to score over length early in his career. Watch how many times he double-pumps while in the air around the basket.
Playing away from the basket will certainly help Lyles, although he is not a 1-on-1 player. Rather, he is an above-average 2-point shooter at 39 percent. And ironically, many of his misses were long 2s.

An interesting note to add about Lyles’ mid-range oriented game and SF/PF complex, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton compared him to the Celtics’ Brandon Bass. Bass has given the Celtics solid grit & grind production and versatility as a role player for years. Could Lyles be Boston’s replacement for the soon to be free agent Bass?

Even before being coached under John Calipari at Kentucky, Trey Lyles was making his name known amongst NBA scouts with his excellent play in the FIBA World Championships.

According to CBSSports.com's Sam Vecenie,
Lyles was one of the best players at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Prague in 2013, showing off excellent touch both around the basket and from the perimeter, even showing the ability to step out to the international three-point line. He finished third in both scoring and rebounding for the competition as an underaged player of only 17.

I think he's probably more of a 2016 prospect than a 2015 one, but the length is something few players his size can match, and his high release point will make it difficult to block him even if he ends up being slightly undersized from time-to-time. The key to his NBA stock will be on the defensive end. Unfortunately at this point, he neither protects the rim well nor defends well on the perimeter. Making himself viable at one of those two things will be essential to him going from possible first-rounder to possible lottery pick.

Trey Lyles is looking like a first round steal in the making. For one thing, nobody has been paying attention to this guy as he has been stashed away behind Towns’ and Cauley-Stein’s shadows at Kentucky. Coming out of high school, Lyles was a projected lottery pick. Did his stock fall because he played poorly? Not in my mind.

My thought is that Lyles' stock has slipped due to him being the 4th or 5th option on that stacked Kentucky team. This is a player that could fall to Boston and serve an immediate need, if either of Bass or Jared Sullinger should have to be replaced going forward. Not the sexiest pick, but definitely a player the Celtics should do their research on and keep in mind come draft day.

An NBA scout's quote from ESPN’s Chad Ford:
I'm a big Lyles guy, Watched him a bunch in high school. The Kentucky thing is helping a lot of these guys, but we'd be talking about him higher if he was on a team that really ran things through him. He's not a crazy athlete or anything, but he's bigger than you think and just knows how to play. He's a power forward in the NBA and once he's in that position, everyone's going to like him. If you get him in the middle of the draft? You got a steal.

It’s not quite the player Celtics fans likely had their hopes set on. Hearing terms like “lack of explosiveness” and “not a great athlete” to describe your next potential first round selection isn’t exactly music to the average NBA fan's ears. But there is a lot to like about Trey Lyles skill set, and if he is selected by the Boston Celtics this June, you should be cheering, not booing.

Top photo – James Crisp
Bass photo - Boston Herald

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