Since the latter part of the preseason schedule, forward Trey Lyles has found himself in the role of the San Antonio Spurs’ starting power forward through nine games of the 2019-20 regular season. Considering the Spurs had re-signed Rudy Gay, signed-and-traded for DeMarre Carroll, and had ended last season with a traditional big-man lineup of Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge, it was interesting that it has been Lyles who has been in the starting frontcourt alongside Aldridge.
Through nine games, let’s see what Lyles is bringing to the team on both ends of the court.
Lyles has shown to be a low usage player in the starting lineup, where he’s only using 9.5% of the team’s offensive possessions. He’s averaging 4.9 points, collecting 1.3 assists to 0.7 turnovers, and he’s started to find his range slowly from three. To begin the season, teams have been leaving Lyles open from beyond the 3-point line, since he’s shown during his career to be an inconsistent 3-point shooter. However, lately, he’s brought his percentage from three up to 37.5% on his 1.8 attempts per game. On wide open threes, he’s starting to become a threat, where he has knocked down 4 of his 12 wide open threes, good enough to be getting a point per wide open 3-point shot.
He’s not going to be one of the Spurs’ main scoring threats in the staring unit since he’s already in a lineup with the three players that have the highest usage rating in DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Lyles needs to continue moving the ball and he has to earn the reputation as a threat from wide open three, which will create more space for DeRozan and Murray to drive, or Aldridge to post-up. The majority of the Spurs’ outside shooting in the starting unit comes on the weight of Bryn Forbes’ shoulders, so, Lyles can help there by at least knocking down his wide open 3s at an efficient percentage.
One other area where Lyles is helping offensively is in providing extra possessions by crashing the offensive glass. He’s collecting 8.9% of the Spurs’ missed shots, placing him in the 72nd percentile (solid) among big men in offensive rebounding percentage. While Lyles may not be getting any plays called for him on offense, he’s continuing to have an impact on possessions by crashing the offensive glass.
Overall through nine games, the Spurs’ offensive rating with Lyles has been more of a problem than on the other end. The starting lineup is scoring 100.5 points per 100 possessions, which would be the equivalent of the 29th ranked offense, according to CleaningTheGlass.com. Lyles isn’t responsible solely for the numbers with the starting lineup, but he’s at least a part of it.
It’s a small sample size, but in the last three games where Lyles has started knocking down 3s, the offensive rating for the Spurs starting unit has jumped up to 112.5 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com.
Though the Spurs overall are just worse than league average defensively, Lyles has shown more promise on that end, and it’s likely why he’s continuing to get the starting role. The starting five with Lyles is holding teams to 103.9 points per 100 possessions according to CTG. That would rank them 11th overall, compared to their current overall ranking of 19th. Lyles is a switchy defender who doesn’t usually have to guard the best offensive player on the other team. He’s quick enough to make switches onto smaller guards in pick-and-roll scenarios and he’s providing help in ending possessions for opponents by cleaning up the glass.
Lyles is collecting 28.5% of opponents misses, placing him in the 93rd (elite) percentile among big men in defensive rebounding percentage. That’s also a career high number for him too. When looking at the PS Premium matchup page, you’ll see that Lyles has defended his individual matchups well this season and the only three players who made two or more efficient shots against him were Rui Hachimura of the Wizards, Jabari Parker of the Hawks, and Danilo Gallinari of the Thunder.
It’s too early to tell if Lyles’ role will be sustained as the season goes along or if he’ll even be in the rotation by the time the season ends since the Spurs still have other options to consider in the power forward slots with Gay currently in the second unit and Carroll trying to find minutes anywhere. Right now, the numbers show Lyles is helping the Spurs defensively, but it’s only a nine-game sample size. Offensively, he’ll need that 3-point shot to continue to come along if he wants to prevent being a liability on that end and to limit the possibility of Gay or Carroll filling his current role.