Trey Lyles came into Kentucky with a big reputation as part of a heralded recruiting class that featured four McDonald's All-Americans. With Willie Cauley-Stein surprisingly deciding to stay in school, along with former McDonald's All-American big men Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, Kentucky sported one of the deepest and most talented frontcourts in recent memory this past season, which forced Lyles to transition to the small forward position, a completely new role for him.
He had an up and down season individually on the whole, a product of playing out of position, but had some nice moments as Kentucky went undefeated until the NCAA Final Four, where they lost to Wisconsin. Lyles' playing time and production increased steadily as the year moved on, particularly after the season-ending injury to Alex Poythress, and he ended up developing into a very important cog for John Calipari, drawing significant praise throughout the year for his skill-level and smarts, calling him an x-factor and as good as any player in the country.
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Lyles has excellent size and length for a power forward, measuring 6-10 in shoes, with a strong 235 pound frame, and a huge 7-3 ½ wingspan. He is a fluid and mobile big man, but not overly quick or explosive, lacking a degree of athleticism that may limit his long-term upside to a certain extent. He's done a good job of working on his body over the past 18 months, as he has struggled in the past with his conditioning level, but has worked hard to maximize his physical tools after looking somewhat out of shape in the past.
Lyles has a very nice skill-level for a player his size. Showing advanced footwork and very soft touch, he's strong enough to make some plays with his back to the basket, something that wasn't a featured part of his game at Kentucky, but he's nevertheless capable of. He finished 50% of his field goal attempts in the post according to Synergy Sports Technology, and drew a free throw on 25% of his possessions on top of that.
He also shows nice potential as a ball-handler on the perimeter, being capable of attacking his man off the dribble smoothly driving in either direction, mixing in crafty spin-moves with strong body control and choppy footwork, and often finishing with a floater or using the glass with his soft touch. While he's not overly quick, his strong frame and solid timing and patience helps, and as he goes back to playing at the 4/5 spots like he did earlier in his career, he'll have even more of an advantage taking opposing players out on the perimeter.
Lyles finished at a very high rate around the basket this past season, converting 59.5% of his looks in the paint according to Synergy. His long arms give him an excellent vantage point to get his shot off, while his touch around the rim does the rest. With that said, there are some question marks about how his lack of explosiveness in traffic will affect him against higher level competition, something teams will likely try to better read on in private workout settings.
Another area NBA teams will likely try to learn more about is Lyles' potential as an outside shooter. He was somewhat of a mixed bag at Kentucky in this area, only converting 4 of his 29 3-point attempts (14%) on the season, and 32/87 jumpers (37%) overall according to Synergy. With that said, Lyles has good shooting mechanics, both with his feet set and off the dribble, evidenced by the 74% he shot from the free throw line this season, and has been sporting range out to the 3-point line already in high school, although not at consistent enough rate just yet.
Continuing to work on his jumper will be very important for his chances of carving out a role in the NBA early in his career, as he doesn't really have any one means of scoring consistently he can hang his hat on at the moment. He's somewhat of a jack of all trades, master of none, but has already showed he can play a disciplined role alongside other good players, even in a system that didn't necessarily suit his strengths perfectly.
Lyles has a good feel for the game and is a solid passer, not turning the ball over very frequently as well. His basketball IQ shows up with his ability to crash the glass, where he posted 3.2 offensive rebounds per-40, despite seeing heavy minutes on the perimeter. He's been a solid rebounder throughout his careeraided by his huge wingspan, as well as good timing and soft handsand should continue to hold his own here in the NBA despite his average athleticism and the fact that he's not overly physical.
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The biggest questions about Lyles as a NBA prospect likely revolve around his defense, which was considered a major weakness going into college. This is where playing out of position on the perimeter may have helped him the most, as it forced him to work hard on his ability to stay in front of smaller players, instead of being able to hide at the center position like he almost certainly would have on pretty much any other team.
Lyles did a decent job considering the circumstances, but wasn't immune to getting blown by badly on the perimeter at times, looking very hunched over in his stance. He accumulated a very low amount of blocks and stealsthe biggest indicators we have for athleticismposting under one block and one steal per-40 minutes, which is extremely low for a player with his length. It's easy to write that off due to playing at small forward, but Lyles wasn't very good in those areas in the 1800+ minutes of non-Kentucky action we have logged in other settings (FIBA, EYBL, Adidas Nations), posting one steal and 1.2 blocks per-40 there.
On the interior, Lyles is far from perfect as well, as he has a tendency to give up deep post-position and shows average toughness fighting with stronger players inside the paint. Since he's unlikely to be a rim-protector due to his lack of lift, and doesn't sport great lateral quickness, he'll have to show better effort, fundamentals and awareness here than he has over the course of his career to not be a negative on this side of the floor. His long wingspan, and the season he played under John Calipari, should help him somewhat. This is yet another area that NBA teams will want to study closely in private workouts.
Lyles is somewhat of a divisive prospect among NBA scouts. He has some very obvious tools, with his size, length, high skill-level and strong feel for the game, but wasn't overly productive (15.5 points, 9.3 rebounds per-40) or efficient (55% TS%) in college, which is easy to understand due to the circumstances. Power forwards who aren't great perimeter shooters, athletes or shot-blockers are not the most en vogue players in today's NBA, so he'll have to be drafted into the right situation with the understanding of what his strengths and weaknesses are to reach his full potential. Nevertheless, only being 19 years old, time is clearly on Lyles' side.