Trey Lyles was a shockingly divisive signing for the Detroit Pistons in the offseason. He earned the kind of vitriol not usually becoming of a completely marginal, completely acceptable bench player who has knocked around the league for six years.
Partly, the problem is that he’s had ample opportunity with some good franchises and good situations — Utah, Denver and San Antonio — and he’s never done much with each opportunity. Yeah, there was also that bit of history about him hating the city of Detroit because there is nothing to do. Whatever. He can figure out how to spend his money during his likely one-year stop in Motown. Speaking of money, he’s not making that much of it. He’s got $2.5 million coming to him this season and a $2.6 million team option next year.
Know Your Role
What are the Pistons getting with that money? They aren’t getting flash. They aren’t getting playmaking. They certainly aren’t getting upside. But they are getting the thing they’ve been searching for years from the backup power forward slot. They’ve run a murderer’s row out in recent years consisting of Sekou Doumbouya, Stanley Johnson, Markieff Morris, Thon Maker, Jon Leuer. It’s not been pretty.
They were done betting on the upside of Doumbouya that looked like it was never going to come (and an expensive team option next season they were almost assuredly going to turn down), and swapped out for a completely unremarkable veteran hoping he could hit an unremarkable but at least acceptable number of perimeter shots.
Now, that’s no sure thing with Lyles when you look at his career numbers. He’s been an up-and-down player shooting the 3 ball, but his stroke looks fine and his free-throw success seems to indicate he at least has a bit of touch (career 70% from the line). It seems to be that it all comes down to playing time. In seasons where Lyles plays more than 1,250 minutes, he’s a career 38% shooter from distance. Fewer minutes and he’s a 34% shooter.
That could pose an issue for the Pistons, or at least in the mind’s of Pistons fans, because in an ideal world, Lyles isn’t getting a heavy dose of minutes. Ideally, it’s so hard to keep Isaiah Stewart and Jerami Grant off the floor that Kelly Olynyk is absorbing most of the big man minutes off the bench. Hell, it’d even be preferable if the Pistons were tinkering with some small ball with Josh Jackson or Saddiq Bey at the four to open up some minutes for players like Frank Jackson, Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson or Isaiah Livers.
But the cold, harsh reality is that with the Pistons likely to be pretty bad all season, and those young players having plenty of nights where they struggle, the siren song of a competent veteran player on the floor might be too irresistible for coach Dwane Casey.
And that doesn’t have to be a terribly bad thing. Last year, the minutes Sekou took at power forward were bad enough that it hampered the team’s ability to run functional offensive sets off the bench, and that means those young players looking for reps found spacing, flow and easy buckets hard to come by.
Lyles is here to make things just a little bit easier for everybody. He’s got enough heft to bang down low for rebounds, he’s not a ball stopper — he’ll move the ball, take the shot and set screens with no hesitation. We’ve already seen a bit of it in the first two preseason games for Detroit.
In this two-play sequence against his former team the Spurs, Lyles grabs a contested rebound, kicks it out and then finds the open lane while spacing the floor for an easy catch-and-shoot. In the second play, he hands it off and serves as the roll man, and when nothing presents itself, he again stretches the defense out and shoots with zero hesitation. These are the kinds of plays Detroit wasn’t making, and the shots Detroit wasn’t hitting last season.
Lyles has plenty of warts to his game, too. He’s not going to turn any heads, and he’s no diamond in the rough. He’s here to be completely forgettable. But in a good way.