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Trey Lyles knows where he wants his long-term future to be, regardless of what position he plays this season
SAN DIEGO — If you poll various Nuggets personnel who watch Denver’s full training camp practices, Trey Lyles is always at the top of the list when it comes to players who have impressed them most this week.
Tales of Lyles blowing past Paul Millsap on the perimeter and dunking on Denver’s starting power forward, knocking down three-pointer after three-pointer in drills and scrimmage settings are just as prominent this week as talk of how mature the Nuggets’ backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris look and Nikola Jokic’s brilliance. Lyles came into camp in the best shape of his life, and he’s set to reap the reward this season of more minutes, some of which will likely come at a new position.
“Who’s to say Trey Lyles can’t play small forward?” Nuggets coach Michael Malone asked at media day.
At training camp, that experiment is ongoing. Lyles has been logging minutes at both small forward and power forward throughout camp and is showing well. After Malone and Lyles spoke this summer about the prospects of playing on the wing, the 22-year-old developed a summer regimen that focused on conditioning, foot speed and overall strength. The work he put in this summer has upped Lyles’ confidence on defense, where he’ll have his work cut out defending quicker players than he typically saw at power forward last year.
“The summer that I had, traveling to different places, playing against different guys and working out with different people definitely helped me out,” said Lyles who spent time in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver and back home in Indiana during the offseason. “I feel a lot more confidence, mainly on the defensive end than I have in a long time.”
The idea of Lyles spending some time on the wing this upcoming season is a result of the depth the Nuggets have in the frontcourt. Behind Millsap and Nikola Jokic, Denver has two capable backups in Lyles and center Mason Plumlee. In a league where most teams are downsizing and typically playing three traditional bigs at the most, Lyles didn’t garner consistent playing time last season when the Nuggets were at full health.
After Millsap suffered a left wrist injury that resulted in the four-time All-Star missing 44 games last season, Lyles stepped up and averaged 13.0 points on 49.8 percent shooting from the field, 40.1 percent from three, and 6.0 rebounds per game in his absence. But as soon as Millsap returned to Denver’s lineup on Feb. 27, Lyles’ playing time took a hit. He logged under 15 minutes per game over the final month-and-a-half of the regular season and recorded four DNP-CDs, including one in the Nuggets’ season finale in Minnesota.
The Nuggets think Lyles’ skill-set is too valuable to be pigeonholed into a role where he plays fewer than 20 minutes per night. In fact, when Lyles logged over 20 minutes per game last season, he averaged roughly 15 points on well above 50 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from three. When he played under 20 minutes per game, his scoring average dropped to just five points per contest as his shooting percentages plummeted.
“There’s not one spot on the floor Trey can’t play,” Malone said.
But before Lyles takes the court for Denver this season, he has some business to sort through. The Nuggets and Lyles have until Oct. 15 — the day before the start of the 2018-19 regular season — to agree on an extension or Lyles will become a restricted free agent next summer after his rookie deal expires at the end of this year.
The Nuggets prefer to take care of their own, as they did with Gary Harris, who got his rookie extension done with Denver prior to the start of last season, Mason Plumlee, who Denver brought back in the restricted free agency in 2017, and the trio of Nikola Jokic, Will Barton and Torrey Craig, who the Nuggets re-signed this summer.
The Nuggets could let Lyles test restricted free agency next offseason or try to lock the versatile forward into a team-friendly contract before the season starts.
“I really haven’t been thinking about it,” Lyles told BSN Denver about a potential extension. “I just want to go out there and help the team and show coach and my teammates that I’ve gotten better over the summer. When that time comes, I’ll leave it to my agent, one of best in the game. He’ll do what he’s supposed to do.
“Coming here last year was a breath of fresh air for me,” Lyles said. “Being a part of a team like this, I’m happy to be here and I love what I see for the future for them and what they’re trying to build, so I want to be a part of it.”
Lyles was a crucial piece to Denver’s 46-win team a year ago, and in a quest for more playing time could log minutes at both forward spots this season. He’ll be a factor this season, and perhaps beyond, regardless of what position he plays.
“I just want to show what I’m capable of,” Lyles said.