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Trey Lyles opens up on shooting struggles, how he plans to emerge from current three-point slump

Harrison Wind Avatar
December 14, 2018

One by one, Nuggets players filter off Denver’s second-floor practice gym, hit the showers and get on with their days. It’s Wednesday, the Nuggets’ second of three straight days without a game and a rare break amid a whirlwind first two months of the regular season. Spirits are high, especially when it comes to Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Mason Plumlee, who are all enjoying standout seasons in their respective roles off Denver’s bench.

Trey Lyles has to be feeling a little left out from the success that his second unit compadres have had this season. Morris is shooting 43.8 percent from three-point range this year, second on the team only to Juancho Hernangomez, and is leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Beasley is quickly emerging as a reliable two-way wing who at just 22 years old is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Plumlee has been the bench’s defensive anchor all season while scoring at one of the most efficient rates of his career.

But Lyles has struggled on the offensive end of the floor, particularly with his three-point shot, which he’s only hitting at a 25.3 percent rate.

“I’ve been playing for a long time. I’ve had streaks like this before,” Lyles said in a mostly empty gym following an extra post-practice shooting session. “It’s something that I’m not going to say I’m used to, but I’ve been through before and I know how to get out of it. I’ve just got to continue to be aggressive and be who I am as a player.”

That player, at least last season, was a versatile 6-foot-10 forward who hit 38.1 percent of his threes. Lyles was a revelation a year ago filling in for Paul Millsap, who went down in November with a left wrist injury and subsequently missed Denver’s next 44 games. Lyles saw his minutes increase from 12.5 per game in November to 27.5 a night in December. The then-third year forward took advantage of the opportunity and emerged as a reliable option off Denver’s bench.

This year he’s had a hard time finding that same rhythm, which the Nuggets need him to do with more than 50 percent of their current payroll showing up on the team’s latest injury report.

“He’s struggling right now. There’s no other way around it,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “We also know what he’s capable of doing and the level he’s capable of playing at for us. And with the injuries that we have right now, we need that. We need the Trey Lyles that came in last year when Paul went down and played great.”

Lyles admits that he’s been all over the place with his shot this season. Early on, he said he was hesitating when he had an open look. In some situations, he wasn’t shooting at all. Then, when Lyles was shooting, he wasn’t putting enough arc on the ball, which caused him to miss short. After hitting 40.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last year, Lyles is converting on just 26.7 percent of his shots of that variety this season. He’s also struggling to hit his free throws for a second-consecutive season — shooting just 68.2 percent at the line. Last year he only hit 70.6 percent of his shots from the charity stripe, a much lower number than you’d expect from someone who shot the ball like he did from distance a season ago.

There’s no secret formula, according to Lyles or any of his other second-unit running mates, to breaking out of a shooting slump. Morris says he likes to take nighttime visits to the practice facility for some extra reps when he’s struggling to find a rhythm. Beasley added that he tries to stay relaxed and not think too much about the current cold spell if he’s going through one. In other words, Jason Giambi’s golden thong isn’t hanging in the Nuggets’ locker room to magically cure Lyles’ shooting struggles.

“I’ve put in the work all these years,” Lyles said. “So a couple shots or a few shots not going in, it’s not going to change how I impact the game…it’s just about believing in it.”

Because his shot isn’t falling, Lyles is trying to make an impact in other ways, like driving the ball to the rim instead of always relying on his jumper, something his coach has preached to him whenever the two have chatted over the last few weeks.

“I just want him to stay aggressive. If the three-point shot’s not falling, find other ways to contribute to the game,” Malone said. “Attack the basket. Live at the rim. Live at the foul line. Make plays for your teammates. Defend at a high level. Rebound at a high level. It can’t be just solely based on Trey’s shooting because he’s not a specialist. He’s a basketball player. And I think he can help us in other ways than just his shooting.”

Ask around and it’s hard to notice that Lyles is going through one of the worst slumps of his career. He’s still the same mild-mannered, even-keeled practice player that’s put in the work behind the scenes for the last couple of seasons. Most believe that’s it’s not a question of if Lyles will break out and rediscover the sweet stroke that helped the Nuggets stay afloat last season, but when.

“He can run off 10, 15 straight,” said Morris. “I wouldn’t really call it a slump because I’m not a guy who really plays numbers. I feel like he’s still shooting the ball well in practice. There’s going to be a game where he breaks out for sure.”

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