For Trey Lyles, his path to consistent rotation minutes was all about patience.
Since trading for him on draft night, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone lauded Lyles and his versatility and his ability to shoot the basketball. That’s why the Nuggets surrendered the rights to Donovan Mitchell to the Utah Jazz.
“But I had no minutes for him,” Malone said. “That’s why I have so much respect for him as a person and a player. Even when there were no minutes for him at the beginning of the season, he was always ready. He always worked hard, he worked on his game. And as you can see, he adds value to us.”
Of course, the minutes became available to Lyles, who spent two seasons with the Jazz, because All-Star forward Paul Millsap went down with a wrist injury and because steady veteran Wilson Chandler has been out with a back ailment.
But in his last 10 games, Lyles has been solid in his contribution. He’s playing 11 minutes a night in that span and averaging 5.3 points and three rebounds. A little over a week ago, Lyles scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 16 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s shooting 51.4 percent from the field in his last 10 games.
He’s finally found a role, almost two months into the season.
“I’ve just been trying to get better, trying to improve with every game,” Lyles said. “Even when I haven’t played, I’ve been in a position to learn and improve. Denver’s a little like Utah. It’s a great team and a great organization. I’m really enjoying it.”
Instead of sulking when he wasn’t in Malone’s rotation, Lyles forged a close relationship with Millsap, who was once himself in a playing time glut early in his Jazz career. Lyles would ask Millsap about his game, where he can improve and the little things on both ends of the floor.
Millsap’s been like a big brother to Lyles in that regard. The Nuggets are hoping that pays off for Lyles in production over the next few months.
In Tuesday night’s blowout loss to the Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena, Lyles was a mixed bag. He scored six points, and showed some of his offensive potential. He grabbed a pair of rebounds and made some nice plays offensively.
But he wasn’t effective defensively and had a minus 17 net rating in 18 minutes. Tuesday was another step in his learning experience. The Nuggets hope he learns quickly.