As Dante Exum looks to make the leap to a legitimate NBA player for the Utah Jazz, Trey Lyles stands to lose his place in the rotation.
The Utah Jazz are on the cusp of something special. They have some All-Star level talent, some young prospects who continue to improve, and some veterans that contribute exponentially on and off the court.
The Jazz are one of the deepest teams in the league.
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As good as depth is for the team and their chances of producing a good season, it can lead to some otherwise able players falling by the wayside.
Dante Exum is a young talent that has repeatedly been questioned despite missing the whole 2015-16 season with an ACL injury. While on one night coach Quin Snyder will play Exum for less that 10 minutes, other nights he plays closer to 20 minutes and shows flashes of brilliance like his posterization of Noah Vonleh.
Exum is a young player finding his feet but is always ready when opportunities arise despite the inconsistency in minutes, as he told The Salt Lake Tribune:
“I’ve always stayed ready whenever my name would get called. I thought I did that in some games to deserve more minutes. It’s about continuing that, to keep playing well and doing what I do.”
Exum is having a nice nine-game stretch since missing two games (coach’s decision) towards the end of January. While the Australian is on the court the Jazz have an offensive rating of 110.3 and a defensive rating of 97.6 during the nine-game stretch.
A few double-digit scoring games on either side of his shocking start against the Dallas Mavericks, which saw him with doughnuts across the board except his five points and four turnovers, has justified Exum’s hard work and improved confidence.
” I got a couple of DNPs and I wasn’t playing, but I’ve been working hard to get here and I think I deserve it.”
As Exum excels and forces Snyder to play him 20 minutes a game regularly, another youngster stands to lose minutes of his own as a result.
Trey Lyles has been a steady feature in the Jazz rotation this season but across the last nine games where Exum has started to turn some heads, his minutes have taken a hit.
When Exum is playing well and remaining on the court for more than 18 minutes, Lyles is averaging just nine minutes a game. When Exum plays less than 18 minutes, Lyles averages 17 minutes a game.
This doesn’t bode well for Lyles, who in an ideal rotation is the third option at power forward behind Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson.
The 10-man rotation with Johnson behind Favors, and Exum consistently behind George Hill, is one capable of a legitimate playoff run but leaves Lyles riding the pine:
Hill – Exum Hood – Burks Hayward – Ingles Favors – Johnson Gobert – Diaw
With Burks, Ingles and Johnson all dropping down one position when Exum isn’t playing well and receiving less than 10 minutes from Snyder, Lyles has been able to play, which won’t be the case should Exum become a 20 MPG man.
Based on the last two games, Lyles may already have fallen out of Snyder’s rotation.
It’s going to be tough for Lyles to get minutes and will be even more difficult for him to stay with the team given the cap situation when the Jazz have the team option for him in 2018-19.
With $11.5 million currently going to Alec Burks, $22.7 million going to Rudy Gobert, and roughly $30 million each to Hayward and Favors in the future, the Jazz already have over $90 million on the books in 2018-19. With a $6.6 million qualifying offer to Exum and $3.3 million to Rodney Hood still to add on, there’s not going to be much room for anyone else under the predicted $103 million salary cap.
It’s a long and windy road ahead for Lyles. With what is currently a barely mobile Favors ahead of him he may yet get regular chances to feature, but he’s arguably relying on injuries to state his case as an NBA power forward.
As a young and able big man that is developing an outside shot to adapt to the stretch mentality of today’s NBA, there is every hope yet for Lyles. He will need a few things to go his way and most importantly, like Exum, be ready to take the opportunity should it arise.