Why Trey Lyles has an invaluable role with Detroit Pistons, on and off the court

Detroit Free Press

Trey Lyles is only 25 years old, but he’s old enough to be a veteran on the current Detroit Pistons roster.

Including the two-way contracts, the Pistons have nine players with fewer than two seasons of experience. Lyles is entering his seventh season. Only Cory Joseph, Kelly Olynyk and Jerami Grant have more years in the NBA.

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Lyles is a journeyman ready to step into a leadership role for a young team.

“It’s easy to mesh with them because what they’re going through is something I’ve already been through,” Lyles said of his younger teammates. “Their experiences are experiences I’ve had before. The only thing they get me with is the music they listen to, so that’s pretty much the only thing.”

Lyles also fits the Pistons on the court. At 6-foot-9, he takes a high share of his shots from the 3-point line. He’s also accurate, as he shot 39% from outside in 2019-20 and 40% during his appendectomy-shortened 2020-21 campaign, according to Cleaning The Glass — an advanced stats website that filters out garbage time possessions and end-of-quarter possessions that are likely to result in a long heave.

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The Pistons prioritized improving their spacing this offseason, and they now have three big men who can certainly space the floor: Lyles and Kelly Olynyk, who both joined the team this summer via free agency, and Luka Garza, a strong outside shooter in college. And Isaiah Stewart has been working on his outside touch and has the green light to shoot.

“Us having bigs that can stretch the floor helps the guards because it opens lanes and causes the defense to collapse because they’re not used to guarding bigs that can shoot like Kelly, and Luka can shoot as well,” Lyles said. “It makes it easier for our guards to make plays, I think.”

The Pistons are thin up front this season, which could give Lyles ample playing time. He, Olynyk, Stewart and Grant are the only players on the main roster who are at least 6-9. Lyles has played both power forward and center during training camp and all of his previous stops, and he expects to play both positions during the season as well.

“We’ve been going through the drills, the 4 and 5 are interchangeable,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since I’ve gotten in the league, so it’s pretty easy for me to play both spots.

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“I wouldn’t say there’s been a big adjustment. It’s pretty easy to conform and get into a team, I think. Everything that Coach (Dwane) Casey is teaching is things I’ve learned in past teams and other coaches. It’s everything that throughout my six years, I’ve heard coaches say before.”

Cade Cunningham, Frank Jackson out with ankle injuries

Cunningham suffered a “minor” ankle injury early in training camp last week, Casey said, and he hasn’t returned yet. It isn’t an injury that has caused any concern, but the Pistons are being cautious ahead of their preseason opener on Wednesday against the Spurs. The injury has prevented Cunningham from playing five-on-five, but he’s been participating in shooting drills after practices.

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Frank Jackson is also out with an ankle injury, Casey said. It isn’t clear when he’ll be back.

“There’s not a timeline right now,” Casey said on Cunningham’s return. “They’re being cautious with it, that’s what the medical people are saying. I’m going with them. My concern from a coaching standpoint is the expectation of him coming back and picking up, that doesn’t happen. I’ll leave it to the medical people to get him back and get ready and go as quickly as possible.”

Casey joked that he had to catch his young team up on who Wally Pipp is — the former Yankees first baseman who lost his starting job to MLB legend Lou Gehrig. The Pistons have several ongoing position battles that could bleed into preseason as well.

“Maybe Tom Brady is a better example,” Casey said. “We have so many guys that are equal in talent at all positions, that it’s a difference between being injured and being sore. Our guys right now are definitely injured, but you want to get back as quick as you can because of the competition level at each position.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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