The book on Trey Lyles should out by now. This is a player who started to attract attention from top college programs as early as seventh grade, gave a verbal commitment to Indiana as he entered high school and just finished playing for one of the most covered college teams of all time.
Yet as the Thursday's NBA Draft approaches, the Kentucky forward remains a mystery. He could go as early as the top 10 or slip out of the top 20 entirely. The Knicks reportedly covet him, but it would be shocking to see him go No. 4. Scouts aren't sure what position he defends or how he'll make the adjustment from a college wing to an NBA power forward. Many believe he's a stretch 4 in the pros, but he made just four three-pointers in college.
This is the paradox of Lyles. He's long been destined for basketball stardom, yet has never found his true place. From his time as a five-star recruit in high school to his starting role on one of the most dominant college teams in recent memory, Lyles has never lacked exposure.
So why does it feel like the rest of the world is just starting to figure out what Lyles can become?
Throughout his life, Lyles proved to be a master at adapting to his surroundings. He grew up in the small Canadian city of Saskatoon, so naturally his first athletic experience was as a hockey goalie. He traded in the ice for the hardwood when he moved to Indiana at age seven, adopting his new home's most storied pastime.
Lyles committed to Indiana before he ever played a high school game, and it stayed that way for two years. But he rose in the recruiting rankings, causing him to have a sudden change of heart. He committed to Kentucky, where he figured to team up with another five-star freshman, Karl-Anthony Towns, in the starting frontcourt. Those plans quickly changed when Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson decided to return to school.
That left Kentucky with nine McDonald's All-Americans and a major glut up front. Lyles could have been the featured scorer at Indiana or almost any other school, but instead he contorted his game to fit the role John Calipari needed him to play. That role: a 6'10, 250-pound college wing playing within a two-post offense.
As surreal as it was to see a college team start two seven-footers in Cauley-Stein and Towns, it was Lyles that really made the Wildcats' abundance of skilled size feel indulgent. Most college teams didn't have a single player on the roster as big as Lyles. At Kentucky, he was a small forward.
Even after a season in which he was fifth on the team in minutes per game and sixth in scoring, he doesn't regret his college experience one bit.
"Playing the wing helped me out a lot just by having to chase around smaller guys," Lyles said at last May's NBA Draft combine. "Guys who are 6-foot and stuff like that. It helped me in my all around game defensively and offensively.
"You're on a team with nine McDonald's All-Americans, so guys have to share with one another. Transitioning to the NBA, you're on a team where everyone was a high school All-American, an all-star, all kinds of stuff. So really I think Kentucky helped all of us out."
That context is essential for understanding why Lyles enters the draft as player that might look like a blank canvas to the naked eye. Teams can project their vision onto him and he can play it right back. In an era that emphasizes versatility, Trey Lyles should fit in just fine.
What makes Lyles a potentially special offensive weapon is that he can't be put in a box. He has the size of a traditional NBA power forward, but showed he's just as comfortable playing the perimeter. He isn't a big man who wants to play like a guard; he's a 6'10 force of nature that can adapt his game from inside-out depending on the matchup.
Here he is posting up and finishing through contact in the Final Four against Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes, a player who could be a first rounder next year. Hayes is a terrific player, but he's also only 6'7. Lyles knows he has a size advantage on him and turns into what looks like your classic low block scorer:
Here's Lyles scoring from the perimeter against another possible lottery pick in this draft, Kansas' Kelly Oubre. Oubre has ideal length and athleticism for an NBA wing, but Lyles was just as quick even at 50 pounds heavier.
"It doesn't matter to me if I'm playing inside or out," Lyles said at the combine. "It just matters on the matchup that I have. If it's a small guarding me, then I'll post him up. If it's a big guarding me, I'll face him up."
That could sound like an empty platitude out of the mouth of a different player, but when Lyles says it, it rings true. He knows how to balance his weight and create space in the post. He's comfortable putting the ball on the floor and pulling up from mid-range. Best of all, he seems to have a great head for the game.
There's no metic to fully capture "Basketball IQ," but anyone who watched Lyles at Kentucky last season saw a smart player. He played aggressive without forcing the action. He wasn't afraid to launch an outlet pass to kick-start a fast break. Often times, if felt like he saw the floor two steps ahead of anyone else.
That may seem like a simple cut off the ball, but when it's a 250-pound player with a 6'10 wingspan rolling to the hoop, good luck defending it.
Lyles is going to need to improve as a catch-and-shoot shooter from three-point range (he shot 14 percent on 29 attempts). He's going to need to prove his feet are quick enough to defend smaller players and switch in the pick-and-roll. But for a player who might be available into the teens, Trey Lyles has the look of a lottery ticket.
If he racked up big stats somewhere else or returned for his sophomore season to be the man, it's possible we're looking at a top-five pick. Instead, Lyles did what he always does: adapt to what his team needed and help them win games. If he hasn't seen the validation he deserves yet, you can bet it's coming soon.
Video courtesy of DraftExpress.