With the 24th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Tyler Lydon’s life changed forever. A kid’s dream of making the NBA was now all but official, as Lydon was selected by the Utah Jazz and sent to the Denver Nuggets in a draft night trade. With his rookie contract signed and summer league already in the books, wondering how his rookie year will turn out is the next question on the minds of Lydon fans.
Lydon holds one of 15 guaranteed contracts on Denver’s payroll, meaning, well, not much. With his contract valued at just over $3.45 million guaranteed for two seasons, Lydon owns the second-smallest contract on the Nuggets’ payroll. So, there is no financial incentive to give Lydon playing time.
Denver finished ninth in the Western Conference last season with a 40-42 record, missing the playoffs by a single game and extending their postseason drought to four seasons. The Nuggets’ offseason moves suggest they are looking to return to the postseason immediately.
The biggest of those moves was signing free agent forward Paul Millsap to a three-year, $90-million contract. An NBA All-Star in each of the last four seasons, Millsap will likely get the lion’s share of minutes at power forward. Rising star Nikola Jokic is entrenched at center and veterans Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried will also eat up frontcourt minutes.
It’s not just the veterans who will impede Lydon’s path to playing time. Two other young forwards, last year’s first-round pick Juan Hernangomez and the recently acquired Trey Lyles, are also in the mix for playing time. Hernangomez saw action in 62 games for Denver last season and Lyles also came over from Utah in the trade that officially brought in Lydon.
Lyles has two years and over 2,500 minutes already under his belt in his NBA career. Hernangomez finished second for Nuggets’ summer league team in both minutes and points per game and led the team in rebounds and steals, all while wearing goggles that bothered him after getting Lasik surgery.
The short version of all that is Lydon seems to be at least seventh in line for frontcourt minutes for the Nuggets this coming season.
That does not mean all is lost for Lydon. The Nuggets summer league team did give him the third-most minutes on its roster. A portion of Lydon’s poor statistical output in summer league can also be attributed to the lower level of play in that league.
Lots of players in that league are looking to show someone (anyone) something (anything) in hopes of getting a contract or training camp invite, whether in the NBA or a foreign league. As a result of some players looking out for themselves, the play can often be complimented as “ragged”.
It also cannot be overlooked that the team invested a first-round pick in him, even with several established and promising frontcourt players already on the roster (they had Danilo Gallinari on their roster prior to the draft, eventually sending him out on a sign-and-trade deal to open up cap space to bring in Millsap).
Now, with Lydon being that low on the depth chart, it is very likely that he will spend a significant amount of time in the NBA G League. (Yes, it’s what you knew previously as the “D-League”. Don’t blame me, blame the corporate sponsor who got the league renamed in exchange for a large check.)
Denver does not have an exclusive G League affiliate, meaning that, if he was sent down, Lydon would end up playing for a different parent franchise, with different offensive and defensive systems, and so on. Who knows how that will affect his development.
The key word there, though, is “development”. Lydon will be given an opportunity to grow with playing time. Even the G League is a higher level of basketball than what Lydon has played at before.
Denver has invested a significant amount in Lydon. It is in their best interest to give him every opportunity to grow.