As they say in Hollywood one of the worst things that can happen to an actor or actress early on is to be “type-cast”.
Okay maybe not exactly in those words, but you get the point. No one wants to be tattooed with a particular style or single-minded perception of their capabilities early on that, in most cases, ends up having a somewhat limited effect on their opportunities throughout their entire career.
Well the same thing could be said for those unique and talented individuals in the Sporting World.
Whether a player in sports is evaluated on the merits of their play at a fairly young age or not, the industry has a rather rude way of categorizing their skills and moving on before allowing said athlete to grow and develop.
More specifically, and sticking with our topic here, we are speaking of NBA hopefuls who have had the unfortunate experience of missing out on employment with a professional club via the Draft.
Many of these players have been, dare we say, “type-cast” right out of their prospective collegiate programs and are forced to use an outlet like the D-League to alter those premature perceptions.
Insert Leo Lyons into this interesting fold.
Lyons is a 6-foot 9-inch, 240-pound combo-forward out of Missouri.
Last season he suited up in 34 total games as a member of the Austin Toros, D-League affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs Organization.
Lyons is what many would consider to be a player who has been somewhat “type-cast” in NBA scouting circles.
A tweener. A combo-forward. A guy who at 6-9 with a remarkably feathery outside touch is not physical enough to bang with NBA power forwards and not quick enough to defend 3’s or small forwards in the league.
Then again, maybe Leo has only himself to blame for that.
As skilled a big man as he is most of his damage has come from the perimeter.
Case-and-point; Lyons took a total of 360 shots last season with the Toros; however 1/3 of those attempts came from three.
Even more, according to Synergy Sports Technology Lyons’ spot up opportunities constituted for 28.3% of his offense.
If you argue that he was a 39.2% three-point shooter on the year you wouldn’t be wrong, however we are speaking of a power forward here.
But this here little post is not all gloom and doom in Lyons case.
As much as he relies on his outside shooting abilities one can’t understate the fact that he indeed knows his strengths at this point in his young career.
Lyons is very much a stretch-four in the D-League. A frontcourt player who opens up lanes for his teammates with his ability to knock down long distance jumpers.
But in order for Lyons to take his game to the next level, does he need to do more than just stretch defenses?
The Kansas City, Kansas native did almost lead the Toros in scoring last year coming in a close second to, now, Houston Rockets’ big man Marcus Cousin.
Putting in a respectable 14.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game on 48.1% shooting from the field in just under 30 minutes of action per night, Lyons was definitely a bright spot in an otherwise subpar season for the 22-28 Central Texas-based Austin Toros.
One impressive stretch during the 2010-11 D-League season came towards the end of February where he took home Player of the Week honors tallying 31.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while leading Austin to a 2-1 record.
During that week he basically proved he could be handful matching up against varying types of defenders.
His ability to shoot the three-ball allowing him to shot-fake and take his man off the dribble, his long strides helping him get out in transition and get to the free throw line, which, if given minutes he has shown a tremendous propensity for by creating contact.
However, after all that being said his 2010-11 season numbers with the Toros ended up being eerily similar to those compiled in his last season of college with the Tigers where the versatile forward averaged 14.6 points and 6.1 rebounds on 49.3% shooting in just 23 minutes of action.
Ultimately meaning that the big man shows promise even flashes of dominance, however he never, or at least hasn’t shown to this point that he can be a consistent court leader for his team.
And that is Leo Lyons great challenge this upcoming D-League season.
Yes, we all know there is a lockout in the NBA, but by all accounts the D-League season will go on.
And for Lyons this seemingly depressing time in terms of NBA opportunities should be looked at as a unique chance to take his game to another level.
With Cousin and former teammate Kevin Palmer having moved on and, for the most part, the threat of big name NBA rookies not being sent down to Austin; Lyons is by default the go-to-guy for the team.
Ironically this season could be the year that makes or breaks Lyons in terms of his NBA chances moving forward.
What type of player are prospective NBA clubs getting? How does he separate himself from the fold? How does he alter perception that he is a tweener or finesse power forward?
Lyons perimeter game is a true benefit, but if overused it could be viewed as a detriment to his prospects in the World’s most widely recognized Basketball league.
So what can he do to change things up a bit while still holding true to his strengths as a basketball player?
For one, Lyons can utilize his ability to create shots and get to the free throw line in post up and isolation situations more.
Granted it will be somewhat up to how the Toros’ coaching staff decides to use him next season, however his improvement and development in these two offensive play types could go a long way in giving that staff confidence in going to him in those spots.
To give you a rough idea of his potential effectiveness in isolation and post up opportunities, a season ago he got to the free throw line 26.4% of the time when isolating his man and almost 21% of the time when he posted up on the block.
To put those numbers in perspective, NBA champion Dirk Nowitzki, a player who has completely changed the dynamic of his offensive game over the years from a perimeter-oriented finesse power forward to a much more physical high-post forward, was awarded free throws 11.2% of the time when isolated against a defender and on 16.5% of his post up opportunities during the 2010-11 season.
And there’s no point in telling you just how effective Nowitzki’s season turned out for him.
The major difference here, without the obvious contrast in league play, is that Dirk used the block as his primary source of offense a season ago.
In fact Nowitzki posted up 27% of the time while Lyons only used post up opportunities as 9.6% of his offense.
Dirk finally understood after years and years of getting torched by the media and, subsequently, tougher players; that with an outside touch like that what point does it make to waste attempts 23-plus feet away from the basket when you could get much easier attempts closer in all the while putting the opposition in foul trouble and simultaneously getting yourself to the charity stripe to get free points for your team.
Sounds logical doesn’t it?
Now in no way are we comparing Lyons to Dirk Nowitzki at this point, however in terms of game styles early on in their careers there are some glaring and unavoidable similarities.
Dirk never really a pick and roll guy coming into the league, not really an isolation guy either as the numbers show us, but a tremendous shooter with length and the ability to put the ball on the deck and score if need be – most of his points early on in his career coming from within the offense.
Lyons with the Toros last season was equally not a guy who was utilized often in the pick and roll game (7.2% of his offense), he isolated his man from the top of the key with relative success but only 12.3% of the time, yet got most of his points spotting up within the offense (28.3%) or out on the break in transition (15.5%).
Last season Lyons was the benefactor of point guard Carldell Johnson‘s penetration and center Marcus Cousin’ post play, so for Lyons to take his game to another level he will have to tweak where he manufacturers points.
His ability to get his own shot at the top of the key or at the free throw line extended elbow area will help him greatly in this cause.
Once Lyon faces a defender he is armed with the greatest attribute a player can have – respect. Defenders understand and respect his ability to hit that mid or long range jumper with ease, so it will be up to him to not sell out on the shot but to use it more wisely to his benefit.
Another strength the versatile forward displays as mentioned above is his propensity to create fouls. He clearly out-ranked some of the top scoring forwards from the D-League a season ago in this department.
Ivan Johnson of the Erie Bayhawks led all forwards in scoring at 22.6 points per game last year and for a player who, unlike Lyons, doesn’t jack up too many three-point shots, even he was awarded free throws just 12.1% of the time in isolation situations and 17% of the time in the post.
Solid numbers yes, but nowhere near Lyons output who, once again, was awarded free throws 26.4% of the time when isolating his man and 20.9% when posting up.
Meaning that he puts teams in the penalty and gets free ones at the line while helping keep opponents out of transition by stopping the clock.
The underlying problem however ties us back into bringing up Dirk Nowitzki earlier in this piece; Lyons simply does not or is not utilized in iso or post up sets enough for his team to truly see the benefit.
Lyons needs a more balanced offensive attack to show his versatility and flourish this season and it starts with a mindset to cover all bases and become a more complete basketball player.
Everyone knows he can shoot, but he has to become more adept at picking and mixing up his spots on the court to get his shot. He has to rebound the ball better and he has to lead a team who is constantly changing and somewhat decimated by the high turnover rate that embodies the general nature of the D-League.
Without question the 2011-12 campaign could be a make-or-break season for the 24-year old combo-forward.
He is armed with the talent, the size, the skill, the backing of a tremendous organization, and most importantly this season, the opportunity in Austin to successfully alter perception…to do away with the annoying type-cast or asterisk that may unfairly precede a player of his skill and caliber’s name.
No Cousin. No Palmer. No Green. Whether that is no problem for one Leo Lyons remains to be seen.
But the Toros’ organization is hoping and surely confident that they’ll get his best.
Don’t think for a second that the NBA won’t be watching regardless if the league is locked out for the entirety of the 2011-12 season or not.
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© 2011 Jarrod Gillis — All Rights Reserved