The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2016-17 season was a year defined by high ambitions and unmet expectations. The team saw a regression to the norm after shocking the league just a year prior, but there is plenty of talent on the roster that can help it improve.
Ahead of 2017-18, Oregon Sports News’ Jared Wright and Bryant Knox will be breaking down the strengths, weaknesses and recent showings from each and every Trail Blazers player. Today we look at someone who averaged just 2.2 points in 35 total games last season, yet became a local legend with highlight dunks, a (single) quick scoring burst and, yes, that hair.
Look at those numbers above. No, really look at them. These numbers aren’t underwhelming. They’re not lacking sex appeal. They’re not “meh” or “whatever.”
They’re downright atrocious. And yet, Jake Layman, a then-rookie and owner of those stats, became a fan favorite in Rip City last season.
How did this happen? It all began on Nov. 1 in a contest against the eventual champion Golden State Warriors. Portland was down big. It was late in the fourth quarter and both benches were emptied.
Then, before anyone knew what was happening, it was Layman Time.
Layman came in off the pine and scored 17 points while hitting five of his seven three-point attempts. Yes, it was garbage time, and yes, the Blazers still lost. But here’s the catch: The Maryland product, in his first NBA game, compiled those numbers in just eight minutes of action.
Although it goes without saying that the initial success proved unsustainable, it set the tone for his fandom. In that contest, he became the second player in league history to debut with five threes, per Trail Blazers PR. He also gave hope to the Stumptown faithful that there was a hidden gem toward the end of their bench.
While Layman went on to provide the occasional highlight (see: nasty dunk vs. Clippers), he never found consistency beyond his shocking debut. Despite his brilliant shooting performance against the Warriors, there was nothing efficient about his year-long showing.
The good news is that although he couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle twice, he showed potential. That, along with those a sweet shooting stroke and even sweeter golden locks, was enough to earn him cult hero status entering his second season.
What He Brings To The Table
At 6’9”, 210 pounds, Layman can play as either a big small forward or a lanky, floor-stretching 4. Last season, he played the 3 in 74 percent of his minutes and played the 4 in 26 percent, according to Basketball-Reference.
Part of what makes Layman so versatile is his sneaky athleticism. Although he doesn’t have the strength or lateral movement to defend the league’s elites, he has length, speed and a leaping ability that jumps off the charts.
He also has a nice shooting touch. It didn’t fall at a high rate last year, but unlike a Meyers Leonard, whose shot struggles look like they stem from a slow release, Layman should see an improvement simply with more minutes and fewer DNP-CDs.
What To Expect in 2017-18
The catch in that last statement is that Layman, vying for an opportunity, plays in an incredibly crowded frontcourt. If he’s going to see time at power forward, he’ll have the likes of Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard, Caleb Swanigan, Zach Collins and (occasionally) Mo Harkless in his way. If it’s the 3, it’s Harkless, Aminu and Evan Turner.
For Layman, this season needs to be about small victories. Although he certainly has the skill set to be a mini Swiss army knife, it’s more likely he becomes a specialist at this point in his career.
As far as that specialty goes, three-point shooting has to be the focus. There’s obviously nothing wrong with him improving his defense, rebounding, playmaking, etc., but with guys like Turner, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum all possessing excellent drive-and-dish skills, having a big who can shoot is a massive plus.
Realistically, Layman’s probably a year or two away from looking like a rotation candidate. There’s too much competition at his position and he hasn’t proven he’s reliable on a regular basis.
But if he can ultimately outplay some of the unproven or underachieving frontcourt members behind the scenes, we might get a sneak peek at his progress before the year comes to a close.
Check out the other articles in this series: