Almost immediately after Jake Layman went for 17 points in eight minutes during his NBA debut against the Golden State Warriors on November 1, Trail Blazers fans often wondered aloud why the 6-9 forward out of Maryland wasn’t seeing more playing time. That question mostly answered itself as his rookie season went on, though the potential Layman showed in his first NBA action, even during garbage time of a blowout loss, has not been forgotten by fans in Rip City.
Nor has Layman forgotten, which is why he’s spent almost the entirety of the offseason so far working out daily at the Trail Blazers practice facility in Tualatin. He took some time off in May to return home to Massachusetts, but other than that, he’s spent the majority of his time working out with teammates and coaches in an effort to get ready for summer league and training camp.
“It’s just so much different from last year because I know what to expect now,” said Layman, who averaged 8.0 points on 35 percent shooting, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals in five summer league games last year. “I know the environment at summer league and last year I was going in not knowing at all what to expect. I feel a lot more comfortable this year, for sure.”
One would hope that increased comfort would result in better results for Layman after appearing in 35 games last season, though the 500 shots per day he’s been getting up this offseason might have something to do with any kind of improvement we see at summer league. Being able to knock down the three-point shot consistently is the best ways to get playing time under Terry Stotts, so spending a significant amount of time honing that skill is a wise investment for Layman.
“For me, it’s being a consistent shooter,” said Layman regarding his main focus during offseason workouts. “I think, on this team, being able to make threes is huge obviously with guys like Dame (Lillard) and CJ (McCollum).”
Layman has also been working on his handle, with the goal being more comfortable with putting the ball on the floor after getting the rebound rather than looking to pass it off to a guard. The Trail Blazers have been short on ball handlers outside of Lillard and McCollum — it was one of the main reasons Portland signed Evan Turner as a free agent last offseason — so any strides Layman could make in terms of his willingness to bring the ball up the court would improve his chances of securing playing time next season.
“I think it’s good, especially for guys in summer league, just to get a feel of that pace of play,” said assistant coach Jim Moran. “Guys like Jake, a lot of times they’re sprinting to the corners, spotting up for shots. So Jake’s an athletic, big guy and he’s going to have chances to get down there and get rebounds. So instead of rebounding and trying to wait to find the point guard, a guy like Jake can get it and push it and it kind of speeds up our offense a little bit, doesn’t allow the defense to get back and get set, so it’s kind of another asset to have as a guy that can really push the floor and get guys running with him.”
Much of the interest in regard to Layman seems to revolve around his offense, which makes sense considering the enduring memory of his NBA debut. But between his size and athleticism, Layman has significant potential as a defender, especially if he’s able to guard both forward positions.
“(Layman) is learning to use his length,” said Pat Connaughton, who has been working out with Layman almost daily. “A lot of times when people think about defense and pressuring the ball they think you have to be in a guy chest-to-chest. But one of the advantages (Layman) has and one of the things, myself, that I’ve learned through playing defense on guys like Dame and CJ is use your length to your advantage… It’s a matter of making sure you use angles, use your length and use, in his case, height to put himself in the best position to have success against quicker guys that may be able to get by him or beat him in a foot race.”
If Layman is able to show in Las Vegas that he’s improved his shooting, ball handling and defense, his chances of working is way into the rotation once training camp starts would improve significantly. Of course, playing well at summer league is no guarantee of anything, but when you’re a second-round pick, every little bit helps.
“Me and Pat have been working all summer on different things, whether it’s ball handling, guarding one-on-one, guarding the ball,” said Layman. “I’m hoping to bring all that out in summer league.”