The first time I heard of Jake Layman was in the spring of 2012 before he signed with the University of Maryland. Layman became one of my favorite players to ever put on a Terrapin uniform. Sometimes he was the best player on the court and other times he drove me crazy. One thing that stuck out with me is no matter if his shot was falling or not is that he always tried. I can’t recall a single game he played for Maryland (and I watch all that I can) that he did not out hustle nearly everyone out there on that court.
I thought Layman would leave to go pro every year and I think he might have made it in some form or another because of that hustle and because of that drive that he possesses. He definitely would not be the player he is today because he would not have gotten the minutes he needed to develop as an NBA player. Instead, I could have seen him relegated to being a 12th man that came in and hustled, gotten a few buckets, and developed into a beloved bench player like a Steve Scheffler. In a few years time, we might have seen him out selling insurance or coaching basketball back home in Massachusettes.
Here we are three years into Layman’s NBA career and we are starting to see the player that he can be. And it is only a glimpse.
Through his first two seasons, I wanted Layman to get minutes because I knew what he could do for the Blazers. Watching him as a rookie there were painful moments when I thought the game was too fast for him. He forced shots and passes a lot of the time, missed a lot and I do mean a lot of his defensive rotations. It’s why he only played in 35 games in each of his first two seasons and spent some time down in the G-Leauge.
Maybe Layman wasn’t an NBA player after all. He couldn’t stick in rotations, never logged meaningful minutes even when injuries piled up at the small forward position Terry Stotts looked right past Layman on the bench to literally anyone else. As the 2018 season came to a close I began to wonder if Layman had a future in the NBA. He only logged seven minutes in the blowout losses to the Pelicans in the playoffs.
Layman had one more chance to prove he was an NBA player as he entered the final year of his rookie deal with the Blazers. As Summer League drew near Layman said he needed to “amp it up a little bit.”
And that he did.
I had a little vested interest in this. Layman and I share the same alma mater and I spent a lot of time bragging to those that would listen that Layman would be a good pro in the league.
In Vegas, there was a swagger in Layman’s game that had been missing in his first two seasons. His head was up, he was talking on defense, calling for the ball, cutting to the basket like Russell Westbrook and dunking like Giannis. You could tell something was different in his game and it was only three months between games for him. Through camp, Layman carried over those summer feelings and won the starting job for small forward in the stead of injured Maurice Harkless.
That only lasted the first 19 games of the seasons and then Harkless returned from injury and Layman, averaging a paltry five and one, fell out of the lineup altogether. He was inactive for the 20th game of the season and did not come off the bench in the next four. Maybe the G-League was a better fit or a trip over to Europe if he wanted to continue to ball. It wasn’t going to happen with the Blazers. Maybe another NBA team would take a flyer on him and he’d occupy the end of the bench for another team.
On December 6th Layman got into the game again, finally. In a blow out win against the Suns, he scored a career-high 24 points! Okay, I thought to myself. Maybe there is a little fire left in the tank. Then he scored only eight points over the next three games, but his defense stood out to me in those three games. He notched a defensive rating of 105 during that stretch. He isn’t a great defender by any means, but he brings a lot of energy to that side of the ball. He will defend all five positions on the floor and he grinds. Somehow he stays in front of quick-footed point guards and if he gets blown by shows off his deceptive quickness by altering shots on the chase down. It looks like he has fun when he has to bang with the trees in the low post.
And I think that is the thing. Since December 6th, Jake Layman looks like he is having fun playing basketball for the first time in his whole NBA career.
The fanboy in me says that Layman needs to be considered for the sixth man of the year despite his eight points a game and a third of a dozen rebounds. He brings an energy off the bench that sustains the Blazers after Dame and CJ take their breaks. Layman can score when needed, but with the addition of Enes Kanter and the hot shooting of Seth Curry, they don’t need him to.
They just need him to create havoc on defense, force some turnovers, drop a couple of dunks, and hit a couple threes. Layman was never a great three-point shooter, even at Maryland, but he’s starting to show that stroke this year dropping in 37% of his attempts.
I do hope that the others out there are appreciating Jake Layman for the basketball player that he is. He’s hustle, he’s havoc, and he’s a gorgeous smile when he’s out there playing well. The Blazers are going to have a big decision to make on Layman this coming offseason, but that is a July problem. Layman is going to be an April and May problem for a few teams in the playoffs.
In 2019, Jake Layman is exactly what the Portland Trail Blazers needed.