Portland Trail Blazers forward Jake Layman may not be someone fans expect to be a difference maker during the upcoming postseason.
A second-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, he had only two appearances in the starting lineup for Portland during his first two professional seasons. But this season, he has already cracked the starting five 25 times. He has shown flashes where it seems like he permanently belongs in their first unit for their inevitable run in the playoffs.
Most notably, Layman scored 20 points with four three-pointers in just the second quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans on January 18. This was arguably his best game of the season, alongside when he scored 24 points on 10-for-13 (76.9 percent) shooting during a victory over the Phoenix Suns back in December.
Both were remarkable showings of his efficiency and Layman playing well within his role.
“He is a good shooter,” said Trail Blazers wing Evan Turner after Portland defeated the Nets in Brooklyn on February 22. “Once he gets going, Jake is definitely our secret weapon.”
Opponents have to guard him on the perimeter considering that his 37.1 shooting percentage from downtown is better than league average. When his defenders are guarding him, they must account for him connecting from long range.
According to Synergy, Layman currently ranks in the 91st percentile on jump shots coming off the dribble and the 100th percentile on handoffs — like the one shown below.
Overall, the 6-foot-9 forward is currently averaging 1.16 points per possession for Portland this season, per Synergy Sports Tech. Among all players who have finished at least 300 possessions, only eight have been more effective than Layman.
“When you first get into the league, people will let you beat them,” explained Turner. “But now, if you let Jake get hot, that could be another 20 points. You are trying to figure out if he is going to miss and he doesn’t miss very often. You really have to put him on the scouting report.”
Portland is outscoring opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions during the 402 minutes Layman has appeared on the court with Damian Lillard as well as CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic.
Layman told HoopsHype he is willing to set screens and constantly move without the ball for his backcourt tandem, creating opportunities for himself when defenders are playing tight on Lillard and McCollum.
“I was always comfortable moving without the ball,” said Layman. “Now it’s all just coming together.”
But what makes Layman so special is his prolific ability to finish near the basket. Heis averaging 1.47 points per possession on his cutters, which now ranks as the fourth-best (minimum: 60 attempts) in the NBA this season. If he is being guarded on the perimeter, he can blow by an opponent to the lane for an easy bucket.
“Obviously, he’s always been athletic,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told HoopsHype. “He moves well without the ball. I think his teammates do a good job of finding him. His cutting has been kind of contagious. I think he cuts hard and he is athletic.”
The forward ranks in the 95th percentile on attempts within four feet of the basket, per Cleaning the Glass. He’s shooting 89-for-116 (76.7 percent) on his shots in the restricted area. Only two NBA players have been more accurate than Layman in this zone.
Layman is 73-of-99 (73.7 percent) on his looks around the rim that were not post-ups, according to Synergy. That ranks as the second-best (minimum: 55 attempts) among all players as well. Many of those looks were layups, where he is 42-of-62 (67.7 percent) this season. That ranks third-best when looking at those with as many attempts.
“He’s getting the opportunity,” said Brooklyn Nets big man Ed Davis, who was his teammate in Portland for Layman’s first two seasons. “Everyone over there knows that he can play. He’s an aggressive scorer. It’s just more of him finally getting those system minutes.”
Brooklyn wing Allen Crabbe also played alongside Layman when the third-year forward was a rookie in Portland. He described his former teammate as a hard worker who was always a positive presence in the locker room.
Davis and Crabbe agree that Layman deserves the increased role he has this season. Both also realize that the forward has been crucial for their success in the Western Conference.
Assuming the Blazers continue their winning ways, Layman could be set for an even more important task in the postseason. Turner told HoopsHype that defenders will have to take the forward more seriously as a scoring threat. But that is hardly a concern for Layman, who led his college to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years back in 2015.
“I’m going to keep the same mindset,” said Layman. “Just got to always be aggressive.”