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Does Jake Layman Deserve More Minutes?

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The only surprise about today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question is that it’s taken us this long to get to it.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag, your home for Portland Trail Blazers questions! If you’ve got a hot topic, be sure to fire it off to blazersub@gmail.com just like Darren did.

Dave,

I see it. You see it. My blind grandmother in the back row of Moda sees it. Jake Layman’s Whoa Quotient is through the roof. Answer me this before I burst. Why isn’t Stotts playing him?

Darren

I’ve gotten around 16 variations of this question over the last couple weeks, some more elaborate, bolstered with statistics and comparisons. Yours made it into print over all of them because of the phrase “Whoa Quotient”. I assume Basketball-Reference.com will have a column tracking that rating by Thursday at the latest.

Let’s start with the reasons liking Jake Layman might be a safe bet. We’ll set aside his 52.2% shooting from the field and 41.2% from the arc. (On nearly 5 three-point attempts per game! Holy Cracker Jack sniping, Batman!) He’s only appeared in 5 games. Those percentages are going to fall towards human levels if and when he gets more time. Even so, a couple things recommend him.

You should like Jake Layman because his shot is prettier than your first crush through the misty lens of time. I’ve seen purer shooters but seldom at forward and even more seldom in their first-ever NBA appearances. His posture, release, and orientation to the bucket are solid. Expecting a completely-rounded game out of a non-lottery-pick rookie is futile. The first step down development road is showing a bankable skill. Mr. Layman has one.

You should also like Jake Layman because he appears to have confidence to burn. He’s poised. He moves with purpose. He’s aggressive looking for his shot without being an inveterate gunner. Rookies are notoriously bad at finding the middle ground between “too timid to shoot much” and “completely unaware of anything but their shot”. Layman has opened up a hotel in that space. That alone should earn him a nod of respect.

Even with these positive qualities on display, Coach Stotts may have several good reasons for keeping Layman’s minutes measured. These include:

He’s not willing to risk losing for the sake of development.

Even if Layman turns out to be special, the Blazers would rather see him develop on a team that values wins than a team that hangs on his production. They’re past the point of hoping for the future. They’re trying to advance to the Conference Finals right now, employing a roster that’s exceeding Knicks-level spending. They won’t put those plans on hold—and can’t put those contracts on hold—to wait for Jake. As long as he keeps producing, Coach Stotts will get him minutes. The bulk of those minutes are going to come when missed shots and defensive rotations won’t jeopardize momentum or the game.

Stotts can’t go to Damian Lillard and say, “You scored 35 but we lost because I needed to see Jake play more. Sorry!” He has to honor the people who have already demonstrated that they’re special and hope Layman catches up to them.

He’s not willing to risk Layman’s confidence.

We just cited confidence as one of Layman’s primary assets. It can be lost. A decade and a half after the fact we still remember the Tony LaRussa-Rick Ankiel saga in St. Louis. Put too much of a burden on a player too soon and the positive reinforcement loop critical to early success will evaporate. In this case “burden” could include becoming the focus of well-rested defenses and/or missing shots that otherwise would have been taken by starting guards. Lost confidence is hard to regain. It’s easier to bring along a player slowly, limiting the potential for, and consequences of, failure.

Layman’s main asset is offense and the Blazers are doing pretty well there already.

Let the chorus rise: Portland definitely needs more consistent scoring from their second unit. Layman might provide such. But the Blazers are already scoring 107 points per game, good for 11th in the league. They’re also allowing 111.2 points, 29th in the league. No matter how many scorers they add, the Blazers are going to hit their offensive ceiling soon. You’d need a sump pump to find their heads on defense. Clearly their major growth curve lies on that end of the floor.

Layman may not turn out to be a bad defender. We don’t know yet. But even if he develops well, experience alone will keep him from being as effective a defensive player as he is a scorer right now. He’s going to miss rotations. Opponents will target and test him. The players he’d bump from the rotation all have more experience than he and a couple of them are proven defenders. That makes big minutes for Layman a tougher call.

The Blazers paid a lot for their “veteran” wings. They better not insult them.

Barring a trade, Portland’s looking at fielding their current lineup for a while. They showed confidence in their guards and forwards last summer by signing all of them to multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts. No matter how you sell it in the locker room, pulling one of those players off the floor in favor of Jake Layman would be seen as a vote of no confidence. It’s far too early for that.

It’s not like these guys are Paul Pierce’s age either...grizzled veterans passing the torch to the next generation. Evan Turner is the old man on the team at Age 28 with 6 years of NBA experience. Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard are 24, Moe Harkless 23. The Blazers have to worry about their confidence and rhythm as much as Layman’s. If Jake clearly demonstrates his fitness and beats out some of these guys, nobody will argue. Switching them up in the hopes that he’ll do that risks losing both players if he fails.

Jake Layman is going to get playing time. He’s all but forcing the coaching staff to give him looks. How quickly and often those minutes come is a matter of context and priority as much as individual talent. When he gets his sea legs under him and proves he can hang defensively, Layman’s minutes should become regular. Until then he’ll remain a fan favorite, all the more beloved because his weaknesses aren’t exposed through consistent minutes. Enjoy that while it lasts.

I hope that serves to answer all the other folks who wrote in with variations of this question! Don’t forget to keep sending your thoughts and topics to blazersub@gmail.com!

—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard


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