The first day of the Portland Trail Blazers 2016 training camp began at the practice facility in Tualatin on Tuesday morning. All who were able to take part brought a certain degree of vigor, though several players sat with minor injuries. As expected, Festus Ezeli (knee) and Noah Vonleh (thigh) did not participate, while Meyers Leonard (shoulder) returned to 3-on-3 action with the blessing of Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Ed Davis and rookie Jake Layman sat for the majority of the drills after sustaining undisclosed injuries. Head coach Terry Stotts declined to comment on the nature the injuries, as is his standard policy.
Despite a shortened first day, Layman was excited to get training camp underway, describing the atmosphere to Blazer’s Edge as intense right out of the gate.
“Nerves set in, for sure,” Layman said. “It was my first training camp, being a rookie. I definitely noticed right from the start of practice how much more intense every single person was, whether it was second year players or the veterans, everyone was going hard on every drill.”
That energy was apparent as practice wound down with some intra-team 3-on-3, where players held nothing back. Mason Plumlee was even sporting a rather large bandage on his forehead from some impact early on. There was plenty of contact, even among the players that were dinged up.
Yet, although players were eager to go full force, Layman noted that the attitude was always constructive and friendly.
“If you make a mistake no one’s getting mad at you or yelling at you. Everyone’s making sure that you know what you did wrong and how to correct it.”
That is the kind of environment the Trail Blazers foster, and the kind that can benefit young players that comprise the bulk of the roster, like Layman. The 22-year-old forward played four years of college ball at the University of Maryland, but will certainly have some adjusting to do, according to head coach Terry Stotts.
“He’s very athletic and he’s got a good shooting stroke.” Stotts asserted. “Again, with most young players, the learning curve defensively is a challenge because of the speed and quickness and strength of all the players. That will be a challenge for him, but from what I saw in summer league and what he was able to do here, he’s a quick learner and he’s a gifted player.”
When Layman is able to resume practicing, his focus will surely be on getting up to speed. In summer league, we saw some incredible athleticism from him that he will have an opportunity to unleash on his teammates.
“That’s the kind of player I am.” Layman said, smiling. “I’m going to go hard. I’m not afraid to try to dunk on somebody. I think that gains respect from guys on the team when you show them that fierce play.”
With any luck, he will be back in rim rocking form tomorrow, though a proper timetable cannot be established until we know more about his injury. Whatever it may be, it was not serious enough to keep him from getting shots up after practice had ended.
Regardless of nerves and the physical setback, Layman is happy to be in Portland and ready to contribute as needed. The Trail Blazers acquired his draft rights from the Orlando Magic back in June, in exchange for $1.2 million and a 2019 second round pick. Their intentional pursuit delighted the rookie.
“I was excited because they traded into the draft for me. Right then and there I had this feeling that this team really wanted me. I’m not just here as an add-on player. This team wanted me.”
As a college senior, Layman averaged 11.6 points per game, shooting 39.6 percent from beyond the arc. The Trail Blazers covet young players that can run the floor and shoot the three, which is exactly what Layman brings to the table, albeit as a late option off the bench, barring injury to players ahead of him in rotation.
Even if Layman spends most of the upcoming season as a spectator, we have seen just how important developing second round picks can be with guys like Allen Crabbe, who the Trail Blazers re-signed on a 4-year, $75 million deal this summer. Layman’s NBA journey starts here. Perhaps we will get to see more from him on Day 2. He is raring to go.