When Portland Trail Blazers forward Jake Layman scored 28 points against the Phoenix Suns in preseason action last week, it was a nice story for a former second-round pick that has largely struggled after his historic garbage-time debut several years ago. Preseason rarely matters, and fringe players have similar scoring outbursts all the time; but I paid a little more attention to Layman in that game - for a reason that Blazers fans hope doesn’t linger into the regular season.
After being announced as probable to make his preseason debut, Moe Harkless was a late scratch due to his troublesome left knee - the knee that he had surgery on last March. At the time of the injury - and subsequent surgery - it was considered a minor issue. But on Media Day last month, Harkless surprised those of us in attendance by stating that he still hadn’t been cleared for 5-on-5 activities.
After several false starts, Harkless ultimately ended up not playing in the preseason, getting scratched on game day several times. It’s clear that both he and the team wanted to get him some game action, but he just couldn’t go. Terry Stotts already said that Harkless would be the starter upon his return. But when exactly will that be?
Enter Jake Layman. While, Evan Turner would have slid in to the starting role in previous years, It’s clear that the Blazers are focused on maximizing Turner’s strengths and minimizing his weaknesses by having him run the reserve unit. Look at the acquisitions of Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas. Look at Meyers Leonard’s court time. All of that has to do with fitting next to Turner.
The other option would be sliding Al-Farouq Aminu over to small forward and starting Zach Collins at the four. Not a bad idea, and I like Aminu at the three, except Collins and Nurkic haven’t exactly looked great on the court together, especially this preseason.
If Harkless is still dealing with his balky knee this Thursday when LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers come to the Moda Center, there’s a chance that Layman is going to be the starter in what’s likely to be one of the most watched October games in league history. No pressure, right?
To his credit, Layman has been working hard. He played very well in Summer League. He’s focused on his defense. He’s squaring up at the basket much better when he shoots from the outside. I’m not sure he’s a true diamond-in-the-rough, double-digit scoring guy, but he’s showing that he’s earned a few more minutes...even if due to injury.
Hopefully, Harkless’ knee recovers in short order. With their reliance on guys like Collins and Turner to thrive in very specific roles, the Blazers are already trying to thread a small enough needle this season. Losing a versatile starter who’s out to prove something this year isn’t going to help that cause.
But players don’t get to choose how opportunity presents itself. They just need to be ready when their number is called. Let’s see how ready Jake Layman is.