The Portland Trail Blazers have 15 players under contract for the 2018-19 season after Wade Baldwin IV’s contract became guaranteed last month. Unlike last season’s roster, Portland’s current squad is bursting at the seams with perimeter players, but they’re light on big men. Ed Davis, a staple in the Blazers’ post rotation for the past three seasons, will be suiting up for the Brooklyn Nets next year. Given the roster’s current construction, Davis’ role will be filled by a relatively unproven frontcourt player.
Zach Collins will undoubtedly be featured more often this coming season. But beyond the former No. 10 pick, frontcourt depth is shrouded in mystery. Caleb Swanigan and Meyers Leonard are the only two traditional big men outside of Collins set to come off the bench, but a third contender for post minutes could be hiding in the open: Jake Layman. The 2016 second-round pick has all the tools to become a modern “stretch four”, and for the first time in his tenure with Portland—he has a clear path to playing time.
Ideal In Theory, Small Sample Size In Reality
Being a serviceable stretch four comes down to three things: competent outside shooting, rebounding, and defensive versatility. Projecting Layman’s ability to matchup athletically and rebound aren’t huge question marks. His three-point shooting, well, that’s another story.
Layman’s body of work is far too small to garner any meaningful conclusions. In his two years with Portland, the former second-round pick has attempted a meager 136 shots from the field. Further complicating those numbers is the fact that an overwhelming majority of those attempts have come in garbage time. In the absence of NBA production, we are left with Layman’s college and summer league stats as measuring sticks.
In his four years at Maryland, Layman was a 36.2 percent three-point shooter (198-547). Along with his shooting, the 6-foot-9 forward consistently averaged five rebounds or more per game in every season except his freshman year. This may sound overly simple, but the combination of those two stats, along with his natural athletic ability, are good indicators for his potential as a stretch four coming out of college.
Before completely discounting Layman’s college production as the foundation for his future role with the Blazers, you should consider Pat Connaughton’s production from last season. Like Layman, Connaughton barely played outside of mop-up duty in his first two seasons. The former Notre Dame standout filled a meaningful role for the Blazers in 2017-18. In turn, his shooting percentages returned to rates consistent with his college production. While it is a stretch, it is possible that a re-occurring role could return Layman’s numbers to form.
Evaluating Layman’s Las Vegas Summer League data requires the appropriate grains of salt. With caution, we can glean a few bits of information from his summer league performances. Layman saw minutes at both forward positions, and even played a few stretches as Portland’s biggest player on the court. He was assertive, shot the ball with consistency, and guarded multiple positions for the majority of the Blazers’ seven-game run to the summer league title. Even with the obvious caveats in mind, those are all encouraging signs for Layman’s future.
Without Davis, the Blazers will be relying on Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Collins, Swanigan, and Leonard to fill the lion’s share of frontcourt minutes. Due to a lack of mobility and height, Swanigan could use some more seasoning before being counted on as a regular contributor. Leonard has never been able to put everything together during his tenure in Portland, and there is little reason to believe that next season will finally be the year.
A reserve frontcourt pairing of Collins and Layman would struggle defensively against traditional post players, but would provide coach Terry Stotts with a duo capable of freely switching on the perimeter. Offensively, if Layman is efficient from beyond the arc, the Blazers would be able to surround Evan Turner with four players who can reliably stretch the floor.
The Burden Of Proof
Layman has the groundwork in place to blossom into a floor-spacing power forward. It will be up to Portland’s coaching staff whether or not they are comfortable deploying him in that specific role. If the former second-round pick does flourish as a stretch four, it shouldn’t come as a shock. Allen Crabbe, CJ McCollum, and Pat Connaughton all made significant jumps in production after being lightly used in their first two years with the Blazers. Is Layman next in line for a leap?
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com