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Jake Layman Getting Chance in Stauskas’ Place

With Nik Stauskas struggling, Terry Stotts has turned to Layman to provide wing bench scoring.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers forward Jake Layman has gone from starter, to forgotten man, to somewhere in the middle this season, and we’re not even at the halfway point. As of this week, he is once again getting an opportunity to play meaningful minutes for the Blazers.

With Nik Stauskas in a major funk over the last three weeks, Terry Stotts finally pulled the plug - at least for now - and inserted Layman in the rotation for Stauskas this weekend. It wasn’t an altogether surprising move; the bench has been electric at times this season, but for the most part they have played terribly inconsistently as a group.

Stauskas, in particular, has fallen off in a major way. After reaching double figures in scoring in five of Portland’s first eight games, Nik has only reached double digits twice since November first. With a bench unit that is designed specifically to provide shooting around Evan Turner, that’s not going to get it done.

Stotts has already turned to Layman once this season. With Maurice Harkless dealing with a problematic left knee, Layman started at small forward for the opening 19 games of the season. While he didn’t set the league on fire, Jake showed more than he had for any significant stretch of time during his first two seasons with the Blazers; averaging 5 points per game and shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

When Harkless was ready to return to the starting lineup, Layman fell out of the rotation completely before returning with a vengeance against the Phoenix Suns on December 6. Jake had 24 points and seven rebounds. From that point, Layman has gotten a handful of minutes here and there, but nothing too meaningful.

But with Stauskas scoring fewer than four points per game on sub-37 percent shooting since December 17th, Stotts once again is giving Jake an opportunity, and the early returns are promising. On Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Layman scored 11 points on five of seven shooting. Against the Houston Rockets, Layman scored nine more points.

He does it in a similar manner to Stauskas. Both players are fairly two-note - either shoot the 3-pointer or slash to the rim - but because of that, there isn’t much variance in the way that the bench unit as a whole runs with either guy in there. Sure, Layman plays a hair more above the rim, and Stauskas is more likely to make a flashy pass on the drive, but for the most part, their play-styles complement what Turner and the rest of the crew are trying to do.

It remains to be seen whether this change is long term or not. When guys are struggling, a game or two off can help them clear their head. And on the flipside, getting a player who is practicing well some game minutes can help prevent frustration from boiling over. The most likely scenario is the same that we’ve seen with Meyers Leonard, Caleb Swanigan, and even Layman once already this season; playing well in one game earns you another. Play well enough for long enough, and the spot is yours (Leonard). Struggle, and it’s back to the bench (Swanigan).

I’m certainly rooting for Stauskas to get his shooting touch back, but part of me is really pulling for Layman. Outside of about 25 total minutes of game action, he didn’t look like an NBA player in his first two seasons. The typical rave reviews came in during Summer League and training camp, but I wasn’t expecting anything from Layman in terms of production. While he still has obvious flaws in his game, the improvement is noticeable.

A coach’s job is never easy. There are a lot of difficult choices that have to be made on a daily basis. Ideally, Layman can continue to make this an easy decision for Stotts, at least until Stauskas can hopefully get it going again. With a theoretically easier schedule the rest of the way, more wins are there for the taking. But the bench needs to do their part.