The Portland Trail Blazers are having a relatively successful regular season, largely behind the performance of the “Big 3” on their roster; Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. the three players are averaging a combined 62 points per game, on 46 shots a night. There’s no doubt that these three players make up the bulk of Portland’s action.
But who is the next-most important player on Portland’s roster this season?
An argument could be made for Al-Farouq Aminu. He’s putting up nine and a half points per game along with eight rebounds while having to guard solid wing opponents night after night. You could even say Enes Kanter, who is averaging nearly 17 and nine off the bench in his two games since joining the team.
Yes, Kanter could end up being the answer by the end of the season, but he has yet to even play 45 minutes with the team. So, to this point, the Blazers’ most valuable non-Big 3 player is Jake Layman.
As odd as it feels, typing that previous sentence, Jake Layman is the most important player on this roster outside of Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic. Since January 1, Layman has averaged 12 points and four rebounds a night on 56 percent shooting, including 37 percent from behind the arc. During that time, the Blazers have gone 14-7, with big-time wins over the Rockets, the Jazz (2X), and the Warriors.
Over the last month, fans have endlessly kicked around the question of whether he or Maurice Harkless should be starting. However, regardless of who starts, Layman has repeatedly been the floor to close games down the stretch. His growth this season has been nothing short of astonishing, considering that, coming into this season, he was a fringe NBA player. Layman’s activity without the ball, accuracy from behind the arc, and hustle on 50/50 plays has made him a fan favorite and critical piece of the Blazers’ hot play over the last six weeks.
Layman’s emergence gives Head Coach Terry Stotts options. If Aminu or Harkless are struggling offensively (which is often the case this season), he finally has someone to go to who will force the action a bit. Both players tend to stick to their designated spots, opting to maintain the flow of the offense. Layman simply moves without the ball until he has a shot. That’s no knock against either of the starting forwards, but that’s exactly what you want out of a sixth/seventh man.
Their are two types of ideal reserves in the NBA; defensive players that won’t allow the game to get out of hand while the starters rest and microwave style players that can shoot you back in to the game in a hurry. Remarkably, Jake Layman has turned himself into the latter this season. With the playoffs looming, and the Blazers’ offensive ineptitude against the Pelicans last season still on everyone’s mind, Layman’s performance becomes doubly important. With Harkless and Aminu unproven in key moments when opponents double Lillard and McCollum, Layman has at least hinted at the ability to take some scoring pressure off of the two star guards when it counts.
Of course, he needs to show up when it really matters, but Jake Layman has shown me enough to say that he’s the real deal. Stotts desperately needed some wing scoring, especially off the bench, and Layman was up to the task and then some. There are only 23 games left in the season, and, if Layman can continue his output, he’ll cement his status and the Blazers’ most important weapon outside of their “Big-3”.