Jake Layman is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves after signing with them in a free agent sign-and-trade deal Wednesday night. He joins a young, developing team that finished 11th in the Western Conference with a 36-46 record last season and has made the playoffs just once in the past 15 seasons.
That’s a big change for Layman, who in his first three years with the Portland Trail Blazers made the playoffs each season, including the Western Conference Finals in 2018-19.
In Portland, he didn’t get much of a chance to establish himself with the star talent of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic around him. Nonetheless, Layman is coming off his best NBA season, and now he’ll look to continue his upward trajectory in Minnesota.
Portland, thank you for the support over these last three years. Thank you to my coaches, teammates and front office for giving me a shot and believing in me. Minnesota, I can’t wait to start this next chapter. I’ll give everything I’ve got.— Jake Layman (@JLayman10) July 4, 2019
Through his first two seasons with the Blazers, Layman only averaged 5.9 minutes per game, producing 1.6 points and 0.6 rebounds with a player efficiency rating of 4.8. With his minutes increased to 18.7 per game last season, he averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent on field goals with a 13.5 efficiency rating. He also had 22 games with at least 10 points and nine games with over 15 points.
Layman showed a lot of potential in January and February, finding more of a role with 23.7 minutes per game. He averaged 11.6 points and 4.2 rebounds during that time, shooting 56.95 percent from the floor and 38.7 percent on three-pointers. He dominated against Miami on Feb. 6, scoring 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the floor and a 2-for-5 mark on three-pointers, while also grabbing eight rebounds.
Layman’s athleticism allows him to run the floor and rock the rim on fast breaks, and he’s also able to be a deadly shooter from beyond the arc when he finds his rhythm. “Once he gets going, he's our secret weapon,” former Blazer Evan Turner said after a game in February. Against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 18, he had 20 points with four three-pointers in just the second quarter.
Even during that hot streak, though, Layman didn’t take a lot of shots. He averaged 8.2 shots per game, with 3.2 shots from behind the arc, in January and February. He was able to do well with limited chances and should be able to thrive with more on the Timberwolves.
While he’s unlikely to start in Minnesota, Layman will have more of a shot at minutes than he did in Portland. The team is incredibly young, featuring Karl-Anthony Towns (23 years old), Andrew Wiggins (24), Tyus Jones (23), first-round draft pick Jarrett Culver (20) and now Layman (25). Another 25-year-old, Jordan Bell, also signed with the team in free agency.
Even with his limited chances, Layman has shown that he has a reliable shot, which is something Minnesota lacked at times last season. In 2018-19, the Wolves shot 45.6 percent from the field, 17th in the league; Layman’s 50.7 percent clip was better than all but two players on the Timberwolves current roster.
Some Timberwolves beat writers have drawn comparisons between the build and play style of Layman and Wiggins, with the difference being that Wiggins has had more opportunities to take shots. Wiggins, who shot 41.2 percent on field goals with 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season, won’t be coming out of the rotation anytime soon, but there are other spots Layman can take over.
One player he’ll be up against for minutes is Robert Covington. Both are 6’9 forwards, but Covington, 28, had more opportunity on a less successful team. He averaged 34.4 minutes last season, producing 13.3 points and 4.4 rebounds on 43.1 percent shooting from the floor and 37.8 percent behind the arc. While Layman makes a case for the better scorer when given the chance, Covington is stronger defensively, averaging 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks last season.
He’ll also be competing for minutes with 6’9 forward Bell, who was also a second-round pick and played his first years in the league on a stacked team without many chances. Through two seasons with the Warriors, he averaged 3.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game.
Layman has never been a high-volume shooter; even in his senior season at Maryland, he was fifth on the team in field goals attempted. But playing in Minnesota should give him more consistent opportunities to produce, and if he can expand on other areas of his game, he’ll be a valued commodity. And with more of an opening, it’s time for Layman to be more confident in his shot and become more aggressive in creating opportunities for himself to score.