Over the last few months, no Maryland basketball player has been dissected and debated quite like senior Jake Layman.
Following Sunday's win over Ohio State, our community once again delved into a similar vein of discussion. Is he playing well? Does he deserve criticism?
From my perspective, the core nature of the debate can be boiled down to this: How can Maryland coach Mark Turgeon maximize the team's potential, and what role should Layman play in that gameplan? Hat tip to bshock, who inspired this post by posing some thoughtful questions and suggestions on how Maryland should capitalize on Layman's abilities.
As a result, I rewatched Sunday's game to see where I thought Turgeon could have adapted to create more scoring opportunities for the senior.
Layman is a walking mismatch. His height and athleticism could allow him to credibly play power forward. His shooting ability, ball skills and quickness means he's a scoring threat on the perimeter as well. Layman can be a nightmare for defenses, too quick for opposing 4s and too big for opposing 3s.
However, taking advantage of that mismatch is not always as simple as it might seem. Let's start with the first obstacle, Maryland's fairly rigid lineup construction. This season, unlike years past, Layman has played almost exclusively small forward. Only on rare occasions does Turgeon break out the small ball lineup with Layman at the 4. Instead, two of the bigs are on the floor at all times.
Dion Wiley's injury diminished the Terps' guard depth, which has in turn affected Turgeon's willingness to play small lineups, which would risk tiring out his limited backcourt options. In my opinion, this domino effect has most adversely affected Layman since he's relegated to being a conventional 3, rather than a stretch 4.
As a result, Layman has most often been matched against smaller defenders, comfortable guarding him on the perimeter. So why not just post Layman up and use his size advantage? Again, the lineup construction proves to be a hindrance to Jake. With two bigs on the floor, spacing is not ideal for a Layman post-up. Take a look at what happened in Layman's two post-up touches on Sunday:
At this point in the game, Turgeon realized that Layman was the most effective option on offense and designed a mid-post entry with a simple cross-screen. But the lane is far too clogged with Stone and Dodd just outside the paint. Neither is a jump-shooting threat, so help defense reacts much quicker to Layman's move towards the middle. The poor spacing also limits the number of passing options, with Stone and Dodd effectively covered even as Layman draws a second defender.
Though Layman drew a foul, this play highlighted the limitations of trying to post up a 3 without the benefit of a jump-shooting 4. I will acknowledge that this play might have worked better if Carter was in the lineup at the time, but this play design fits a small ball lineup best, in my opinion.
(Sidenote: This is where criticism about "standing in the corner" falls flat with me, personally. This play would benefit immensely with someone standing in the near corner, granted it's a teammate who can actually shoot jumpers. Imagine this same play with Nickens in for Dodd, and Nickens occupying that corner. The help defense is further away, allowing for much cleaner shot attempt. Layman "standing in the corner" helps the post touches of Stone and Carter. I can understand being frustrated that Layman should have more variety of opportunities than just a 3-and-D floor spacer, but "standing in the corner" isn't inherently bad. It's actually quite useful for a lot of what Turgeon runs on offense.)
Here was the other post-up that Turgeon designed for Layman in the second half. Again, the lack of spacing kills the opportunity, even with fantastic position off the backscreen from Trimble. Notice how Dodd's defender can completely turn his back on his primary assignment to help against Layman. Feeling the crunch, Layman launches a desperate fadeaway with little hope of falling.
In my opinion, this play design is much closer to a real solution than the mid-post isolation. However, the margin for error is very small. With less space to work with, timing has to be perfect. If Layman receives the ball on the low block, he has to be able to shoot immediately. Otherwise, help defense will converge too quickly with the bigs roaming much closer than if he was surrounded by shooters. I think Layman is aware of this, hence the forced shot.
For comparison, here is how much space Robert Carter Jr. has to work with:
Watch how Melo Trimble's defender bounces back in forth, threatening to double but also afraid to leave Melo alone for a triple. And also notice the positioning of Layman's defender after he clears out following the post entry. Layman's defender is a full step outside the lane, respecting the potential jumper. It's again why "standing in the corner" is useful, particularly when the offense is focusing on post touches for Carter and Stone.
So considering the spacing limitations of Maryland's big lineups, if the Terps want to post up Layman, the plays need to be designed as quick hitters. The play design must create a situation where Layman catches and goes up immediately before help defense arrives. The following play is one that Turgeon has used about once per game this season, though I did not see Maryland run it against Ohio State:
First, Layman curls around Carter on the far block to generally clog the lane. This allows Carter to flash to the high post, where he receives the wing entry. This creates the first option, which is for Carter to score if he sees an advantage.
Layman, meanwhile, sets a cross-screen for Dodd and then seals off his own defender with amazing low position. Depending on the defense's reaction, Carter could lob to Dodd or Layman, though the Terps have always run this set with the intent of feeding Layman. With his defender on his back, Layman immediately goes up for a relatively easy layup.
If Layman is having a great game (like he was on Sunday), this is a great play to exploit that mismatch. I didn't see the Terps run this set, and I'd love to hear from Turgeon why he uses it so infrequently.
There was another option from rewatching Sunday's game that stood out to me. Again, credit to bshock for suggesting this in the comment thread, but Maryland did not give Layman any chances to curl off screens near the elbows.
This could be very easily integrated into the Terps' standard motion offense. In fact, Maryland did run several plays that fit the bill, but they were designed for Rasheed Sulaimon instead. Here's an example:
I counted at least three touches for Sulaimon curling around an off-ball screen, and then immediately receiving a pass as he cut towards the middle. By my count, Layman did not have a single touch created from a similar curl.
The effectiveness of this particular play stems from the combination of great position and downhill momentum. Not only does Sulaimon receive the ball near the elbow, he also has a running start towards the hoop. Layman received some touches after receiving off-ball screens, but they were always outside the arc and with no forward momentum to start a driving attack.
In my opinion, this was the real missed opportunity in the gameplan, and it has such a simple fix. Once it was evident that Layman was having a great deal of success, the coaching staff could have flipped positions between Layman and Sulaimon in this set. It exploits the potential mismatch with an inside curl for Layman, leading to a mid-range jumper or attack off the bounce. It also puts Sulaimon in a better position as a knockdown 3-point shooter on the near wing.