Jake Layman

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Philadelphia Sixers

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Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers win over the Philadelphia Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – It was a 10am pacific tip-off on Saturday as the Trail Blazers visited the Philadelphia 76ers, but it looked like Portland had already adjusted nicely to the East Coast time change.

Saturday’s game was close throughout the first half, yet the Blazers put up 41 points in the third and cruised to a 130-115 win over the Sixers to improve to 2-0 on their current seven-game road trip and snag their third straight victory overall.   

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 130, Sixers 115 

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers second straight road win:


1.Simmons is gonna need to develop a three-point shot at some point, right?

With Sixers All-Star wing Ben Simmons not being a threat to shoot the three-point ball at all meant Maurice Harkless or whoever had the defensive assignment on Simmons at the time was really able to sag off him. You don’t see that hardly at all in the modern-day NBA. With that though the Blazers were able to help off Simmons more and focus on Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, especially early on.


2. The Layman factor

What a sequence it was for Jake Layman early in the second quarter.

With Evan Turner out for Saturday’s game because of knee sorness, Layman and Rodney Hood saw the floor a little bit more.

Layman showed once again why he has earned a spot in the Blazers’ rotation.

Layman drove to the hoop hard and finished with a driving dunk that seemed to stun the 76ers crowd at the 10:11 mark of the second. He then followed that up two possessions later with a block on Sixers All-Star Jimmy Butler.

The block on Butler is just another play that proves Layman has made a point to improve on the defensive end. So often, the talk is all about Layman’s offense – his dunks, his back-cuts, his rainbow threes – which makes sense, but people should really start examining his defensive efforts. The stops and the blocks on that end are probably more of a reason why coach Terry Stotts has been giving him even more of an opportunity.

According to the referees in Philly though, Layman was a little too aggressive. He got into early foul trouble, picking up his third foul at the 2:46 mark of the second quarter. Layman still stayed aggressive and since the Blazers started blowing out the Sixers late in the third quarter, Layman wasn’t needed much late down the stretch.


3. Blazers gobble up offensive rebounds

At the end of the third quarter, 17 of the Blazers’ 44 rebounds were offensive. Portland also outscored Philadelphia 50-44 with points in the paint after three, which meant the Blazers were taking advantage of Joel Embiid not playing due to knee soreness.

The 76ers, on the other hand, were unable to get very many extra possessions. At the end of the third period, Philadelphia had just four offensive rebounds and only totaled 23 rebounds at that point.

One last thing – the second half turned into a dunk fest for the Blazers and Philly fans were not happy about it. The crowd let out some loud boos when the Sixers called a timeout at the 10:31 mark in the fourth with the Blazers up 21 and then later in the game as well.

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night with a 4:30pm PT start time. Our pregame coverage tips off at 3:30pm on NBC Sports Northwest.

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Blazer bench puts aside worries -- knocks out Warriors in 4th

Blazer bench puts aside worries -- knocks out Warriors in 4th

The Portland Trail Blazers’ crowded bench has had a lot to think about over the last 10 days. Two players have been added and neither is expected to be a starter, barring an injury.

There is uncertainty about the future.

But that group put aside worries about playing time and went out Wednesday night and earned playing time – by knocking out the Golden State Warriors with a 35-12 fourth quarter that led to a 129-107 win.

It marked the first time in 23 tries the Trail Blazers have won a game when trailing heading into the fourth quarter. And the second season in a row when Portland has captured two wins over the defending NBA champs.

But they had to fight to get this one. Almost literally. Golden State doesn’t go down easy.

But trailing by a point to begin the final period, Coach Terry Stotts sent out an all-bench group of Evan Turner, Rodney Hood, Jake Layman, Zach Collins and Seth Curry.

Each of them had their moment during the fourth-quarter surge that put the game away.

The biggest imprint was made by Zach Collins, who had a monster blocked shot that saw him race the length of the court to block a Damion Lee layup at the rim – a true momentum-changing play.

“I was looking at it from the bench and I didn’t even see Zach coming,” Damian Lillard said. “So for him to make that play and then back it up with another defensive play, instead of patting himself on the back, that was huge for him but that’s huge for our team.

“I think it kind of turned the game completely in our favor.”

The follow-up play Lillard was talking about was drawing an offensive foul from Klay Thompson just a few seconds later.

That led to a faceoff between Collins and Thompson at the other end of the court that finished with each getting called for a technical foul.

By then, the Blazers were off and running, with Layman entering into another of his rampages where he’s popping up all over the court. He had 12 points in the fourth quarter – was a plus-23 in the 12 minutes – while making five of six shots. All 17 of his points came in the second half.

He is on a terrific run and was asked after the game if his recent play surprised even himself.

“No,” he said. “I’ve always known I could play. I know what I can do.”

The game broke wide open when Draymond Green was called for a flagrant foul on Collins with 4:16 to play and Portland holding a seven-point lead.

That prompted two quick technical fouls on Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, who fired a clipboard in disgust, followed by his ejection.

Lillard made the two technical foul free throws, then another one when Green was hit for yet another technical.

Collins then stepped to the line and canned two more foul shots. A few seconds later, Layman knocked down a three-point field goal, followed by a three-pointer from Lillard that came from somewhere near the Lloyd Center and Portland had a 23-point lead.

Game over.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Kerr, whose team played without resting DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Igoudala and Shaun Livingston. “They battled like crazy, you know really tough schedule with the back-to-back. There’s three guys out and I thought our guys really fought. It’s one of the reasons I was really frustrated …”

Stotts was pleased, quite obviously, with what he saw.

“Really proud of our team,” he said. “Obviously, the guys that came off the bench really played well in the second  -- well, the first half and the second half.”

Stotts was asked about staying with his bench, other than insertion of Lillard for Turner, in the fourth quarter.

“It’s going to be a transition,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot of good players who are able to contribute to winning. Obviously, the bench guys played well.

“You know, with five or six minutes to go in the game, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do to finish the game. But the guys on the floor answered it for me.”

Trail Blazers get Enes Kanter -- but what does that mean to the rest of the team?

Trail Blazers get Enes Kanter -- but what does that mean to the rest of the team?

And so again, I have to ask the questions we pondered just a couple of days ago: Who is going to play? And when?

The Trail Blazers added the second new player to their roster in the last 10 days when they signed free-agent center Enes Kanter for the remainder of the season.

Coach Terry Stotts wasted no time proclaiming Kanter, a very good offensive player and rebounder, the team’s new backup center.

“We’re getting a guy who can really score and rebound,” Stotts said. “He’ll help us be a better team. He’ll be our backup five.

“Obviously, he’s going to play.”

That certainly sends some winds of change through the Portland locker room. Meyers Leonard had been getting a lot of playing time in that backup center role with Zach Collins sharing time at that spot and at backup power forward.

This comes at a time when Jake Layman is putting pressure on Maurice Harkless at the starting small forward position and Rodney Hood, acquired in a trade with Cleveland Feb.4, is also expected to get big second-unit playing time.

Stotts was asked prior to the game why Layman or Hood isn’t starting at small forward ahead of Harkless.

“I’m not even going to get into that,” he said. “Thank you.”

Adding another quality player also means a lot of players having to get used to different teammates on the floor with them and all sorts of new combinations being used. But Kanter, a low-post scorer, shouldn't be a problem in that regard.

“I’ve always admired Kanter, because he’s self-sufficient,” Evan Turner said. “He does a great job of offensive rebounding. He gets you extra possessions. It’s a big pickup. A shoutout to Neil (Olshey).”

But how crowded is the rotation going to be?

“You just have to be pros,” Turner said. “Step up and do your job. Sacrifice. And that’s really it. You just have to step up and support our two stars.”

Leonard, having the best season of his career, is likely going to be the player most affected by Kanter’s acquisition.

“The truth is, I have no idea (how his minutes will shake out),” Leonard said. “It’s already been spoken that Enes is the backup five.

“I have played well. Certainly vastly improved. And while I was in there, I felt I gave our team a chance to win.

“I just did my sprints. I’m going to stay in shape, grind every day and if I get put in, try to do my best to help us win.”

Adding players to a  roster at or near the deadline can be a dangerous thing for a team’s locker room.

Portland now has 12 players deserving of significant time on the court – and they aren’t all going to get it. At some point, that can cause friction among players, or even cause them to take sides in regard to who should play and what their roles should be.

“No one in this locker room is worried about that,” Layman said. “I know it’s a big topic, but we all just want to win games.

“Whoever is out there playing, we’re all happy for each other. Everyone just wants to win games and play their best basketball when they’re out there.”

That divided locker room happened in a big way to the 2000-2001 Portland team. That season, General Manager Bob Whitsitt brought Detlef Schrempf out of retirement in the middle of the season and added Rod Strickland off the waiver wire. The additions not only didn’t improve the team’s fortunes, they led to dissension and dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, Portland now has veteran players with playoff experience, insurance against injury or younger and lesser-experienced players who may not be handle playoff pressure.

“(Kanter) is a great offensive rebounder, good in the paint and you’re going to be able to give him the ball and he’s going to score,” Lillard said. “And the experience of being on a good team. He’s been on a lot of good teams (in Utah and Oklahoma City before New York).”

But what about the chemistry of this team?

“It’s not a position we’ve been in, the last few years,” Lillard said. “I don’t think we have anybody who will be disruptive. If you’re not upset about not playing, you’re in the wrong game. You should be upset. If they’re not, that’s a bigger problem.

“But I don’t think we have anybody who will be a problem.”

Trail Blazers search for playing rotation in loss to Thunder

Trail Blazers search for playing rotation in loss to Thunder

So who plays? And when?

As the Trail Blazers dropped a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 120-111 decision to the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday, that would be a reasonable question.

Portland needs to find a playing rotation and maybe even a new starting lineup. Coach Terry Stotts used 11 players in meaningful minutes and seemed to be throwing lineups at the wall to see what was going to stick.

The Blazers’ starting guards – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum -- took 42 of the team’s 87 shots and if they continue to deal in that volume, the other shooters are going to have to be steady and accurate.

On this night, Jake Layman played 28 minutes off the bench and scored 17 points off seven shots and had a career-high four blocked shots. He’s looking more and more like a starter but Stotts just doesn’t seem willing to make that move.

He sticks with Al-Farouq Aminu for his defense but often gets little offense from him. But lately whatever he gets from Aminu is more than he’s getting from the other starting forward, Maurice Harkless.

“I liked the way we competed in the second half,” Stotts said. “I wanted to keep Chief out there with Paul George.”

For the record, George recorded a downright next-level triple-double, getting 47 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Good thing they had a quality defender on him, right? The guy might have gone for a hundred.

Harkless played 20 minutes and scored three points, Aminu played 33 and scored 13.

Aminu said. “It’s our job. We have to adapt.”

Meanwhile, Seth Curry – who has played and shot well this season – saw only five minutes of duty, Meyers Leonard played eight, Zach Collins played 10, Evan Turner 13 and Rodney Hood 16.

That’s reminiscent of an elementary-school team where you want to make sure everybody gets to play so that none of the parents gets mad.

“Right now, everybody is just trying to adjust,” Turner said of the playing rotation. “Using more guys and a deeper bench, we all have to sacrifice.”

The only rotation player added to the mix at the trade deadline was Hood, who can play three positions. But his appearance has seemingly thrown a monkey wrench into a rotation that was already unpredictable.

“I’m sure it’s difficult for some guys,” Lillard said, when asked about the rotation of the rotation. “Being in there with some guys for shorter stretches than you’re used to. But that’s part of being a professional. You’ve got to adjust on the fly and that’s kind of where we are.”

Meanwhile, the Blazers’ starting lineup struggled against the Thunder. McCollum went 5-20 from the field and Lillard was 9-22. Jusuf Nurkic scored nine on 2-7 shooting and the starters combined for 11 turnovers.

Yes, there seemed to be some hangover from the loss Sunday night at Dallas but there isn’t much excuse for that from NBA players.

This suddenly appears to be an unsettled team right now. There are roles to be defined and players found to fill them.

Certainly there are plenty of candidates on hand. And we saw them all Monday night.

Scoop Podcast: Jake Layman is blessed with great hair and he knows it

Scoop Podcast: Jake Layman is blessed with great hair and he knows it

This week's Trail Blazers guest hails from Massachusetts and is proud of it! It's time to welcome Jake Layman to The Scoop Podcast.

We start off with a story about a very serious “headband” competition between Layman, Pat Connaughton and assistant coach Jim Moran that took place during Layman’s rookie season. 

And, we all know that Layman always means business on the court, but did you know that Jake’s mom was the biggest basketball influence in his life?

Jake's dad tried to get Jake and his four brothers (I repeat four brothers) to play baseball.

But let’s just say Jake's Mom ended up winning that battle.

We also find out more about the special relationship between Layman and former Trail Blazer Steve Blake. Apparently, they both like to daydream about what it would’ve been like to be teammates at Maryland back in the day and what they could’ve accomplished!  

Plus, what was it like during Layman’s NBA debut against the Warriors where he scored 17 points in under eight minutes of play?

Layman cracked a smile on the podcast and joked:

“I was thinking about retiring after that game. You gotta retire on top!”

Another fantastic Layman quote from the podcast: “I’ve been blessed with great hair.”

So, at least Jake is thankful for his flowing locks.

We also to get to the bottom of the proposal story.  People gave Jake a hard time for it “being too simple” in regards to how he asked his longtime girlfriend to marry him.

You be the judge.  

And, what is Layman’s favorite TV show?

What about his least favorite candy bars?

Also, what was the experience like playing for the under-18 US National team with Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, and Sam Decker?

All of those questions are answered along with so much more on this Scoop Podcast with Jake Layman. Listen to the jam-packed podcast below.

It's time for the Trail Blazers to find out what they have in Jake Layman

It's time for the Trail Blazers to find out what they have in Jake Layman

This little essay today isn’t about Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner or Rodney Hood. I’m not going to get into what those players can or cannot do.

And it’s not about who the Trail Blazers can acquire in a trade-deadline deal.

This is about Jake Layman –- and a team searching for a third scorer and an active wing. It seems to me that most teams, when they realize they have an emerging young player on the rise, do everything possible to facilitate that development. Especially if he happens to play a position of need.

But the 24-year-old Layman has had to scrap for every minute he’s gotten on the floor this season. Yes, when Harkless was injured to open the season, Layman was given the starting job.

But the problem with that was that he still wasn’t getting major minutes – usually under 20. And when he didn’t start, he often didn’t play at all. And whenever Harkless returned from nursing his knee injury, Layman returned to the bench, regardless of how either one of them played.

In fact, as recently as Jan. 1, Layman had a game in which he didn’t get off the bench.

He’s still not in the starting lineup, in spite of the energy, outside shooting and ability to finish around the basket that he provides. I’ve heard a lot of reasons why, but I remain unconvinced that a team so in need of another scorer wouldn’t want to start him, play him as many minutes as he can handle and, at the very least, find out what his ceiling is.

How good can he be?

I have no idea and I’m not sure they do, either. But I’d be very anxious to find out. After all, he is not under contract for next season.

Right now he’s doing things on the court with movement and offensive versatility that no other Trail Blazer can do. He’d be scoring even more points if his teammates were more accustomed to looking for him – every game some of his hard cuts to the basket go unrewarded.

Opportunity is so important to NBA players. If you can somehow get consistent chances to show what you can do – with a coach willing to allow you to play through mistakes and bad games – you can maximize whatever potential you have.

But if you are used inconsistently, your performance very often matches that use. And if you don't play with and against starting players, you don't get a true picture of value.

I must admit, I did not foresee this kind of production coming from Layman, who came into the league as a second-round pick. I knew he was athletic but wasn’t sure he’d ever be consistent enough with his shooting to become an offensive threat on a consistent basis.

But at a certain point, you have to trust what you see. He can score in a lot of ways – inside and outside – and brings an off-the-ball energy that’s foreign to a lot of today’s NBA players. A fluke? A pace he can't maintain over a full season? I have no idea.

The Trail Blazers owe it to themselves to find out what they have in Layman and to see if he can fulfill the promise he has recently shown. Not only that, there is the distinct possibility that he gives the Trail Blazers a better chance to win than anyone else in that spot.

As I see it, with the minimal changes to the core group of this team in recent seasons, franchise improvement is heavily predicated on the development of individual players already in the fold.

It’s time to give that development a serious chance.

Blazers' vacation hangover leads to loss of "pop" -- and loss of game

Blazers' vacation hangover leads to loss of "pop" -- and loss of game

On second thought, perhaps those five days off were really not such a great thing for the Trail Blazers, after all. Portland players were practically giddy over the five game-free days last week -- and the first three that were practice-free.

But it took Portland three quarters to wake up from its vacation hangover Tuesday night and by the time the Blazers put together a solid effort they were too far behind and couldn't catch up, defeated by the Miami Heat 118-108 in Moda Center Tuesday night.

The Blazers had not played since a win over Utah last Wednesday and practiced only the last two days after three off-days.

They outscored Miami by 24 points from the three-point line and still never led in the game, getting hammered by the Heat’s 54.2 percent shooting, fueled by a barrage of layups and dunks that led to 56 points in the paint.

“For whatever reason, we didn’t seem to have a lot of pop for most of the game,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “I don’t know if it was the five days off or what, but it seemed pretty obvious most of the first three quarters, we just didn’t make the energy plays, whether it was transition, or defensively in the first half, or the extra-effort plays.

“We made a nice run in the second half. It was good to see but, I don’t know, I’m going to just chalk it up to the five days off and hope we bring it better on Thursday (at home vs. San Antonio).”

The Heat handled Portland with relative ease earlier in the season at Miami and Coach Erik Spoelstra was asked what his 25-27 team does against the Trail Blazers that other teams don’t do.

“I don’t know – it’s too small of a sample size,” he said. “You know, it’s only two games. We faced them in the first five games of the year and both teams are a little bit different now.

“I don’t know if anybody is going to watch our game film to try to figure it out. But we’ll take it. We needed this – probably a lot more than they did.”

Maybe, but the season is about to take a nasty turn, schedule-wise, for the Trail Blazers very soon. They have only two more home games in February and they will come in the next week.

Portland has played 30 home games up to now and just 23 on the road. That means only 11 of the final 29 will be at home.

Of particular concern is the post-All-Star Game road trip of seven games in 14 days – against some pretty good teams.

Thus, losing a home game to a team with a sub-.500 record is costly at this point for this group with sights set on a playoff run.

The Heat did a great job of stopping key Trail Blazer players. Jusuf Nurkic made just two of seven shots and played just 22:52. He had five rebounds and didn’t block a shot.

Meanwhile, his counterpart, Hassan Whiteside, made 11 of 12 shots , had 11 rebounds and two blocks.

Damian Lillard made only 5 of 15, missed eight of his 10 shots from distance scored 13 points, albeit with 10 assists.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 33 points and made 7 of 14 from three. Jake Layman was again terrific off the bench, scoring 25 to go with eight rebounds.

Dwyane Wade had a retirement-tour highlight, potting 22 points and nine rebounds for the winners.

“From the beginning to the end, I thought we had a good stretch in the beginning of the fourth, but other than that, we just didn’t play well at either end of the floor,” Lillard said. “It’s disappointing to have an opportunity like that – two home games before we hit the road – winnable games and then we come out and just get outplayed,

“They worked harder than us tonight.”

Oh well, maybe his coach said it best:

“I’m going to just chalk it up to the five days off and hope we bring it better on Thursday.”

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers loss to the Miami Heat

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers loss to the Miami Heat

The well-rested Trail Blazers hosted a Miami Heat team who is embarking on a tough six-game road trip that started with this one in Portland and will end in Philadelphia in two weeks.

Final Box Score: Trail Blazers 108, Heat 118

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers loss:

1. Not all the rust was off...

It was not as if the Blazers were struggling too much as a team on offense in the first half against the Heat, but there were struggling to keep it together on the defensive end. A few times throughout the first half it was apparent the Blazers were not communicating as well on screens and there were even times when a Heat basket was made and the Blazers were standing around looking at each other like ‘who should’ve picked him up?’

Despite the defensive miscues, Portland was still sticking around until late in the fourth quarter and a lot of that had to do with Jake Layman and his backdoor cuts. The Blazers were finding Layman down low whether it was an alley-oop dunk or finding him slashing to the hoop for the lay-in.  Layman finished with 25 points on 11 made shots. 

2. The rest was good for the shooters...

Not only was Layman finishing around the basket, he was hitting from three, as was CJ McCollum. You could see McCollum seemed to have an extra pep in his step. In the third quarter he had one of his signature crossovers that led to a midrange jumper over Heat center Hassan Whiteside and he must’ve made a comment to Whiteside because has they jogged back up the floor Whiteside had a big smile on his face.

The Blazers as a team really didn’t find their stroke until the fourth quarter when Seth Curry and Meyers Leonard came up with big threes. Really though, the fourth quarter attempt at a comeback was in big thanks to the continued hot shooting of McCollum or I should say, thanks to #3J. But despite McCollum's 33 points it wasn't enough to get it done against the Heat. 

3. Rodney Hood is eager for new adventure in Portland...

Even though the Blazers recent acquisition wing Rodney Hood did not play on Tuesday, we got an update on him before the game started. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts says Rodney Hood will make his Blazer debut on Thursday vs. the Spurs. Hood will gradually introduce Hood to the Blazers’ playbook.

As for Hood, when he addressed the Portland media tonight for the first time on Tuesday night, you could see in his smile at the start of the interview that he is happy for this new start in Portland.

It’s talked about all the time – sometimes a player needs a change of scenery to get his game their career back on track. What stood out to me the most? – Hood is eager to getting back to being his old self, where he is dialed in and not worrying about all the outside noise.  

NEXT UP: The Blazers host the San Antonio Spurs. Tip-off is set for 7:30pm on TNT with pregame coverage beginning at 6:30pm on NBC Sports Northwest.

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Rodney Hood will play right away, so who will sit for Trail Blazers?

Rodney Hood will play right away, so who will sit for Trail Blazers?

Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts Monday confirmed that newcomer Rodney Hood will be in the team’s rotation as soon as he’s available to play.

“He will come in and play right away,” Stotts said, adding that the team sent Hood, who was to arrive in Portland Monday afternoon, video of some of its sets and plays.

So the big question is, whose minutes will he be taking? The players shipped to Cleveland in the Hood trade were Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin. Neither has been in the recent Portland rotation.

So who sits when Hood plays?

An obvious guess would be Jake Layman, who has been the backup wing to Maurice Harkless and has done so very well of late. Layman was asked his reaction when he heard his team had traded for Hood, a 6-8 wing capable of playing multiple positions.

“I didn’t have any reaction,” he said. “It is what it is. It will help our team. We’re happy to have another scorer, another defender out there. It gives us more depth.”

But do you expect you might sacrifice some minutes?

“I have no clue,” he said. “I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing – stay ready.”

But Layman may not be the answer to this question.

One of the things that sticks out about Hood is his versatility. Stotts believes he can defend multiple positions and that fits with how the Portland coach chooses his lineups throughout the game.

“It depends on who he’s out there on the court with,” Stotts said when asked about what position Hood will play. “There will be an adjustment period for everybody, including me.”

That means that even though Hood isn’t a center or a guard or a power forward, his minutes could come from players at any of those positions.

Stotts has little regard for traditional positions when putting lineups on the floor – he’s matching up with the opponent or trying to put a group on the floor that will give the team what it needs at a particular time, whether that’s offense, defense, speed or power.

That would mean that Hood and Layman could find themselves on the floor together. Or that Meyers Leonard, Zach Collins or Maurice Harkless could lose minutes so that Hood can play.

It’s a question that won't be answered in just a handful of games.

Is Moe Harkless still valuable to the Trail Blazers if he's not a shooter?

Is Moe Harkless still valuable to the Trail Blazers if he's not a shooter?

There's been some confusion among fans of the Portland Trail Blazers this season when it comes to the small forward spot. 

Maurice Harkless has been battling a knee injury all season long, and Jake Layman has filled in for him with surprising results. On offense, Layman has found his role, acting as a cutter, 3-point shooter, and rebounder. On defense, Layman is a bit of a work in progress. As such, coach Terry Stotts has opted to play Harkless as much as he can with the starting unit when the 25-year-old has been available to play.

Praise for Layman have been vocal as fans have attached to his unselfish style of play and hot shooting. Harkless remains the unquestioned natural talent of Portland's forward lineup, but Layman has worked his way into a position that’s made it harder to question his involvement. 

Meanwhile, Harkless has done the opposite. Where before he was the player cutting through the mid-post and gnashing for rebounds down low, Harkless seems a bit lethargic and out of step. His statistics are now no longer an outlier, either. Layman has matched much of Harkless’ advanced numbers while becoming a better shooter.

Contextually for these Blazers, this is the case for Layman in the starting lineup... CJ McCollum has struggled in his new role as a pure shooting guard next Damian Lillard, and Portland has struggled at times on offense. With Al-Farouq Aminu remaining a high-variance 3-point shooter, the first unit in Rip City has needed shooting at the wing and Layman provides that in spades.

Layman has taken a jump in his 3-point percentage, going from 20 percent last season to a whopping 36 percent this year. He mostly shoots above the break 3-pointers, and while it might be better if he was more effective from the corner, the pace at which he plays puts Portland in different positions to get triples.

At the same time, Harkless has regressed in terms of shooting. The St. John's product has gone from shooting 40 percent to 20 percent on corner 3-pointers according to Cleaning the Glass. As a result, Harkless’ points per shot attempt are down 40 percentile points 

We've covered how Layman has moved without the ball before, but the statistics tell the story of his breakout season. The Blazers are 11 points from assists per 100 possessions better with Layman on the floor then they are with him off of it, according to pbpstats.com. Portland’s assist percentage on 2-point field goals goes up when Layman is on the court as well, which makes sense given how much he’s willing to be on both sides of a pass.

The same can’t be said for Harkless with regard to his on/off numbers, and that’s disappointing. Surprisingly, many of his advanced statistics — assist percentage, rebounding percentage, steals — are hovering around where they’ve been in the past. It’s the shooting that’s made Harkless a less viable candidate on offense, despite his defensive impact.

This brings us back to our original question, of why Stotts has decided to stick with Harkless despite production from Layman. Is it an ego boost for the often-moody Harkless? Is it Stotts sticking with the more experienced player? Is it because Harkless is a better defender?

In any case, Harkless and Layman aren’t interchangeable in Stotts’ eyes. Harkless brings a defensive presence that Layman can’t match, although the gap between them could be narrowing. Five-man-lineup data from NBA.com actually shows that Portland’s two most-used groups have one difference, and that’s the small forward spot with Layman and Harkless as the variables. While Harkless still has the better individual defensive rating, the lineup with Layman has both a better defensive rating and net rating.

Having watched this team for some time, it seems best if Layman is on the starting unit from here on out because of his passing and 3-point shooting. The bench rotation has struggled to defend in fits and starts, sometimes acting as a cohesive unit and sometimes getting blown out only to force the starters to try and play catch-up for 30 minutes again. 

Harkless on the second unit could help create a more stable defensive identity for them as well as give Harkless additional room to operate without having to worry about blowing assists from Lillard and McCollum.

Who knows if this might happen? At this juncture, Layman is at least in the rotation for good. In recent games, with Harkless back in the lineup, Stotts has declined to bench Layman, continuing to play him somewhere around 20 minutes a night. That wasn't the case at the beginning of the season, and it goes in line with the kind of adaptation that Stotts as made with deeper rotations this season.

We are now 52 games into the NBA season, so it's time to start making some judgments about what we've seen and where this team is going. Harkless continues to battle his knee, and although he is statistically performing well outside of scoring, the Blazers have struggled enough as a unit that they need him to shoot now more than ever. 

Any further slavish dedication by Stotts to Harkless could hinder Portland's second half, and if Layman continues to shoot at the clip he does, it's clear he's the better choice as the starting small forward. Harkless is still able to bring something to the table, both on offense and defense, but if he can't get his shooting stroke back it'll draw into question where he fits in this Blazers rotation moving forward.