Has Jake Layman earned a permanent spot in the starting rotation?

Has Jake Layman earned a permanent spot in the starting rotation?

Jake Layman has found himself playing inconsistent minutes this season. A starter for the first 19 games for the Portland Trail Blazers, Layman then recorded five straight games where he didn't see the floor. Coach Terry Stotts vacillated Layman's playing time with the availability of forward Maurice Harkless, a more dynamic playmaker and defender when not injured. But Harkless and his knee pain continues to be a storyline for the Blazers, and thus so do Layman’s minutes.

Stotts has stuck with Layman as the starter, but gave Evan Turner a look in a matchup against Houston earlier in January. Layman is a more malleable quantity than Turner, and his remaining in the starting lineup helps the Blazers keep the more creative point forward as the leader of the second unit. 

At face value, it appears to most Blazers fans that Layman has more than held his own as the glue guy of the starting lineup. His shooting, rebounding, and willingness to cut has outweighed whatever defensive inequities Layman might bring to the table. But it still feels as though the third-year forward could be jettisoned from the rotation once — or if — Harkless returns to playing at full strength.

The question on the minds of many Portlanders is this: why?

Looking at Layman’s numbers, it’s clear that he’s made the third-season leap you hope for from developmental players. His free throw attempts per 100 possessions have doubled, and his rebounds by the same metric have gone up by three, per Basketball-Reference.

Even more impressive is how some of his statistical improvements are underlined by a maturity about who he is and what he needed to improve upon. The NBA is now analytics-crazy, and as such it’s not that difficult to figure out how to be better on offense — shoot more 3-pointers and get to the free-throw line more often.

While Layman hasn’t gone full James Harden on everyone, he has made a shocking leap. A career 23 percent 3-point shooter heading into 2018-19, Layman has risen to around the league average at 35 percent from deep. That’s no small feat, and it wasn’t just a weakness in Layman’s game, but a weakness in the Blazers rotation that he’s filled in the absence of Pat Connaughton. That’s allowed Layman’s true shooting percentage to jump by 27 points, which makes sense looking at some of his shot charts.

Layman has also reduced his personal foul rate by about 15 percent per 100 possessions, a maturation that allows for Stotts and his staff to keep him on the floor longer and worry less about having to alter their in-game tactics due to foul trouble. 

There’s more juicy stats to love about Layman’s improvements. He’s boosted himself to the 82nd percentile when it comes to the amount of shots he takes at the rim, an obvious mirror to an fan watching him play and seeming miles more aggressive compared to seasons past. His rebounding numbers make him a top performer at his position as well, with Layman settling in the 80th percentile or better in both offensive and defensive rebounding, per Cleaning the Glass

The thing to avoid at this juncture is wondering whether Layman is ready to take over the starting position full-time from Harkless. There’s too many factors at play to make that kind of decision, including but not limited to Harkless’ health, attitude, and potential.

But Layman is the kind of player that Portland has needed around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on a consistent basis the past few seasons. This Blazers roster is top-heavy, and Stotts has done all he can to try and balance it out by making Turner the leader of the bench squad. Layman stepping up and being a useful wing player —  <em>the</em> single most important thing Portland’s lacked since Lillard took over the team — has been a breath of fresh air.

Layman is still young, and he’s liable to have some variance in his performance that no doubt irks the veteran-friendly Stotts. How the young forward has played during trying circumstances, both for the team and for himself, has been admirable. Blazers fans like to latch on to a player or two each season, puff them up larger than their true value, then get their hearts broken when things fall apart. Layman’s statistics support the idea he’s moving in the right direction, and his contribution for Portland this year is as positive as you might hope for from a second round pick. 

Who knows if Harkless will come back? Who knows if Stotts might go with Turner as a starter come playoff time? The fact is that Layman deserves his spot in the starting lineup within the context of the Blazers team, and if he continues to keep his head down and know his role he will be an important factor in the second half of the season.

Trail Blazers having a hard time: "I don’t really have an explanation"

Trail Blazers having a hard time: "I don’t really have an explanation"

The Trail Blazers can’t afford to have many more nights like Sunday at the Moda Center.

Facing a sub-.500 opponent on their home floor was supposed to be an opportunity to bounce back, a chance to grab a winnable game following a blowout loss. These are the nights the Blazers need to be the aggressor, the tone setter, or if nothing else, the victors.

Instead the team walked out of the arena with a frustrating and deflating loss, falling 108-96 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Blazers came out flat, showed brief signs of life in the second quarter and then stumbled through a brick-laden second half to drop their second consecutive home game to a team they had dominated 10 days ago.

The Blazers are down two opening night starters -- with Rodney Hood done for the season and Zach Collins out until at least March. They’re still awaiting the return of Jusuf Nurkic, who is hoping to make his debut sometime in the new year. These aren’t excuses as much as they the reality facing this team. They’re shorthanded and reinforcements are weeks, if not months away from returning. 

That’s part what makes Sunday night’s loss so costly. If the Blazers (9-15) are going to be a playoff team, they can’t give away games against teams like Oklahoma City (10-12). There are no “must win” games in December, but the Blazers just face planted in a very clear “should win" game with a troubling mix of lack of energy and execution.

“I think it’s just being able to take what our coaches do,” Damian Lillard explained. “They spend a lot of time on scouting reports and schemes and stuff that we want to do. It’s our job to go out there and execute that and do that for longer periods of time. I think we’ve kind of just played well in stretches. We don’t have the luxury of playing well in stretches. We’re a team that if the ball’s not going in, we’ve got to be getting to the fifty-fifty balls. We can’t keep letting teams get second and third opportunities. We foul every thirty seconds – I mean, it’s just like we are doing a lot of things as a team that put ourselves at a disadvantage. We’re just making the game harder than it has to be in a lot of situations. We’re not doing it on purpose. We’re competing hard, we’re trying hard. But it comes to urgency and focus and energy – we’re a team that has to have that every minute of every game if we want to have a real chance. When it’s up and down, the season is up and down. I think that’s what we’re up against.”

Lillard’s assessment is honest and accurate, and while it doesn’t come with a clear solutions it highlights the Blazers issues. They don’t have the luxury or the talent to play hard on occasion. They don’t have the depth to play 12 solid minutes and hope the other 36 won’t bury them. 

December was supposed to be a month where the Blazers made a move in the standings, fattening up on home games against teams with losing records. Sunday was a reminder of where this team stands, and its thin margin for error. The Blazers spent the opening weeks of the season offering relentless positivity, insisting they would it figure out after early scuffles. But as the injuries continue to mount and the losses are piling up, much of that optimism has faded from postgame interviews, replaced with an earnest, and realistic concern about a season heading the wrong direction.

“We’re just having a hard time,” Lillard said. “I don’t really have an explanation where I could tell you a list of things. I think it’s things that I feel and I see that we aren’t doing well enough, like I just mentioned. But we’re not the same team (as last season). That’s the most simple way I can put it to you right now. We’re not that same team and we haven’t figured it out. We’re a work in progress, obviously.”

Morning After: Everything you may have missed from the Blazers loss to the Thunder

Morning After: Everything you may have missed from the Blazers loss to the Thunder

Life without Rodney Hood got off to a rough start for the Blazers when they welcomed the Oklahoma City Thunder to town. They hoped for a win, but the game didn't go according to plan. 

Portland started slow out of the gate and trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half before mounting a comeback to make it a game. 

However, the team just couldn't overcome a rough shooting night.  Hassan Whiteside was six for eight from the floor, but the other four starters combined to shoot just 23 of 74. On top of that, the bench was only able to contribute 18 points on the night, being outscored by the Thunder bench by 24 points. 

On the bright side, despite a tough shooting night, Kent Bazemore played well with the starting lineup. He flowed within the offense and was his usual energetic self on defense. But on a night when shots weren't falling, the Blazers couldn't get over the hump. 

Final score in this one: Thunder 108 - Blazers 96.

QUOTABLES: 

Chris Paul on this two delay of game calls:

Two delay of game calls on me; That was good, he got me, he got me back. I learned you can’t have your shooter shirt and your pants on when you checking in. They said if I would have had just one of them on, you learn something new.

Damian Lillard on what frustrated him about the loss: 

I mean, I think to start the game, pretty much the whole game, but to start the game, we weren’t making shots and on our home floor, we’ve got to bring energy into the game. Our crowd is out here showing up the situation that we’re in, I just thought our urgency wasn’t where it needed to be. You come out with an opportunity to get some momentum going into another home game with another opportunity to win against a team that we just played a few games ago and blew them away, played a great game. Then the ball’s not going in so we don’t lock in and stay sharp on the defensive end, we just allowed them to pretty much do what they wanted.

Coach Stotts on Kent Bazemore starting for Rodney Hood:

I thought Kent got off to a great start, he made his threes, had good activity defensively, I was surprised he was 3 for 11 because I thought he impacted the game, he was on Chris Paul a lot. I thought he did a nice job in the starting lineup.

BEST OF SOCIAL:

LATEST NEWS AND ANALYSIS:

Instant Analysis: A tough shooting night plagues Blazers vs. Thunder

Highlights: Blazers can't get over the hump against OKC 

Portland Trail Blazers 'frustrated' by lack of urgency 

Chris Paul gets played by the "delay of game" game

Dear Blazers fans: Don't be gross

Kent Bazemore starts: "It’s what I wanted, but not how I wanted it"

Kent Bazemore steps into starting role 

TALKIN' BLAZERS PODCAST:

Chris Paul gets played by the "delay of game" game

Chris Paul gets played by the "delay of game" game

The Thunder may have won the battle against the Blazers on Sunday, but they haven't won the war. The Blazers are 2-1 against the Thunder this season, and if you count the game within the game, they're 3-1. 

As the old saying goes, "don't hate the player, hate the game."

On Friday, Chris Paul played the game with the Timberwolves. Minnesota was up 121-119 with 1.1 seconds left in the game and Karl-Anthony Towns at the line for two free throws. He missed the first one and that is when Chris Paul alerted officials to the fact that Jordan Bell had checked in with an untucked jersey. The refs called a delay of game on Minnesota, and since it was their second of the game it was a technical foul.

WATCH

The Thunder hit the free throw, making it a one-point game. Towns hit the next free throw to make it a two-point game, but the Thunder sent up a prayer and tied the game as time expired. If not for the delay of game technical the Thunder wouldn't have forced overtime. Oklahoma would go on to win the game, but it was all thanks to Chris Paul's vet savvy. 

That was Friday. On Sunday against the Blazers, he didn't play the game, the game played him. 

Paul was called for two delay of game penalties, resulting in a technical foul free throw for the Blazers. 

Paul called out the refs, saying they were "trying to prove an (expletive) point."

No, Chris. The Blazers were just playing the game you are a master of. Don't hate the player. Hate the game. 

 

Dear Blazers fans: Don't be gross

screen_shot_2019-12-08_at_10.26.37_pm.png
IMAGN

Dear Blazers fans: Don't be gross

When you’re at the Moda Center enjoying a basketball game, the Trail Blazers want you to feel comfortable and strive to provide an inviting atmosphere. 

But, one fan took that level of comfort to the next level during Sunday night’s game vs. the OKC Thunder. 

“In what world is taking your shoes off and just wearing your socks at a sporting event acceptable,” Twitter user @TheKaylaKnapp writes.

This fan committed a cardinal sin: Don’t take your shoes off in public spaces. Not on airplanes, not in restaurants, not at the Moda Center. NOWHERE. And to the fan on the sock offender’s left, please also refrain from getting your dirty shoes on the seat in front of you. 

The Moda Center Twitter account has weighed in.

It’s simple, common courtesy. 

Maybe after the public shaming, the anonymous patrons will think better next time.

Don’t be these fans. 

Kent Bazemore starts: "It’s what I wanted, but not how I wanted it"

Kent Bazemore starts: "It’s what I wanted, but not how I wanted it"

The Trail Blazers played their first game since their starting small forward Rodney Hood went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. 

Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts turned to Kent Bazemore to fill the void left by Hood.  

Bazemore was dialed in early and looked up for the challenge.

The career 35.1 percent three-point shooter hit his first three three-pointers on the night, tying his season-high from deep.

“I thought Kent got off to a great start," Terry Stotts said. "He made his threes, had good activity defensively, I was surprised he was 3 for 11 because I thought he impacted the game, he was on Chris Paul a lot. I thought he did a nice job in the starting lineup.”  

Bazemore attributes his success to getting open looks as well as getting to play alongside the Blazers other starters: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, and Hassan Whiteside.

It’s good to be out there with that kind of firepower… When you’re on the floor with Dame and CJ, Melo, and Hassan, they’re going to attract a lot of attention. So, just being aggressive, guys closing out short, just being able to rise up and knock them down… I’m going to continue to let if fly. I’ve been a starter in this league before and there’s a lot of firepower in the first unit.  – Kent Bazemore

After a hot start for Bazemore, he cooled off on a night where the Blazers as a team struggled from the field most of the night.

The 30-year-old finished with nine points to go along with five rebounds and two assists.

It is Bazmeore’s energy and activity on both ends of the floor though that he has made at living at, and Sunday was no different.

“I’m not really a guy that needs the ball,” Bazemore said. “I just like to fly around, play a lot of defense, and just bring energy for the unit. The first go didn’t go as planned, but it’s a lot of things we can work on, make sure we’re successful with this change,” Bazemore said.

Oklahoma City got their first win in three tries against Portland this season.

In this new reality for the Blazers, Bazemore is going to be relied on heavily. In his last 10 games, he had played an average of 20.6 minutes per game. On Sunday night he played 36.

“I think he did good,” Melo said of Bazemore’s performance. “He’s going to have to continue to step up in that role and we’re going to rely on him to do a lot of things, and especially now with Rodney being out. We’re going to rely on him to do more, but he can do it, we know he can do it.”

Lillard mentioned how the Blazers missed Hood's impact on the game, while Bazemore echoed that he and Hood are two very different players, but that’s why it worked so well for them to sub in for each other.

What he brings to the table is a lot different from what I bring. This is why we complemented each other so great, but I came here to play with these guys and get an opportunity to go out there and start. It’s what I wanted, but not how I wanted it. I’m just going to continue to work hard, continue to figure it out, go home tonight and watch the game, see if I can do some things a little bit better to help my teammates. 

“Rodney was a huge part of it what we did. We’ll figure it out,” Bazemore added.

The Blazers next opportunity to figure it out will be Tuesday night when they host the 4-19 New York Knicks. 

What's wrong with Blazers? How about lack of 'urgency, energy, focus'

What's wrong with Blazers? How about lack of 'urgency, energy, focus'

With all the injuries the Trail Blazers have suffered this season, there have been some games where you have to just chalk up a loss to who isn’t playing for them.

On the other hand, Sunday night’s 108-96 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder should rightfully blamed on those who did play.

The Trail Blazers were awful and not just where they’re usually awful – on defense. In this game they were pretty bad at the offensive end, too, shooting 36 percent from the field overall and 27.3 percent from three-point range.

Damian Lillard and Carmelo Anthony combined to go 3-17 from beyond the three-point line and 12-42 overall.

But let Lillard, the captain, explain how bad things are with his team right now:

“Not playing well enough to win games – and it’s frustrating,” Lillard said. “The start of the game – pretty much the whole game – we weren’t making shots. And on our home floor we’ve got to bring energy into the game. Our crowd is out here showing up and the situation that we’re in, our urgency wasn’t where it needed to be.

“You come out with an opportunity to get some momentum going into another home game with another opportunity to win against a team we just played a few games ago and blew them away, played a great game … And then the ball is not going in, so we don’t stay sharp and lock in at the defensive end. We just allowed them to pretty much do what they wanted. They started feeling good about themselves and you’ve got a guy like Chris Paul, who has been around and knows how to make a team go and get guys to believe, you could just see it – once they got a good start to the game, we were missing, our energy was low, they started to play with more belief. More conviction.

“We put ourselves in that position with how we came out.  It’s just frustrating to do that. No team should be more urgent than us. No team should be more locked in than us. I think for us, that’s the most frustrating part.

“We kind of just play well in stretches. We don’t have the luxury of playing well in stretches. We’re a team, if the ball is not going in, we’ve got to be getting to the 50-50 balls. We can’t keep letting teams get second and third opportunities.

"We foul every 30 seconds. We are doing a lot of things as team to put ourselves at a disadvantage. We’re just making the game harder than it has to be in a lot of situations. We’re not doing it on purpose. We’re competing hard. We’re trying hard.

“But when it comes to urgency, focus and energy we’re a team that has to have that every minute of every game if we want to have a chance. When it’s up and down, your season is up and down – and that’s what we’re up against.”

The only Portland starter who shot well was Hassan Whiteside, who made six of his eight shots, both free throws, had 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Coach Terry Stotts was asked if he would have like to get the ball to Whiteside inside a little more and he answered simply, “Uh, no.”

“Hassan gets most of his stuff on pick-and-rolls,” Stotts said. “We’ve got three primary scorers in Dame, CJ and Melo and obviously we go through them and Hassan will get occasional post-ups, but his bread and butter for us has been rolling on the pick and roll.”

And all of that, from the captain to the coach, was the reality for the Trail Blazers Sunday night.

Along with plenty of complaining to the officials for the second game in a row -- which doesn't seem to be doing any good.

Instant Analysis: A tough shooting night plagues Blazers vs. Thunder

Instant Analysis: A tough shooting night plagues Blazers vs. Thunder

In the third meeting between the Trail Blazers and Thunder this season, both teams got out to a very slow start on Sunday night. At the end of the first quarter, Oklahoma City held a 21-20 lead.  

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts inserted Kent Bazemore into the starting lineup at small forward with the Blazers playing in their first game without Rodney Hood who suffered a torn left Achilles tendon on Friday night.

After being down by as many as 18 points in the first half, Portland charged back to take the lead in the third quarter. Yet, it was all Thunder in the final minutes of the fourth as OKC wins its first game against Portland this season.

FINAL BOX SCORE: Thunder 108, Trail Blazers 96  

Here are three quick takeaways from the Blazers loss:

1.  Rough shooting night

With Damian Lillard and Carmelo Anthony shooting a combined 4-of-20 at halftime, the Blazers were lucky to be down just eight heading into the third quarter. As a team, there were a lot of shots that were in and out in the first half for Portland. Melo missed a lay-in that looked halfway down the basket before it popped out. It was one of those nights where things were not going right offensively. CJ McCollum was one of the only Trail Blazers who found his rhythm from start to finish on Sunday.

2. Bazemore stepping into starting role

In this new reality for the Blazers, Bazemore is going to be relied on more on the offensive end. He delivered on Sunday night. He was ready to step into the starting role. Bazemore was a perfect 3-for-3 from three in the first half and he was still his usual active self on the defensive end all night.

3. Portland’s frustrations come out

In the final seconds of the second quarter, Carmelo Anthony was hit with a technical after missing a lay-in and arguing with the referee because he thought he got fouled on his way to the rim.  Then with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter, Kent Bazemore earned a technical foul for yelling at an official after being charged with a personal foul.

Up Next: The Trail Blazers will wrap-up their four-game homestand on Tuesday night with the New York Knicks in town. The Blazers and Knicks will tip-off at 7:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.

Be sure to check back throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!

A sight for sore eyes: Nurkic hits the court

A sight for sore eyes: Nurkic hits the court

Blazers fans were treated to a little surprise on Sunday, and it was one that was a sight for sore eyes. 

During pregame warm-ups prior to the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Nurkic hit the court for a few free throws. Sure, it may have just been a few innocent shots, but it was just nice to see Nurkic on the court. 

 

Asked about it pregame, coach Stotts said that Nurkic has not progressed to doing any five on five drills and that all his current rehab work is being done by himself with the assistance of the training. However, just seeing him out at the charity stripe shows that his rehab is progressing in the right direction. 

 

Trail Blazers pregame notebook: Will we see more of a three-guard lineup?

usatsi_13585076.jpg
USA Today Images

Trail Blazers pregame notebook: Will we see more of a three-guard lineup?

Before the Trail Blazers and Thunder tip-off at 7:00p.m. tonight on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'MyTeams' App, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts gave updates on what lineups he might throw out on the court now without starting small forward Rodney Hood.

Hood suffered a torn left Achilles tendon during the first quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Lakers.

Coach Stotts mentioned that Hood was in "decent spirits' after the game, but is now he making a decision on where he will have surgery.

Stotts also discussed that with Hood out, he might look at the three-guard lineup with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Anfernee Simons more.

When you take out Rodney’s 28-30 minutes you’ve got to fill it and so before there really wasn't a lot of opportunity to get to the three-guard lineup and so now at least the opportunity is gonna be there. – Blazers head coach Terry Stotts pregame

As far as if the Blazers are going to look to add a player or make a trade, Stotts said, “I haven’t talked to [President of Basketball Operations] Neil [Olshey] about making any roster moves.”

LISTEN TO COACH STOTTS HERE:

Before tonight’s game, Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, who is recovering from surgery on his left leg, was out on the court shooting free throws. There is no official timeline on Nurk’s return, but he is expected to be re-evaluated in January or February.