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.