It was the morning of October 27th before the Trail Blazers tipped off their third game of the season. They were facing the Dallas Mavericks on the road. Yes, that’s when Zach Collins suffered his shoulder injury, but that’s also when Jaylen Hoard and Moses Brown were first transferred to the G-League Texas Legends.
Fast-forward to January 11th and a lot has changed.
Anthony Tolliver started at center Saturday night with Hassan Whiteside out due to an upper respiratory illness.
That also meant rookie two-way forward Jaylen Hoard, who was recently brought back to the NBA ranks, saw back-up center minutes.
Who would’ve guessed a night like this would happen in early January?
“I felt like I’d mostly be playing in the G-League with the Texas Legends and just kind of work my way up… Just being able to play early like this it feels great. Even though we didn’t get the win today, just being out there was a blessing,” Hoard said.
As Damian Lillard described it, his frontcourt teammates are being forced to figure it out on the fly.
“Certain guys are playing positions that they weren’t’ gonna play and have never played. Guys are playing more extended minutes than they have ever played or had to play. We got guys -- this is their first time consistently playing. That’s tough. There’s a learning curve. It’s a physical battle for the people that haven’t experienced it,” Lillard said.
EARNING THOSE FREQUENT FLYER MILES
Hoard has now been transferred to and from the G-League a total of seven times this season. SEVEN!
“At first the traveling was a little different, a little difficult, but I feel like I’ve adjusted to it,” Hoard said after Saturday’s game.
Yet, this seventh transfer might be the longest time Hoard spends with the Blazers.
In 17 minutes of action Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, Hoard proved he has no fear against the best team in the league.
Yep, there was no 'fear the deer' for Hoard even though the Blazers ultimately lost 122-101.
There’s plenty the Blazers know they need to work on. Of course, being banged up isn’t helping them; however, Hoard was a bright spot and his performance didn’t go unnoticed.
“I thought he did a great job,” CJ McCollum said postgame. "Obviously he’s gone back and forth from the G-League to here. He’s extremely athletic, he wants to learn, he’s aggressive, and we need as many bodies as possible right now based on what we’re going through.”
He played really well. Since he’s been back up, he’s been put out there a lot and getting some minutes, and I think it’s evident that he’s a smart player. He’s able to figure things out on both ends of the floor, good instincts, and I think with more experience, and the more he’s out there, and the more comfortable he gets, I think you’ll just see him keep getting better and better. -- Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard said postgame
Kent Bazemore picked up two quick fouls just three minutes into the first quarter, leading Terry Stotts to call Hoard's number early on. The 20-year-old made the most of his minutes and didn’t shy away from contact, taking it right at the Bucks.
Hoard finished the game with six points and five rebounds.
They weren't jump-off-the-page numbers. But, they didn't need to be.
It was plays like the one that happened at the end of the third quarter, when Hoard stole the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo and took it coast-to-coast for the and-one that people will remember.
“I feel like I’m getting pretty comfortable and my coaches – I feel like they believe in me and my teammates they give me a lot of confidence too,” Hoard said.
Per league rules, two-way players can only spend a total of 45 days with their NBA team before the team must add them to their roster with a fully guaranteed contract or part ways with them.
But, Hoard is out to prove his worth.
EAGER TO LEARN
In this most recent stint with the Blazers, Hoard has progressed since signing a two-way contract with Portland on draft night.
One thing is for sure: Hoard is getting valuable time with the Blazers right now after being transferred from the Legends on January 2nd.
The rookie forward also got some run against the Timberwolves Thursday night. In the losing effort, he had eight points to along with four rebounds and two steals. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has been pleased with Hoard's progression.
“I thought Jaylen played well in Minnesota, I thought he played well tonight, looks like he’s improved since training camp, and it’s very encouraging,” Stotts said.
Stotts also understands the challenges that arise for Hoard.
“This is our first two-way guy, really. And going back and forth, I think, playing for two different teams and knowing two different systems, fitting in, in that situation… I think it’s probably the most impressive [thing] in two games – just being able to come in and blend in, and do well."
Besides his consistent effort during game action, Hoard has shown consistently that he's hungry to learn.
Stotts added, “He asks good questions.”
That may seem like an obvious thing. Duh, a young player who doesn’t have a guaranteed contract wants to learn more.
That’s just not always the case, and his teammates have been able to see his drive and his want to get better and continue to learn.
"During the game everybody was trying to give me pointers and stuff, so I feel like I’m not as lost as I would be if I didn’t ask questions," Hoard said. "Everybody’s just trying to help me, the coaches too, it’s been pretty good."
THE FIRE RUNS DEEP
Hoard says he has a different mindset ever since going undrafted last summer.
Honestly, I feel like it just motivated me, it gave me a chip on my shoulder. Now I feel like I play with a lot more fire. I’m just confident, just trying to prove that I belong in this league. – Trail Blazers rookie Jaylen Hoard on being undrafted
And now, not only is Hoard dealing with being transferred back and forth from Portland to Texas, he’s also dealing with having to learn three different positions with the Blazers:
Small Forward. Check.
Power Forward. Check.
And now… Center...? Check.
With Whiteside out against the Bucks, Hoard saw time at the five spot.
Think about that for a moment.
“It was just different I hadn’t really played center before at this level, so it was kind of different. I feel like with time and if the team still needs me to play that position I’ll be able to contribute,” Hoard said.
Try learning stick shift on the fly. Sure, you know how to drive. But, somehow it's different. Now do that in front of thousands of people, on TV, against the best other "driver" in the world.
That's a lot of driver's manuals... positions to memorize, and he already has to know two different playbooks.
Hoard is up for whatever is thrown his way, though, even if that means he'll take another Southwest Airlines flight back to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to play for the Legends again.
Because, at least for Hoard’s sake, he's a good airplane sleeper.
“I’m a window seat guy. Because I sleep the whole time, so I just like to lay my head on the side,” Hoard said with a smile.
And, at least for the Blazers' sake, he’s a good teammate who is eager to get better, and has already shown he can fit in, in such a short amount of time.