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Player Preview: Jake Layman

It’s that time of the year again!

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a grueling wait, but NBA basketball is starting to peek its beautiful head over the horizon. That means, for better or worse, the Timberwolves are back and the coverage will be ramping up from here on out.

With 17 players and a couple of two-way contracts occupying the Timberwolves roster, there is a ton to dissect. For the most part, the Wolves’ core is intact, but the revolving door has been working overtime on the bottom half of the roster.

This summer has seen most of the grizzled veterans that littered the Thibodeau era replaced by fresh-faced youngsters who will be eager to make their mark in the league and earn their place. Jake Layman is the perfect example of that. Making him the ideal player to kick of our Player Previews.

The 47th pick in the 2016 draft, Layman signed a 3-year, 11.5 million deal this summer, after he experienced a mini-breakout season in his third with the Portland Trail Blazers. Over a career-high 71 games, including 33 starts, he averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from long-range.

Standing at 6-foot-9 and capable of playing as the small forward or small-ball power forward role, Layman will have plenty of competition for minutes this season. However, he has plenty of tangible skills that could help the Wolves, which should see him earn a place in the rotation.

His main strength is his ability to make timely cuts and garner easy buckets. The 25-year-old doesn’t wait for the ball to come to him, he constantly moves and gets into the ball-handler’s eye line, which should gel perfectly with Karl-Anthony Towns and his improved passing out of low-post double teams.

Of the 77 players who cut for a field goal attempt more than 75 times last season, Layman finished with the 9th highest points per possession (1.39). Despite his everyman appearance, he can finish at the rim with some jaw-dropping highlight plays.

When he isn’t flying off cuts to the bucket, Layman has proven to be the definition of a streaky shooter. Over the seven months of the 2018-19 season, Layman was a 3-point pendulum. In November, January, February and April combined, he shot 39.1 percent on 119 attempts. Good, right? Maybe the Timberwolves do have some hope from behind the arc. Well, in the other three months of the season, he shot just 25.6 percent on 62 attempts. Yikes.

With a bunch of non-shooters littering the roster, Minnesota desperately needs the best shooting version of the former Maryland Terrapin. Especially since he isn’t a plus defensively, despite his size and athletic ability.

He is bouncy and has a quicker first step than you might imagine, but his lateral quickness when trying to shuffle his feet and stay in front of wings leaves a lot to be desired. Last season, his -0.39 defensive real plus/minus ranked 49th among qualified small forwards. Not a great sign for a Wolves squad that has been a defensive disaster for the entire decade.

Even with his defensive shortcomings, it’s hard not to picture Layman clawing his way into the hearts of Wolvesdom. He is the quintessential team player who is willing to fight and scrap for wins, something this team has had far too few of lately.

He is still just entering the prime of his career and has shown promise when utilized in a larger role, so it’s no stretch to imagine that the upcoming campaign will be the most productive of Layman’s young career. All it takes is that streaky jumper to gain some consistency over another preseason, or his defensive standards to climb a notch and he will be an awesome addition to Minnesota’s bench.

Perhaps he won’t even be a reserve. With Andrew Wiggins believed to be playing more as a shooting guard and Robert Covington as a power forward, the race for the starting small forward is wide open. Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie both have claims, but are probably better suited at the two-guard spot, and Keita Bates-Diop hasn’t quite shown enough to gather starting consideration just yet.

Wherever he lines up, and however many minutes he is on the floor per game, Layman seems like he could be a great glue-guy for Ryan Saunders and his coaching cohorts. And on a bargain basement deal, there isn’t much risk attached.