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Can Jake Layman Still Contribute?

Jake Layman had a disastrous 2020 season but there are still many reasons to like him going forward.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 season was a tough one for player evaluation, especially for the Timberwolves. Aside from a pandemic-shortened schedule cutting their season short, both injuries and roster turnover added further difficulty. Among those players was forward Jake Layman.

Layman joined the Wolves last offseason on a three-year and $11.28 million deal. Despite being a four-year player in college, he is an intriguing young combo forward. At 6’10’’, Layman appeared to fit Gersson Rosas’ vision of a versatile roster teeming with potential. I’m sure his familiarity with David Vanterpool on the coaching staff also worked in his favor.

Whether Layman blossoms into a star hardly matters on a team-friendly deal like his. Obviously, the team would be thrilled but they aren’t hamstrung by his contract if he doesn’t. There is reason to be interested in Layman as a rotation player in the short term.

What to Make of Layman So Far

The caveat here is Layman’s entire season is a small sample. He played just 23 of 64 games due to a toe injury. His 2,200 career minutes played are 300 fewer than last season’s league leader in minutes played. Only 500 of those minutes came last season. Making absolute decisions on Layman’s future based on that sample is extremely dicey.

Layman finished his fourth NBA season averaging 9.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.4 blocks per game in 22.2 minutes per contest. Efficiency-wise, he was fine. These numbers certainly don’t set your hair on fire but they don’t tell the whole story either. Layman’s toe injury in November changed the trajectory of his season.

Through November, Layman was shooting 35.1 percent on 3-pointers and shooting 46.2 percent from the field in just fourteen games. His production was in-line with his season averages, but he was improving enough to earn a spot in the starting lineup.

When Layman returned after the All-Star break, he struggled mightily to find his shot. Layman made just one-third of his 2-pointers and 25 percent of his 3-pointers in the first three games after his return. In six games in March, Layman connected on 50 percent of his total shots but still just 30 percent of his 3-pointers.

Why Should We Care About Layman for Two More Years?

If you’re underwhelmed by Layman so far, that’s understandable. After all, he’s 26 years old and barely played more than 2,000 minutes in four seasons. Yet, there’s reason for optimism with Layman should he ever earn more consistent minutes going forward.

In his return from injury last season, Layman had 22 free throw attempts in nine games. Yet, in his first 14 — the ‘apex’ of his season — Layman had just 10. Seeing him able to increase his trips to the line after the injury is encouraging. He was a 75 percent free throw shooter last season and is a career 72-percent career shooter from the stripe. That’s not great but it’s respectable.

Free throw shooting is often associated with being a good perimeter shooter. Layman has objectively not been a good 3-point shooter in his career. Had he not hurt his toe and continued his pace, 35 percent would be a career-high from beyond the arc. Nonetheless, last season finally pushed his career percentage over 30 percent.

However, Layman became a strong shooter at Maryland. I’m not talking about one fluky season where he almost shot 60 percent like Derrick Williams. In his four years, he shot 29.9 percent, 36.5 percent, 37.8 percent, and 39.6 percent from the field. We’ve seen incremental progress on his efficiency in the NBA, too. If he can become a consistent 35 or 37 percent shooter, that may be satisfactory.

Layman’s signing one year ago may not have been the talk of the league, but it was a good low risk/high reward move for a franchise like Minnesota that is rarely Plan A, Plan B, or even Plan D for potential free agents. If Layman can return to 100% health and thrives this upcoming season, Gersson Rosas will look brilliant. Even if he falters or fails to completely put his toe issue behind him, the consequences on the team (and salary cap!) are still minimal.