It was a topsy-turvy season for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jake Layman. Coming off a career-best season with the Portland Trail Blazers, he got his first big payday, signing a 3-year, $11.3 million deal and moving to the Twin Cities. The 26-year-old quickly made his mark as a fan favorite through the first 14 games, averaging 26.4 minutes, 10.5 points and shooting a pleasant 35.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc as Minnesota flew out of the blocks with an 8-6 record.
Just as the former Blazer was starting to get comfortable in his new threads, he suffered one of the longest-lingering and extremely frustrating injuries in sports — a hyper-extended big toe (otherwise known as turf toe). One wouldn’t usually associate this type of injury with a three-month hiatus; however, that was the amount of time Layman was forced to be sidelined during his first year with the Wolves, zapping a lot of the momentum he had built throughout those first couple of weeks.
Jake Layman missed 97 days this past season due to turf toe.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) June 23, 2020
And yet, of guys on guaranteed deals for next season, he played the 4th most amount of games for the #Wolves (23).
Forget jersey patches, next year’s team might need name badges.
When he did return, he was afforded just nine rust-covered games before the season was abruptly suspended. As we know now, those nine games were the final stretch of games we will see the Wolves play for at least the next five and a half months, and Layman’s debut Timberwolves campaign ends just like that.
So what can the 6-foot-9 swingman do to enhance his game heading into his fifth NBA season?
Touch Around The Rim
Even before his season was derailed by turf toe, Layman clearly had issues with his inside finishing. With a long frame and a physical make-up that includes above-average speed and bounce, he rarely has an issue flying past closeouts and jetting to the rim in an off-ball role. However, putting the cherry on top has was a major issue.
According to Basketball Index, Layman finished his sputtering season with an adjusted field goal percentage at the rim (52.9%) that ranked him in the 40th percentile league-wide, and converted on just 64 percent of his cuts (48th percentile). On top of that, he ranked in the 37th percentile in transition, the 54th percentile as a roll man in pick-and-roll plays and the 40th percentile on putbacks — all plays that generally end in an attempt inside the paint.
As you can see from the compilation below, there was a multitude of head-scratching misses.
The main problem with Layman’s finishing seems to be his footwork and touch. He often seems to find himself launching a step too early on those layups, which forces him to stretch and contort around defenders, rather than just being able to go straight up at the rim. This seems like a fairly simple fix with a boat-load of reps, but it can be hard for anyone to completely abolish a bad footwork habit that has plagued them for years.
On the touch side, Layman’s bugaboo is his perceived inability to softly put the ball in consistently. Instead, he frequently clangs the ball off the front rim or backboard after entering the layup or floater with far too much juice.
Layman is too good of an athlete and too smooth of a mover to allow this to hinder him forever, and you can bet your bottom dollar the Timberwolves coaching staff have noticed this problem, too. Expect Layman to make adjustments to his finishing and touch over the drawn-out offseason.
Jump Shot Body Control
Despite entering the Timberwolves infrastructure as a below-average 3-point shooter, Layman adjusted to Minnesota’s 3-point-heavy system reasonably well. His 33.3 percent clip was a career-high, as was the 3.1 attempts he rifled off per game. As aforementioned, he was even better before the season-altering injury, hitting 35.2 percent on 3.9 attempts a night.
As a standstill shooter, Layman is reliable enough, but problems arise when he begins to shoot after running off screens or catching after a cut. The 26-year-old has trouble getting his body squared and in-line with the rim, which causes accuracy problems. As a result, his 48 percent effective field goal percentage was mired in mediocrity, ranking in the 51st percentile, per Basketball Index.
Similar results to the clip below weren’t rare to see during his short and interrupted Timberwolves tenure. The athletic off-ball movement is invaluable to this team, but he fails to straighten his body up and the over-rotation forces the shot to stray way left.
Even when he does get his body squared, Layman has the occasional tendency to mess up his footwork. Here, you can see how wide apart his feet are, throwing his shot base out of whack and giving him little chance to make the shot.
He is far from the most pressing case for the Timberwolves shot doctors, and Layman can certainly still contribute as a shooter even without ever truly improving in these areas, but he will be able to take his 3-and-D archetype to the next level if he can.
There is no denying that Layman wasn’t employed to be a playmaker for this team, and that’s even more true now that D’Angelo Russell is in town. However, refining his facilitating in drive-and-kick game would be huge for him and for his teammates around him.
As we’ve discussed, Layman has no trouble getting to the rim (even if he does struggle to finish when he gets there). What he does struggle with is making the right passing read when the defense inevitably collapses on him. With the newfound spacing that arrived after the trade deadline, the ability to slash and dime is crucial for this team.
This kind of play shouldn’t seep into Layman’s game. Instead of punishing Kelly Olynyk for rotating and hitting an open Kelan Martin in the corner, he opts for the uber-inefficient turnaround mid-range jumper.
According to Basketball Index, a high value assist is any pass that results in a 3-pointer, a shot at the rim or a free throw. These are the perfect passes to make in Ryan Saunders’ analytics-driven system. Unfortunately, Layman averages just 0.4 per game, grading him in the 7th percentile. If the forward can begin to hit spot-up shooters, that number should quickly balloon.
Minnesota lived and died with the 3-point shot before Gersson Rosas nuked the team and rebuilt it at the trade deadline, and they will ramp that up to another level with this new-look squad. If Layman is going to factor heavily into that rotation, he needs to become a better drive-and-kick player.