Let’s take a look at Jake Layman’s first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which was unfortunately abbreviated due to injury well before the pandemic-induced league hiatus.
The Wolves hoped Layman would become a solid backup to Robert Covington as a guy who could provide energy, hustle, cutting, and 3-point shooting whenever Cov was on the bench.
Unfortunately, they only got a glimpse of what that would look like, as Layman suffered a toe injury on Nov. 19 and was sidelined until Feb. 25. To this point, he’s played just 23 games in a Timberwolves uniform.
In the short amount of time Layman was available, the results were mostly positive. With Layman on the court in meaningful minutes, the Wolves had an offensive rating of 111.0 and a defensive rating of 108.2, per Cleaning the Glass. When he was the nominal power forward, those numbers went to 116.3 and 101.5, respectively.
In just over 22 minutes per game, Layman averaged 9.1 points on 45 percent shooting to go along with 2.5 boards and 0.7 assists. While they weren’t the most impressive numbers, Layman’s true value lies in his toughness and energy off the bench.
Minnesota was sitting surprisingly well with a 7-5 record before Layman went down. Up to that point in the season their shooting percentages were rarely good, and Ryan Saunders’ new offense was still a work in progress. Yet what the team clearly lacked in talent and offensive consistency, it made up for in grit and grind, and Layman was an integral part of that.
With Layman out after Nov. 19, the Wolves were forced to employ sort of a “backup 4 by committee” strategy. Several players, including Keita Bates-Diop, Kelan Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Treveon Graham and Gorgui Dieng would see minutes in Layman’s place over the next few months.
By the time Layman returned to action in February, the team’s record had fallen all the way to 16-39, and every starter except Towns had been replaced via trade. Layman’s role was a bit less defined this time around, with Juan Hernangomez and James Johnson eating up a bulk of the power forward minutes for Minnesota.
Still, despite the changes and his not being quite at full strength, Layman was one of only two Wolves to post a positive plus-minus while playing at least 35 minutes total over those last nine games- the other being D’Angelo Russell.
Three stats stand out as indicators of Jake Layman’s unseen impact:
He was second on the team in average offensive speed, a measure of his average movement when the Wolves had the ball. This comes as no shock, as anyone who watched Layman play this year would have seen him constantly cutting, setting screens, and running off screens within Ryan Saunders’ offense. Also not surprisingly, Jordan McLaughlin was first on the team.
And finally, Layman was also fifth on the team in average defensive speed. This isn’t always a positive stat, as running around too much on defense can lead to poor defensive spacing and leave shooters open. But in Layman’s case it seemed to be, as at least from a team standpoint, the Wolves defended better with Layman on the floor.
2019-20 Season Grade A-
There’s no denying the impact Layman’s energy and toughness had on the Timberwolves in his 23 games this year. He struggled as a 3-point shooter making only 33.3 percent of his attempts, but that might be less of an issue next year when he’s not, you know, one of four non-shooters on the floor.
Looking ahead to next year, Layman should have every opportunity to compete for more quality minutes at the forward spots, depending on what the Wolves decide to do with Juan Hernangomez and James Johnson. Each of the three offers something distinctly different alongside centers Towns and Naz Reid, and it will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out this summer.
In any case, the Wolves’ front office got a steal in Jake Layman at just over $3.5 million per year. Perhaps next year they’ll start to see that investment truly pay off.