Jake Layman, until two nights ago, was just a fairly good-looking white guy on the bench of the Blazers, matched in both skill and looks by his bench friends Nik Stauskas, Meyers Leonard (University of Illinois attendee) and Zach Collins. He went to Maryland, plays sometimes and shoots 3s, possessing pretty good size and decent athleticism. Overall, he’s not that important to the success of the Blazers this year. I think even he’d admit that.
But his second quarter against our dear Pellies may have just ended the Anthony Davis era in New Orleans. So, why and how did this happen, and what does it mean?
I’ll acknowledge a concept that sports fans and analysts do not like to bring up: sheer luck.
Jake Layman just displayed all the “best case scenario” parts of his game and on-court presence in a short period of time and it, along with a mis-timed Anthony Davis injury, might spell doom for this season, another one lost despite decent high-end depth of talent.
He drove into open spaces that should have been occupied by Darius Miller or Julius Randle; he pivoted in space that should have been occupied by, again, Randle; he cut behind E’Twaun Moore; he made his way to the hoop without recognition from AD or Jrue Holiday; he was dismissed by Jrue on a fastbreak; he out-maneuvered Miller; he turned a close game into a blowout.
Everything he did was right, practically every shot went in and his contributions — when paired with decent games from all the Blazers regulars — caused all Pels fans to slap the table and yell obscenities. In my case, he made me mutter “The Jake Layman Game” over and over again.
Because he got a couple of dunks and open shots that happened to go in, he became more aggressive and he lived out a dream: going unconscious in an NBA game. He embodied the Jordan Shrug, the Curry wiggle and Westbrook passion all in one. He’ll never do any better, and it was at home against the very team that swept the Blazers in last year’s playoffs.
It was luck.
Will this ever happen again in his NBA career? I mean, c’mon: probably not. How long will Jake Layman’s NBA career even last? This is early conjecture, but there’s certainly a scenario where he’s not in the league in four (or two) years. Maybe he becomes a career 3rd-guy-off-the-bench in the NBA; but, maybe he spends most of his professional basketball career in other countries.
I understand Louis CK is toxic right now, but this part of his stand-up is important in understanding Jake Layman:
Of course, Jake Layman is an NBA-caliber player, but maybe he isn’t and Pels fans are left with no 2019 playoffs and no AD moving forward.
So, the Pellies caught a body at the wrong time. The Jake Layman Youtube clip might be his most valuable NBA existence. But Layman exposed a long-existing problem for the Pels, especially this season’s version: bad defense.
The problem all year might be “the scheme” — think of early Tom Thibodeau and his “ice” concept — or maybe, maybe it’s been multiple players on the roster who occasionally go brain-dead or simply get beat. String together a few poor defensive possessions and you can light up a role player who is coming for your neck, as he’s trying to get a second contract. All the sudden, you go from a one-point advantage to down 15 (or whatever).
The defense has been bad, no doubt, but I just don’t know who to blame.
Clutch, Klutch and Failure
The other part about luck — per all the NBA analytics folks on Twitter, at least — is that you can play a good, close game and lose but feel optimistic about the future of the team’s season. And this Pelicans team has, in the most macro sense, played well enough to hold a 25-21 record, not the other way around. Late game struggles, as has often been noted on this site, have killed the Pelicans.
I thought Jrue would be the man in late-game scenarios, and that he, paired with all-world Anthony Davis, could get New Orleans to its expected amount of close-game wins. That has not happened. When you talk about close games, you have to talk about individual possessions, and it’s hard to criticize professionals in a micro sense.
Non-Pelicans example: did Jimmy Butler make a mistake fouling Paul George with five seconds to go in a tightly contested game on Saturday? Yeah! But almost any coach and player would rather have Butler guarding George than almost anybody else in the league. He barely entered George’s space, but the call seemed legit, and it’s one bad play. But hey, that one bad play came at the end of the game and severely impacted the outcome.
And that’s what’s happened to the Pels, but a million times over and over again. If it’s not Jake Layman, it’s a bizarre injury, or change in the way the NBA plays or missed draft pick, or poorly-executed trade.
So, why would Anthony Davis want to play with a star-crossed organization like the Pelicans? Why not go to the home of Klutch Sports or the Celtics, both homes of NBA exceptionalism? Wouldn’t you want to work for Google (or Vox? wink) instead of the local PC repair shop?
Of course, the Pelicans could become Google this season, but maybe they aren’t and we say goodbye to AD and near-term success. And maybe it’s all due to Jake Layman.