January 19, 2019, 1:28 am
Jake Layman almost completely ignored the soaring finger roll that began the most scintillating stretch of his NBA career.
Coming off the bench for the first time in five games with Moe Harkless healthy, Layman spent the entirety of the first quarter on the bench Friday night, watching the Blazers go back and forth with the team that swept them out of the playoffs last spring. His first two shots, three-point attempts that came in the first 90 seconds of the second quarter, were off the mark. Moments later, Layman showed off the length and leaping ability that make him one of Portland’s most tantalizing young players – and was almost avoided altogether, offset by his nagging penchant for a lack of aggression.
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) January 19, 2019
See where Layman is on the floor when he turns toward the rim? This dribble hand-off action is a staple of the Blazers’ offense, normally used to promote player movement and swing the ball quickly from side to side. But with the Pelicans’ Frank Jackson trailing several feet behind the play, a red sea of paint opens for Layman the moment he receives the ball from Zach Collins. A player always in attack mode would have noticed immediately. Layman, on the other hand, with his eyes looking at the weak side, needed a full dribble before realizing his mistake and atoning for it with highlight-reel hops in the blink of an eye.
Fortunately for the Blazers, he abandoned his passive natural instincts from that point forward, blowing a competitive game wide open in the process.
Layman scored 20 points, without missing a shot, during a six-minute, 27-second stretch of the second quarter. He drained four high-arcing threes and threw down a pair of thunderous dunks, playing with the supreme confidence that can sometimes so easily bring his rare athletic gifts to bear. The hot hand accounted for Layman’s breakout more than anything else, obviously, and can’t be counted on going forward. But for a player who was so readily overlooked while starting the first 19 games of the season, it was still encouraging to watch Layman, feeding off the crowd, both hunt heat-check three-point opportunities and celebrate with passion by the time his frantic sequence was finished.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 19, 2019
Layman, whose only points came during that ridiculous barrage, was the catalyst behind the Blazers extending their lead, but he didn’t beat the Pelicans all by himself. Al-Farouq Aminu was instrumental to Portland’s effort on both ends, serving as Anthony Davis‘ primary defender and connecting on 3-of-6 from beyond the arc – with each make coming off high ball-screen action, after New Orleans committed two defenders to Damian Lillard.
Blazers fans will never forget that embarrassing first-round sweep, but what’s been lost in the haze of memory since and went under-noticed at the time is that Aminu shot 43.3 percent from beyond the arc against the Pelicans. He made the same shots on Friday that New Orleans was begging him to take in April. The difference this time is that Portland, rather than forcing the issue or settling for open jumpers from streaky shooters, pinged the ball all over the floor en route to 30 total assists. Layman’s explosion and the Blazers’ 18 offensive rebounds, a season-high, certainly contributed to their impressive offensive output, too.
Harkless’ play deserves more than a passing mention. He scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 21 minutes, never showing any rust that could have built up since his previous appearance on January 7, and even exhibiting the activity and athleticism that makes him one of Portland’s most versatile players. Three of his four baskets were dunks, and he also blocked a dunk attempt by Julius Randle. Does this look like a guy suffering from persistent knee pain that’s caused him to miss the last five games?
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) January 19, 2019
It’s still too early to expect a positive impact from Layman on a nightly basis, and there’s no telling how Harkless’ knee will hold up over the season’s second half. Despite Layman’s hot hand and Harkless’ career-best percentage last season, neither is a knockdown three-point shooter, either. But if both can consistently replicate just some aspects of their play against New Orleans going forward, Terry Stotts will suddenly possess more legitimate options on the wing than he’s ever had before.
Davis scored 27 points and shot over 50 percent from the field, but was hardly the dominant force that’s caused the Blazers so many problems in the recent past. One reason for his relatively pedestrian showing was Portland consistently double-teaming him in the post, whether he was being checked by Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic, or a perimeter player after a switch. The Blazers brought an extra defender Davis’ direction from the top, from the baseline, and from the opposite wing, ostensibly doubling off the Pelicans’ least-threatening player in the context of live action.
Portland, for the most part, did well rotating behind the double-team, too. On this sequence in the second quarter, two additional defenders converge on Davis on the left block, leaving Layman and Lillard to deal with four offensive players all by their lonesome. But Layman and Lillard are in perfect help position on the double, and able to quickly close-out on potential shooters as the ball moves, leaving enough time for McCollum to get all the way to the weak corner for a potential contest.
Help defense doesn’t get much better than that. To be fair, it’s not like the Blazers were at their absolute best defensively on Friday. New Orleans put up an offensive rating of 110.9 despite going just 8-of-25 from three. The road team briefly made it a game in the fourth quarter, too, whittling Portland’s 21-point lead to nine with 3:05 to play before Lillard hit his second and final triple.
But the Pelicans, it bears reminding, have the third-best offensive rating in the league, behind the dynasty Golden State Warriors and James Harden‘s Houston Rockets. They actually underperformed offensively by the numbers, and didn’t do enough on the other end to make the Blazers uncomfortable offensively – a reality that was driven home by Layman’s second-quarter scoring binge, but was apparent from the opening tip of Friday’s game.
May 31, 2020, 8:10 pmKz OkpalaF, Miami Heat
Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.
Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 8:03 pmGabe VincentPG, Miami Heat
Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon, stated that Gabe Vincent's knee is "good to go".
It sounds like Vincent would have no problem being NBA ready if the Heat decided to call up the two-way guard when play hopefully resumes July 31. Vincent is a strong 3-point shooter with the ability to attack a closeout, but it is still unlikely the Heat will need to put him on the floor for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 7:51 pmShake MiltonSG, Philadelphia Sixers
According to projections by Mike O'Connor and Derek Bodner of The Athletic, Shake Milton will be a starter for the Sixers whenever play relaunches.
Milton was thriving for the Sixers when the season was suspended due to COVID-19, and some risk remains that Ben Simmons will bump him from the rotation when the stoppage in play is lifted. In 16 starts with the Sixers, Milton averaged 14.1 points, 2.2 3-pointers, 3.6 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. As a 3-pointer specialist along, Milton has earned a slot in 12-team formats, but things are going to be more difficult when he is forced to play off-ball in a fully healthy lineup in Philadelphia
Source: The Athletic
May 31, 2020, 7:42 pmKevin DurantSF, Brooklyn Nets
On a recent ESPN podcast featuring Adrian Wojnarowski and his colleague Zach Lowe, Wojnarowski stated that Kevin Durant (torn Achilles) would not play for the Nets this year.
Wojnarowski went onto say that he had no source that had relayed that information to him. The Nets have largely been deferring to Durant and the medical staff when it comes to his prospects for playing this year. While the organization may get hopeful that KD will lace it up for a playoff run, all signs are still pointing to him waiting until 2020-21.
Source: Anthony Puccio on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 7:43 pmEric GordonSG, Houston Rockets
Rockets guard Eric Gordon has improved his diet, focused on sprints, and has apparently shed 12 pounds in the process, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
Gordon has battled knee ailments for essentially his whole career and has dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries this season as well. Losing weight to create a lighter frame would seem sensible, especially with the knee issues. The Rockets, remember, fully adopted the "small ball" lineup and move fast so Gordon is smart to keep his endurance and fitness at high levels. He's going to have to play well and make shots for the Rockets when the NBA returns to action, otherwise coach Mike D'Antoni won't be able to justify giving Gordon minutes. We don't anticipate much fantasy value out of him if and when the league starts back up.
Source: The Athletic
May 29, 2020, 6:03 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the NBA is planning for a Board of Governors vote on Thursday, during which they are expected to approve Adam Silver's proposal for re-starting the season in Orlando.
The trend lines are all moving in this direction, and this adds another bullet point on the schedule as the league prepares for launching games on July 31. Adam Silver has been able to bridge any divides between ownership and the players, and has been taking into account all his key constituent's views as we approach approval of a plan for moving forward. We still have plenty of items to resolve before we see game action, but the NBA is gaining momentum as these details come into place.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:44 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
On Friday, the Wizards resumed holding voluntary workouts at their practice facilities.
The Wizards have joined a chorus of teams that are returning in limited capacities to their facilities at this point. The NBA as a whole is continuing its march towards the resumption of play with a target date of July 31 now established. The District of Columbia also entered phase one of reopening today, and it makes sense for the team to proceed on a similar trajectory.
Source: Candace Buckner on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:03 pmJulius RandlePF, New York Knicks
Part of the Knicks' off-season thinking is to shape the roster around RJ Barrett, and it unclear where Julius Randle will fit in those plans.
Barrett and Randle have similar offensive styles, as they typically have an advantage relying upon their strength to attack the basket, but neither has a component deep ball at this stage in their careers. As Barrett is the younger option it makes sense that the Knicks want to sign shooters to give him more space to operate with. Randle's lousy percentages and turnovers has made for a disappointing season with the Knicks thus far, and Barrett will also need to make some strides in the shooting department to become a 12-team asset. Randle is under contract for next season is owed at least $4,000,000 in 2021-22.
May 29, 2020, 3:46 pmJayson TatumSF, Boston Celtics
On Friday, the Celtics' announced that their practice facilities would reopen on June 1.
That leaves us with four NBA teams without access to their facilities. Things are beginning to accelerate throughout the league as teams ramp up activities in hopes of resuming competition in Orlando on July 31. So far so good, but the NBA still has many hurdles to overcome on the path to resuming the season.
Source: Celtics PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:40 pmRJ BarrettSF, New York Knicks
The Knicks reopened their practice facility for voluntary workouts on Friday.
Another step in the right direction for the NBA's return to action at the end of July. It's still unclear if the Knicks will even be involved in whatever plan is agreed upon, but it is good to learn that the players can now access their facilities in New York. Only five team facilities have not opened up in some capacity at this point.
Source: Knicks PR on Twitter