This season is a turning point in Jake Layman’s NBA career. You don’t have to tell him that. The 27-year-old swingman is in the final season of a three-year contract he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2019.
The first two years of Layman’s time in Minnesota have not gone as expected. A strong start in Year 1 was sent off the rails by a toe injury that took him out for a large chunk of the season. Last year, Layman went from the starting lineup at the season’s outset to out of the rotation.
“Two very different, up-and-down years,” he said. “But I’m very excited to be here.”
Here is why this is such a make-or-break season for Layman: If he can find a way to get into the rotation and make an impact, he likely will get another contract next year in free agency, here or somewhere else. If he’s again stuck on the bench, well, the competition these days even for minimum-level contracts in the NBA is fierce.
Those types of stakes often come with immense pressure, but Layman simply sounds like a man on a mission.
“To prove to everybody what I can do out there,” Layman said. “I haven’t been at my best these last two years, so I’m coming in with nothing to lose. I’m going to give it my all and do what I’ve got to do to help us win.”
While he’s mentally prepared for the possibility that he will be stuck on the bench again, Layman said he’s done enough of that in recent years. He plans to do everything possible to avoid a similar fate this season.
“I think you’re going to see a new Jake this year. A more aggressive on defense Jake, so I think that’s my path to playing time is on defense, show my aggression, help us on that end,” he said. “My mindset is there’s nothing to lose this year, to have zero regrets after the year is done.”
What exactly does a more aggressive Layman on defense look like? Timberwolves coach Chris Finch wants the entire team to be more physical and aggressive on the ball.
“Somebody like Jake (it’s) blowing up screens, blowing (dribble handoffs), trying to get that mentality to just kind of wedge yourself in there,” Finch said.
Layman plans to be more aggressive offensively, as well, by attacking the rim and being a playmaker.
“But to stay on the floor,” he noted, “defense first.”
That’s the path for all of the Timberwolves’ current fringe rotation players to get on the court, Finch noted.
“Defense is going to be a priority,” he said. “(With) our three main guys (Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards) leaning more toward the offensive side of the floor … we round out with defense. That’s what we think we’ve done a good job with with our roster.”
Finch lauded this team’s depth, noting 12 players could realistically be a part of the team’s rotation. But there is usually only room for nine or 10, at best. Layman will have to earn any opportunity.
“I’m going to play my (butt) off and play my hardest if I’m going to stay out there,” he said. “I’m not going to have any regrets when it comes to being able to be on the floor.”