The rumors are true: In addition to competing in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge (also known as the Rookie-Sophomore Game) Friday night of All-Star Weekend and his first All-Star Game Sunday night, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will defend his Taco Bell Skills Challenge title, compete in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and finish up his Saturday night in New Orleans by being one of the six participants in the Sprite Slam Dunk contest.
“I think, because I’m capable of doing them all and I was probably going to be shooting and doing Skills, once I got invited to the All-Star Game it was obviously an opportunity to have somebody do all of them,” said Lillard. “It wasn’t something that I reached out for and I don’t think the NBA kind of wanted me to do it from the jump either. I just think that, with me being in the All-Star Game and being a second-year player, so I have to play in the Rookie/Sophomore Game and winning Skills and wanting to shoot, it only makes sense to do them all.”
Lillard will be the first player in NBA All-Star history to compete in five events, which is one of the motivating factors in his decision.
“That was a big part of it,” said Lillard. “Because that’s obviously an opportunity for me to put my name on All-Star Weekend and be the first person to do something like that. Especially on that Saturday night. Because that’s a big part of it. The dunk contest, the Three-Point Shootout, Skills, just the fact that I could be all over that, that was a big thing for me.”
Lillard is the first Trail Blazer since Rudy Fernandez at All-Star Weekend 2009 in Phoenix to be invited to compete in the Dunk Contest. It’s been a much longer drought for Blazers in the Three-Point shootout, with Cliff Robinson being the last player to represent Rip City in that even during the 1996 All-Star Weekend in San Antonio. No Trail Blazer has ever won either event.
“It’s kind of like, I’m expanding as a brand, kind of opening more eyes to who I am,” said Lillard. “Also, for the Trail Blazers. It’ll always come back to my team. I think that’s an opportunity for our team. It’ll be more focused on our team.”
Though he’s not really known as a dunker (according to NBA.com/stats, Lillard has just eight dunks this season), Lillard is excited for the challenge of competing against some of the highest-flyers in the NBA.
“Only eight dunks, that means my legs are fresh,” joked Lillard. “I can get a lot more dunking in … The contest will be short. I’ve got to go out there and show some of the tricks that I do.”
“I know I can dunk and do a lot more dunks than people probably think I can,” said Lillard. “So it’s going to be fun to have that on my side. ”
The Sprite Slam Dunk contest field includes Indiana Pacer swingman Paul George, Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross, Washington Wizard’s point guard John Wall, Golden State’s Harris Barnes and Sacramento Kings rookie Ben McLemore in the field. Of this year’s participants, only George and Wall are also playing in Sunday night’s All-Star Game. Ross, a Portland native, won the contest last year during All-Star Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, albeit in a field featuring much lower profile players than this year’s lineup.
Also at issue is the timing of the Dunk Contest, which is the final event on All-Star Saturday. While neither the Skills Challenge nor Three-Point Contest are particularly demanding, both events do require exertion, particularly in the lower body. And that’s to say nothing of the adrenaline expended while being the focal point of an arena full of fans. Considering that Lillard’s vertical leap isn’t that of some of his opponents, he might have to find other ways to impress or figure out adjustments if he’s at all fatigued from the first two events, though he said he’s confident he’ll be up to the task.
“In the Skills you’re going through a course and making passes,” said Lillard. “It’s pretty light. It’s not heavy at all. We warmup before games like that. The Three-Point Shootout is spot-up three-pointers so it’s not like I’m going to worry about having energy. It’ll be a big crowd and I’m sure that adrenaline and just being in front of that crowd will help me be able to probably jump higher than I normally do.”
While Lillard might be a long shot to win the the dunk contest, he’ll have to be considered one of the favorites to take the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest crown.
“I wanted to shoot in the Three-Point Contest,” said Lillard, “and I think that’ll be the one that I’m most excited about.”
He’s third in the NBA this season in three-pointers made with 140 while shooting a very respectable 41 percent from beyond the arc.
His percentages from certain areas on the floor also bode well for his chances, as he shoots 42 percent from the left side center, 46 percent from the right side center and a whopping 62 percent from the left corner. On the other hand, he’s a much better shooter from three when shooting pullups (68 percent) and step backs (68 percent) than he is on regular jump shots (37 percent), which are more akin to the shots taken in the three-point shootout.
“In the game, a lot of times they don’t leave me to get many spot-up opportunities,” explained Lillard. “I shoot those shots all the time when I’m getting reps in. I think the thing that I have to get used to is getting it off a rack. Which side I like to pick it up from, obviously doing it within the time that we have.”
And unlike the dunk contest, where handicapping the competition is somewhat difficult due to the vagaries of the scoring system, the field in the three-point shootout is undeniably strong. Lillard will be up against Kyrie Irving (35 percent), who won the event last year, Washington’s Bradley Beal (41 percent), Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson (39 percent), Orlando’s Arron Afflalo (43 percent), Golden State’s Stephen Curry (40 percent), San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli (44 percent) and Minnesota’s Kevin Love (38 percent).
Lillard will defend his Taco Bell Skills Challenge title after being the first rookie to win the event last year in Houston. He bested Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Brandon Knight, Jeremy Lin and Tony Parker to come away with the trophy in his rookie season.
As for the Rookie-Sophomore Game, Lillard was “drafted” by Grant Hill’s team for the Rookie-Sophomore Game alongside the likes of Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond and Harrison Barnes.
Some questioned whether Lillard was putting himself at risk of fatigue when news of Lillard participating in five events during All-Star Weekend broke prior to the official announcement, which Lillard brushed off.
“If you pay attention to it, the Skills is two rounds, maybe a minute a piece,” said Lillard. “That’s two minutes. The Three-Point Contest is probably two minutes. The dunk contest will probably take five. And then the Rookie-Sophomore Game is not like a real regular season game. So I’m not going to be out there exerting all of my energy, playing as hard as I would for the Trail Blazers. And who knows how many minutes I’ll play in the All-Star Game. So, in reality, it’s probably 45 minutes of work actually on the court. I don’t really think I’ll be tired from that.”
The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge tips off at 6 PM on Feb. 14, events on All-Star Saturday night begin at 5 PM on Feb. 15 with the weekend culminating with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16. All events will be televised on TNT.
Maryland forward Jake Layman took questions from the Portland media via conference call for the first time Friday afternoon since being acquired by the Trail Blazers from the Orlando Magic after he was selected with the 47th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. The 6-9 wing, who averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in four seasons with the Terrapins, discussed being selected by the Trail Blazers, whether he knew the team was interested in him prior to the draft, what skills he has that are most applicable in the NBA, his defensively strengths and his plans to come to Portland in time for summer league workouts…
What was your initial reaction after being drafted by the Trail Blazers and your impressions of the franchise?
Jake Layman: First off, I’m very excited. It was such a stressful night. I was nervous all night, I didn’t really know what to expect with what was going to happen the way the draft was going last night. To finally hear my name called was just a big sign of relief, I was very excited, especially to be picked up by the Blazers because I’ve watched them play a lot. I think that their style of play fits me very well.
Why did you watch them a lot over the season?
Jake Layman: I think it was really more playoff time when I saw them play.
Where the Blazers on your radar? Did they interview you in Chicago at the combine, have any interaction with the team leading up to the draft?
Jake Layman: I did an interview with them at the combine but they were still in the playoffs, so they didn’t have really anybody there who could interview. That was really it. I didn’t work out for them. But I did know that they were very interested going into the draft, but they had no picks, so I really didn’t think much of it. So when my agent called me to tell me they traded in for the pick, I was excited.
What did you think about Portland’s recent playoff run?
Jake Layman: It was very exciting. Watching them with how young they are, how much talent they have, to be battling out there against some of the best teams in the NBA. I know how excited the fanbase was to see that happen.
What are your most applicable NBA skills right now and how do you see yourself projecting as an NBA player from a position or skill perspective?
Jake Layman: I think for me, my shooting ability, it’s gotten better each year that I was in college. So I think for me, just carrying that into the NBA is going to be huge. And also for me, I think being able to guard multiple spots on the floor is what teams are looking for now. I think that’s something I can do.
Do you know Pat Connaughton at all since you’re from the same area? Did you play against him at all?
Jake Layman: I know him pretty well. We never really played against each other in high school or anything, but just being from the same area. We were part of the Boston Globe all-star team one year, so yeah, we definitely know each other.
Do you know when you’re going to come to Portland, when you might sign and whether you’ll play for the team at summer league?
Jake Layman: Talking to the GM yesterday, I think I’m going to fly out to Portland either July 3rd or 4th and then I’ll be there for the practices leading up to summer league, which starts pretty soon after that. Then I’ll play in summer league. I’m not really sure about signing contracts or anything right now, but for summer league I’ll definitely be there.
What was your conversation like with Neil Olshey?
Jake Layman: He just asked me how I felt. All the emotion going through your head when you get drafted, it was definitely nice to talk to him. Asked me how I’m feeling and if I’m ready to get going. I was very excited to hear from him, I talked to Coach Stotts also.
How would you describe yourself off the court? What’s your personality like? How do you approach the game? Approach life or leadership or being in a locker room.
Jake Layman: I think for me, I’m a little different off the court than I am on the court. I think when it comes to being on the court, I’m definitely pretty intense. I’m always going hard, going crazy on the court. Then off the court, I’m a pretty quiet guy, very laid back, definitely a great locker room guy. I get along with everybody. That’s how I would describe myself.
You said you feel like your defensive versatility is an asset. Could you break down your strengths defensively?
Jake Layman: I think my on-ball defense has definitely gotten better over the years. But I think playing off the ball on defense, being able to come over and help and then block shots from the weakside, it is something that I’m definitely good at.
Do you feel like joining a young team, but one that has already had some success in the playoffs, give you an opportunity that other guys in the draft might not get?
Jake Layman: I think it’s a great chance to be able to come in this next year and help, make an impact on the team, just go in and help whatever way I can, whether it’s scoring, defending or all of those. I think the makeup of this team definitely gives me a chance to go in and make an impact right away.
What’s your hometown of Wrentham like? What was it like growing up there?
Jake Layman: Growing up in Wrentham, I’m one of five boys in my family, so there’s always something to do, always someone to play with. I was big into sports when I was little. My dad played baseball in college, my mom played basketball in college so I was always involved in the youth leagues, whether it was baseball, football or basketball. I think for me, my childhood was definitely run by sports when I was little growing up.
Can you see someone in the NBA who reminds you of yourself or someone who has the same skillset?
Jake Layman: Someone I’m trying to model my game after — I’m not saying I’m him right now, but it’s someone who I definitely think my game over time could be just like his — is Gordon Hayward, plays for the Utah Jazz.
Can you describe waiting to hear your name called last night?
Jake Layman: From the start of the night, you’re going in with the thought of what you’ve been hearing from teams and what your agent’s been telling you. Once the draft starts going, especially last night, it was definitely not what I expected. I was surrounded by a bunch of family and friends, so they were keeping me calm the whole time. I was just hanging in there, staying strong and to finally hear my name called, it was definitely a sigh of relief.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the Trail Blazers have acquired the No. 47 pick of the 2016 Draft from the Orlando Magic, which they will use to select 6-9 forward Jake Layman out of Maryland…
Portland will select Maryland’s Jake Layman with No. 47, sources tell @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 24, 2016
Source: To get Maryland’s Jake Layman at No. 47, Portland will send Orlando $1.2M and a 2019 second-round pick.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 24, 2016
The Trail Blazers entered Thursday’s draft with no picks, though it always seemed likely they’d purchase a second round pick, as Paul Allen has shown throughout his tenure as owner that he’s willing to spend in order to bring in draft talent. The $1.2 million the Trail Blazers reportedly sent to Orlando, along with a future second round pick, for the 47th pick is significantly less than what some other teams reportedly spent to get picks later in the second round.
Assuming Layman and the Trail Blazers can come to contract terms — second round picks can negotiate their contracts, while salaries for first round picks are dictated by where they’re taken — it seems likely that he would play for the Trail Blazers at the Las Vegas Summer League, which starts in mid-July.
UPDATE: It’s official. From the team’s press release…
“Jake is a high character young man with a skill set we value on both ends of the floor,” said Olshey. “His ability to defend multiple positions and shoot the ball from range will be positive additions to our roster.”
Orlando selected Layman with the 47th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. A four-year player out of the University of Maryland, Layman (6-9, 220) posted career averages of 10.2 points (44.5% FG, 36.2% 3PT, 75.9% FT), 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists for the Terrapins.
An Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection his senior year, Layman led Maryland to 114 wins over his four seasons and is one of just 12 players in school history to record 1,400 points (1,436) and 600 rebounds (674). Layman, 22, guided Maryland to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2003 last season, and ranks 18th in school history in points (1,436) and 18th in rebounds (674).
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.