Thomas Robinson, listed at 6-10, 237 pounds, can take up some space, so much so that teammates and coaches took to calling him “Truck” this season due to his broad frame and muscular build.
But all that size isn’t worth much if you don’t have somewhere to put it, which was the case for Robinson the last two summers. Neither the first months after being drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2012 nor the all but certainty that he would be traded sometime during the summer of 2013 afforded Robinson the opportunity to find the offseason stability young players need in order to improve.
But this summer, Robinson finds himself in the stable confines of the Trail Blazers’ practice facility. Now with Portland for almost a full year, Robinson says he’s set up just right in Portland after being a bit lost in the shuffle for the last two summers.
“I feel comfortable,” said Robinson after a recent workout at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin. “I feel like I know I can came back here and work every day. I can go home and come back here and work! It’s just a fact of being comfortable. That’s all I want. I love it here. I just like the feeling of being comfortable, that’s all.”
Immediately after the Trail Blazers were eliminated from the 2014 postseason, Robinson took “a solid seven days off” relaxing with friends and family on the east coast before getting back to work on the court. Now back in Portland, he has put in hours and hours of practice with Portland’s coaching staff in an effort to replace some of the less endearing parts of his game with skills more useful within Terry Stotts’ system.
“I’m not trying to do nothing crazy out here,” said Robinson. “I’m just trying to either break bad habits or get used to doing stuff that I need to do next year. So I’m not in pickup trying to score 1,000 points or nothing. Even working on a move consistently that I’ve been working on, getting used to catching and shooting or catching and making a pass instead of catching and holding (the ball). Really just trying to find my teammates. I’m trying to do that, get into the swing of things and be good at finding my teammates.”
For a player who has been somewhat of a ball-stopper by his own admission in his first two seasons, understanding the importance of ball movement, particularly in an offense dependent of what Stotts refers to as “flow,” and how he can use his athleticism to open things up for himself and his teammates has been a revelation. Robinson has made a habit of putting his head down on drives to the basket with the sole intention of going to the rim regardless of the defense, with limited success (he shot 25 percent on drives last year, the worst mark on the team for any player with at least 10 drives). But now, thanks in part to help from Portland’s coaching staff, Robinson is out to change that.
“Knowing that when I drive, thinking that I’ve faster than everybody that I just drive and try to get to the hole every time,” said Robinson of one of the “bad habits” he’s trying to break. “Now, I can use my driving ability to drive and kick. After that, things open up for me, It becomes a lot easier because I’ve found myself driving one time and kicking it, then driving the next time and the rim is wide open just because I kicked it the play before.”
Robinson has also been working on perfecting “two or three moves from different spots” in an effort to diversify his offensive repertoire. But as is the case for many young players, Robinson is trying to find a balance between utilizing the skills he’s already good at (what he refers to as “the easy things”) while continuing to expand his game. That can be a bit tricky for a player coming off the bench for a 50+ win team, but the relative calm of the NBA offseason provides players like Robinson the opportunity to refine and expand skills at the same time.
“Don’t get it wrong, I’m going to do what I do best to help my team win next year,” said Robinson. “Individually, I don’t think I’m close to being just a rebounder and an energy man. I’m not stopping, not at all. At this young stage in my career and for this team, that’s what I’ll do, but that’s nowhere close to everything I can do. They know that. When that time shifts to when it’s time for me to show individual work, then I’ll be able to do that. But my talent is going to come out anyway.”
“The balance for (Robinson), and a lot of these guys, with summer league is they’re put in a position where they can do more things, but at the same time they have to understand their role next season,” said Terry Stotts. “I don’t want to limit any of our guys as far as expanding their game, and that’s part of summer league and what we’re doing here is being able to expand things, make some mistakes and play through them. Thomas is a young player, he’s finally gotten some continuity in his NBA career, he feels more comfortable with not only how we want to play but he understands where he can be successful in the NBA. All those things are going to be important for him.”
Not to mention important for the Trail Blazers. With no draft picks and limited money to spend in free agency, it will be incumbent upon the bench players, particularly Robinson, to make strides this offseason in order for Portland to take the next step in the Western Conference.
“I think with hard work, our (bench) guys can be great,” said Robinson. “We literally have a second core that’s talented. If we get those guys strong within the organization, we can do damage. Our starters don’t have to do anything but come back and get that extra help from us. Us getting better will take us above 54 (wins), cause our starters are going to be our starters. They’re established players, Dame is only getting better, LA is in his prime and so on. It’s really down to us. If we go from 54 wins to 55, we were in the gym this summer and this work helped us get one more win.
“When it comes to who has more guys to get better between the second and first group, it’s going to be the second group. You have two all-stars, three arguably. One of the best all-around players I’ve played with ever in Nico, you’ve got a dog in Wes. That’s who he is, that’s who he’s been. Them guys know who they are already. With us getting better, we made noise this year, but I think we can put ourself and keep ourself in that category with the Spurs, Oklahoma City, Miami.”
That might sound like Robinson putting the onus of success or failure next season on himself and the second unit, which, to an extent, is true. But he’s built to carry that weight, especially now that he has a stable place to put it.
“It’s just up to us,” said Robinson. “That’s cool, I want the pressure, because then you’ve got to get better. You can’t complain about something if somebody gives you a chance and you don’t do nothing. So we’re going to work, and when the chance comes, we ain’t got no excuse. If you don’t show up, you don’t show up.”
The relationship between Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver predates both of their current occupations. When the two first sat down for a interview back in 2010, McCollum had not yet been drafted by the Trail Blazers with the 10th overall pick of the 2012 Draft (though that would happen later that night) and Silver, while already tabbed to take over for outgoing commissioner David Stern, was still pulling duty as deputy commissioner.
Every year since then, McCollum and Silver have met up in New York City after the end of the season to discuss topics pertaining to the NBA and society in general. In 2014, they discussed the situation with the previous Los Angeles Clippers ownership, the age limit, emerging technologies, Silver’s first year as the NBA’s head honcho and their favorite Jay-Z tracks. In 2015, McCollum, armed with a few seasons of experience and a new job at The Players’ Tribune, followed up on some of the questions from the year before regarding the age limit while also bringing up issues such as ads on jerseys, transparency in officiating and head injuries.
And in their fourth annual interview, released on The Players’ Tribune as a part of McCollum’s summer internship with the athlete-owned website, the two discuss how far they’ve come (or in CJ’s case, how much weight he’s lost) since their first meeting in 2012, Silver’s handshakes, whether the NBA would have their All-Star Weekend at “remote locations” like the NFL, whether the league is considering moving the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the 2016 NBA Finals and the suspension of Draymond Green and recent efforts to increase diversity in NBA front offices. You can watch an excerpt of the interview in the above video, or read the entire Q&A over at The Players’ Tribune.
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).