MANKATO — Jake Layman was the outlier of the Timberwolves offseason.
After the Wolves took a big swing and missed on current Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell, they pivoted their free-agency strategy to become young and flexible, from the perspective of the balance sheet.
They gave out one-year deals to young veterans Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell looking for another opportunity to showcase their games. They acquired some similar players such as Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham in the sign-and-trade that facilitated Russell’s move to Golden State from Brooklyn.
Layman was the only free agent signing to get more than one guaranteed year. He signed for three years, coming over from the Blazers in a deal worth around $11.5 million.
That’s because the Wolves think they have found an intelligent, crafty player who can complement Karl-Anthony Towns’ game.
“The thing about Jake is that he can fit in wherever because he’s so smart,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “He’s good reading defenses. He understands the point we make of giving yourself up for the team. … He’s very good. He’s very cerebral.”
The quiet Layman, who attended Maryland, saw an uptick in his usage in Portland during year three, when he averaged 18.7 minutes and 7.6 points per game. He earned a niche in the Trail Blazers rotation thanks in part to his cutting abilities.
“That’s just a part of my game, the cutting off the ball,” Layman said. “I think we have some great passers here who can find me on those cuts. So far, it’s been working out really well.”
Layman said he is at his best when he is playing off other people, and when someone like Towns commands the attention of the defense, Layman could find his spots to slip through the defense.
Layman described his summer as “crazy.” He changed cities and got married. When free agency opened, the Wolves weren’t initially on his radar as he began fielding interest from teams. He said the length of the contract wasn’t a big issue for him — he just wanted to find the right situation where he could thrive in his next stop.
“Minnesota kind of came out of nowhere toward the end,” Layman said. “Talking to [President] Gersson [Rosas] and Ryan it seemed like the perfect fit for me for what I was trying to do.”
It also helped that one of the Blazers assistants, David Vanterpool, became the Wolves’ associate head coach. Layman is walking into an unfamiliar place but with a familiar face. Layman can help his teammates understand what Vanterpool will want to execute on the defensive end of the floor, where Vanterpool is spearheading the installation of the Wolves’ schemes.
“He’s going to be a great anchor for us when it comes to our philosophies and schemes defensively,” Layman said. “In Portland, what he was able to do with our team defensively, he’s definitely going to bring that here.”
But Layman’s biggest contributions for the Wolves may come offensively, thanks to his deft movement without the ball.
“He has ability to do a lot of things, and I think we’re all excited to see him do that,” said Napier, who overlapped with Layman for two years in Portland. “A lot of guys see him play and they don’t realize how athletic he is. They don’t realize that he knows the game and that he’s a great shooter. He brings a lot of intangibles to the game he will show on display when it comes to the season.”
• The Wolves wrapped up their camp in Mankato with Saunders inviting about 120 coaches from around the state to observe practice. The Wolves are set to practice in Minneapolis on Thursday.