Via AllinOne Sports
With the Los Angeles Lakers’ tremendous young core of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and now Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac, it is easy to overlook Larry Nance Jr. A surprise first round pick out of Wyoming at number 27 overall in last year’s NBA draft, Nance was widely thought of as a player with very limited upside that was a reach even in the latter stages of the first round. Diagnosed with Crohns disease earlier in his basketball career, Nance is a great story of an under the radar player from the small basketball program of Wyoming University that has overcome significant obstacles to become an NBA player. However, he is much more than a feel-good story for the Lakers—he has the chance to be a key part of the organization’s rebuilding process. After a strong debut season, Nance has been putting in the work towards improving his game. Lakers fans should take notice of how well Nance is doing in the Summer League thus far as he is going to be a key player this season, and in many to come for the purple and gold.
Last season, Nance averaged a respectable 5.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 0.9 steals per game in 63 contests. He also made 22 starts, mainly in the first half of the season, before hurting his knee around the All-Star break that forced him to sit out a number of games. This allowed Randle to regain the starting power forward spot, and Nance’s performance on the offensive end in particular looked to be hampered by the injury. Despite these setbacks, Nance was still able to average 20 minutes per game thanks to earning the good graces of tough-love head coach Byron Scott. Accomplishing this is no small feat as Scott was notoriously hard on the youngsters, but Nance was able to earn the starting position early in the season thanks to his competitive defense and hard-working attitude. Although it appears as though Nance is planted firmly behind Randle on the PF depth chart, he should still garner significant minutes for new head coach Luke Walton.
Nance’s energy and efficiency makes him the perfect fit for a bench role this season. At 6’9” with a huge wingspan of almost 7’2” and incredible athletic ability, Nance could slide in as a center in small-ball lineups that Walton will likely run throughout the season. The Wyoming product is a solid rebounder that is also an underrated defender. Last season, Nance had the second highest defensive rating among Laker big men at 105.9, only behind Tarik Black at 101.4 who played significantly fewer minutes. Nance was also better on the offensive glass than both Randle and Brandon Bass, a testament to the Wyoming product’s tremendous energy to chase down loose balls and hustle for contested rebounds. His energy on the offensive end and his capabilities defensively helped him earn 2.2 win shares, a mark that was 0.6 better than Randle despite playing about 1000 fewer minutes. Plus, the Lakers were 8.6 points per game better with Nance on the floor versus off it, again far better than Randle’s mark of 11.6 points per game worse. Although a decent amount of the disparity in terms of team success and win shares between Nance and Randle can be attributed to Randle often playing against the opposing team’s starters whereas Nance was usually on the floor against teams’ second units, the Wyoming product’s success is undeniable. Where players such as Randle and the other members of the Lakers’ young core make most of their contributions in the traditional stat line categories of points, rebounds, and assists, Nance does the little things such as chasing down loose balls or making the correct defensive rotations to prevent easy baskets. Nance is the prototypical glue player that does the dirty work and makes the plays that do not show up in the box score. He has accepted this role and excelled in it, but at 23 years old, he still has significant room to improve. So far this offseason, Nance is proving that he still has solid potential by putting in the work to become a better all-around player.
Opting to compete in the summer league for the second straight season, Nance has been tremendous over the first two games in Las Vegas. Nance has put up averages of 12 points and 8 rebounds per game through his first two contests, as well as four steals and three blocks per game to go along with a number of highlight reel dunks. Nance has been doing it all so far for the young Lakers team, contributing as much offensively as he has defensively, even earning some “MVP” chants from Laker fans. For a player that was notoriously passive with the ball in his hands last year, his newfound aggressiveness on the offensive end is a welcome sight. He has put in a lot of work this offseason on his jump shot, even stretching his range out past the three-point line. He has only shot four threes in two games thus far, but he has hit two of them, suggesting that his work is already beginning to pay off. Plus, the Lakers are only halfway through their offseason schedule, so Nance will still have plenty of time to continue working on his jump shot once the summer league comes to a conclusion. If Nance can continue to build consistency in his mid-range game and out to the three point line, his skillset will become even more useful in Walton’s offensive system. Blessed with tremendous athleticism that he combines with great energy on the floor, Nance is already an effective NBA player. If Nance can become more dangerous offensively especially from long distance, his importance to the Lakers will skyrocket.
The only concern regarding Nance’s future is the injury bug. Last season, he had to sit out a number of games due to swelling in his knee that was a result of ACL reconstruction surgery that he underwent back in 2014. Knee problems for big men such as Nance that rely on their athleticism is not a good sign especially for a 23-year-old. As a result, it is questionable whether or not the Lakers’ training staff would be accepting of Walton playing Nance much more than 20-25 minutes per night. That ceiling may be the limit to his playing time in the first place with the presence of Randle and new-look stretch four Luol Deng already on the roster, but this injury may continue to plague him in the future.
Nance’s effectiveness in the 2015-2016 season may just be the start of a very solid career in LA. His offensive improvements and positional flexibility lend perfectly towards playing under Walton, and this should see his role continue to increase in purple and gold. If he can fight off the injury bug and continue building a solid repertoire with his teammates, the Lakers may end up with a very solid complement to Randle and Deng at the four. Plus, he may see some time at center, as his skillset lends perfectly to a small-ball center. Walton’s coaching style is a great fit for what Nance brings to the table, and being the excellent teammate that he already is, Nance’s importance to the Lakers rebuild is starting to shine through. He may not carry the glamor of the other young stars on the roster, but Laker fans should not overlook the importance of Nance to the roster now and in the future when the team begins to regain its status as a contender in the Western Conference.
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