2019-20 Breakout Player Series: Larry Nance Jr.
Silver Screen and Roll
What are we going to learn about Larry Nance Jr. that we haven’t already after four years in the Association? A fair question.
If it weren’t for his name, he might be just another mid-second round pick who overperformed his draft slot, but he’s the namesake of an underrated, ‘cult classic’ player in Larry Nance, and the one-in-a-million who gets traded from the Lakers to the Cavaliers and is genuinely excited about the prospect!
Moreover, he’s good and getting better. In a surprisingly crowded frontcourt in Cleveland last season, Nance managed to advance his game in several tangible ways during his first full year in Wine & Gold. That he managed his highest scoring and rebounding numbers of his career is more a function of his increased minutes, as on a per-36 basis, he actually regressed a touch from 2017-18. I’m more impressed by the new facets he brought to his game.
In the assist-starved wasteland that was Cavaliers basketball last season, Nance’s 3.2 assists per game were...second on the team!?! That represented his best season of distribution by a serious margin - more than double his previous best. In addition, he got his advanced metrics on and moved beyond the three point line with consistency for the first time in his career, with not insignificant success: he shot a three and a half per game and made over a third of them, numbers that will no doubt rise moving forward.
The Cavs suspected that Nance wasn’t a finished product when they inked him to a four-year, $44 million dollar extension, but don’t expect that money to go to his head. With the number of expiring contracts Cleveland has on the roster, Nance has a chance to go from ‘piece of the frontcourt puzzle’ to ‘sole bigman with a future in Cleveland’ real quick. To whit, Tristan Thompson and his $18.5 million will expire at the end of the season, as will John Henson and his $9.7 -- there’s a very good chance this roster will look different at season’s end, and Nance looks to be the prime beneficiary.
The other factor working decidedly in Nance’s favor is the hire of John Beilein as the new head coach. Looking at Beilein’s history at Michigan, one finds a head coach who brings the best out of his athletic, versatile big men. Three years ago that meant D.J. Wilson, who he turned into a first round pick. Two years ago that meant Moritz Wagner, who he also turned into a first round pick.
Now he gets Nance, who was good before Beilein got his hands on him. Imagine what Nance will do now once he works with noted talent developer Beilein. After the murderers row of Byron Scott, Luke Walton, and Larry Drew -- who, it should be noted have combined to lose 300 more games collectively than they have won -- Nance may have a sparkling new future should Beilein pan out as all Cavs fans surely hope.
It won’t all be sunshine and rainbows, undoubtedly. Though Nance’s defensive prowess was enough to keep his net rating positive even in the midst of historic defensive ineptitude in Cleveland, he’ll still be trying to bail out the Cavs on the back end with a spaghetti strainer. The Cavs will certainly devote plenty of time to their theoretical ‘backcourt of the future’ pairing of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, and when they do, it’ll be everything Nance can do to keep the boat afloat.
But I look for Nance to move his per game averages north enough to crack double-double territory, and establish himself as a key building block for the Cavs moving forward. With all of the ball-dominant youngsters in Cleveland -- Sexton, Garland, Porter Jr. -- to say nothing of ball-dominant veterans -- Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson -- Nance may go the whole season without getting his number called. But his pogo-stick legs and high basketball IQ will lead to lots of rebounds, and lots of putbacks, and he may very well be the perfect big for the grand resurgence of Cleveland basketball post-LeBron.
2019-20 Line: 12.0 ppg - 12.0 rpg - 3.0 apg in 28 minutes per game