In order to understand the circumstances that led to Larry Nance Jr. joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015, one must go back to the summer of 2014, when Nance was preparing for his senior year at Wyoming and the winds of change were beginning to blow in South Beach. When Lebron James announced his return to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, it marked the end of the super team era in Miami. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who had been stockpiling picks and assets, immediately fell in love with Chris Bosh and was willing to push his chips to the middle of the table in an effort to sign him. Morey had picks, and Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak had cap space to absorb Jeremy Lin’s bloated contract, so Kupchak agreed to take Lin and the Rocket’s extra late first round pick. Days after the trade was finalized and the Lakers had swindled the Rockets out of a solid starting point guard and a first round pick, Bosh resigned with Miami and the Rockets ended up with nothing.
On draft day 2015, the Lakers found themselves on the clock with the Rocket’s 27th overall pick, and had several solid options to choose from. UCLA’s Kevon Looney had been showing up in mock drafts as a late first round pick, and troubled Washington Center Robert Upshaw was rumored to be a good prospect as a late first round flyer.
When the Lakers braintrust selected Larry Nance Jr. With the 27th pick, it was immediately labeled a reach by the mainstream sports media, as Nance had been projected by many to fall to the 2nd round. One NBA draft commentator suggested that the Lakers actually got better value when they picked Anthony Brown in the 2nd round, and that Nance would struggle for playing time on the roster.
Larry Nance Jr. Draft Day Projections:
Chad Ford (ESPN) 46th
Drafted by LAL 27th
Aside from draft day criticism, Nance Jr. quickly got to feel the heat of the LA spotlight when some of his old tweets about new teammate Kobe Bryant’s rape allegations resurfaced. However, Nance showed poise, humility, and determination through his bumpy start in Laker land, and was able to weather the storm and get to work.
“I think if you were to re-do the draft he’d be a lottery pick, so we got a steal at 27”
-Byron Scott, credit Harrison Faigen, Silverscreenandroll.com @hmfaigen on Twitter
Nance Jr. Is no stranger to the NBA, and he grew up with a solid understanding of the work ethic and skill set necessary to be successful in the league. As the son of 13 year NBA veteran Larry Nance Sr., Nance Jr. was raised with a basketball in his hand, and developed into a star at Revere High School and then spent 4 years at the University of Wyoming, capped by a Mountain West tournament championship and NCAA tournament bid in the ’14/15 season.
While he had a very successful career at Wyoming, a torn ACL during his junior season and his continued battle with Crohn’s Disease were major setbacks. Still, Nance beat the timetables for rehabilitation on the knee, and found a way to manage his condition and lead Wyoming to tournament success and an NCAA bid to cap his final collegiate campaign.
“I’m getting in there and I’m ready to take the next step and completely erase it from my mind.”
-Larry Nance Jr., post-draft Lakers press conference.
Nance Jr. was a surprising and welcomed bright spot on the roster during his rookie season. He made an impact as a key reserve, consistently played with high energy, and ended the season ranked 5th among rookies in field goal percentage (approx. 53%). His scrappiness and ability to clean up on the offensive boards, coupled with unexpected defensive versatility made nance a particularly valuable part of the Lakers rotation.
In his 22 appearances in the starting lineup, Nance averaged 7 points, 6 rebounds, and (seemingly) at least one spectacular dunk per game. Unfortunately, Nance developed knee soreness, which limited his effectiveness and availability down the stretch of the season.
Measurables and Position
Much like his father Nance Sr., who was winner of the first NBA slam dunk competition and owner of the nickname “The High-Ayatolla of Slamola,” Larry Nance junior has serious hops. Standing 6’9″ with a 44″ vertical leap and 7’2″ wingspan, Nance Jr. has the ideal body for the NBA power forward position. He weighs in around 230 lbs. and has active hands. He is a multi-tool player with NBA size, athleticism, and a high motor.
Nance’ explosive athleticism and good court vision make him valuable in the fast break offense, lead to frequent opportunities cutting to the basket, and make offensive rebounds and put back dunks a reliable part of his game. He has decent speed on defense, and is not afraid to guard opposing centers, forwards, and bigger wing players in and outside of the paint. His 4 years in college afford him a more polished game than some of the other young players on the team, including a decent understanding of offensive sets, defensive schemes, switches, and rotations.
As far as weaknesses go, offensively, Nance has limited ability to create his own shot at the NBA level. Aside from basic drop steps, or the ability to overpower smaller defenders, Nance is rarely effective 1 on 1 in the post. While his midrange shooting has improved since entering the NBA, he is still not reliable in a catch and shoot role, and will have to continue to depend on his high motor, court vision and athleticism to be an opportunistic scorer (think Ronnie Turiaf or a rich man’s Jordan Hill).
While not a liability on defense, Nance is too small to play center in a small ball lineup for an extended amount of minutes. He has the physical tools to be an above average defender, but will need more experience playing against the size and speed of NBA forwards before he is able to be confident defensively, especially against bigger players in the post.
Nance slots in as a capable backup power forward, small ball center in spots, and possibly at small forward. However, if he wants to play SF or carve out a role in the rotation at PF or C, he will need to improve his shooting from midrange, and develop some reliable post moves. Without significantly improving his outside shot, a front court pairing with forward Julius Randle is unrealistic, as Randle generally operates from 15 feet in. Likewise, it is unlikely that Nance would compete for PF minutes with Randle, as the Lakers are heavily invested in Randle and the Kentucky product has been a prolific rebounder in the painted area.
Nance has established himself as a solid backup, crowd favorite and ideal locker room presence. However, injuries and lack of experience have kept him from developing in some key areas of weakness. With further development and creative deployment under new coach Luke Walton, Nance has the potential and athletic ability to become the “positionless” starting forward/center who can play the up tempo small ball game that is currently en vogue in the NBA. Lakers fans are hopeful Nance Jr. can avoid injury and shed the “energy guy off the bench” role in favor of star or starter status.
Perhaps the most important thing about Nance Jr. moving forward is that he “gets it.” Nance understands what it means to be a member of the Los Angeles Lakers organization. He consistently maintains his focus on developing his craft, is serious about being an important part of the team moving forward, and understands that a real Laker is always focused on doing whatever it takes to bring the championship trophy back to Staples Center. He knows that winning is everything, and demonstrated this by recently tweeting out a picture of the Laker’s championship trophies on display. The sky is the limit for Nance Jr. and the Lakers hope that he can fill his father’s footsteps and become a consistently excellent player for many years moving forward.
“I really just hope to show my energy on the court, give 100 percent every play, be as athletic as I possibly can, play with a high IQ. Win, that’s number one, win.”-Larry Nance Jr.