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New Cavalier Breakdown: Larry Nance Jr.

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In his return to his hometown, Larry Nance Jr. adds a much-needed jolt of athleticism to Cleveland’s frontcourt

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers-Media Day Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Nance Jr. returns to his hometown in an attempt to give Cleveland more athleticism in the frontcourt.

Nance is averaging 18.6 points and 14.7 rebounds per 100 possessions this season, one of 80 players to post at least 15 points and 10 rebounds per 100 possessions.

His 59 dunks on the season would rank second on the Cavaliers, only trailing LeBron James.

Offense

Nance’s athleticism provides Cleveland with an additional layer of vertical gravity that has been lacking from its offense. He is shooting 76% in the restricted area this season (95th percentile of all Bigs) and 70% on layups.

He has developed a strong chemistry with the newly-acquired Jordan Clarkson this season. Clarkson has assisted 19 of Nance’s field goals—only trailing Lonzo Ball (29)—and has found the rolling Nance with some nice dimes this year.

One of Nance’s biggest strengths is his offensive rebounding. He is grabbing 11.7% of Lakers’ missed field goals this season (87th percentile for Bigs) and the Lakers grab 3.7% more offensive rebounds in the halfcourt with him on the floor.

He uses a unique combination of strength and athleticism to fight for position on the offensive glass. His timing and effort are excellent as is his nose for the ball.

Cleveland certainly understands the value that offensive rebounding can provide in the playoffs and Nance should provide a boost in this area.

Mirroring the Cavs’ other acquisitions, the Cleveland native is an absolute force in transition. His 1.46 ppp in transition ranks 2nd in the NBA for all players with at least 50 transition possessions. The Lakers are running on 2% more possessions with Nance on the floor (86th percentile of all players) and have ran on nearly 22% of possessions with Nance and Lonzo Ball together—the most of any 2-man lineup.

It’s incredibly difficult to contain a big man with Nance’s energy level and athleticism in the open floor.

From a negative perspective, swapping Channing Frye for Nance decreases the shooting the Cavs can put on the floor in the frontcourt. Nance has only taken 42 jump shots this season and is shooting 33.3% on these attempts. He is only shooting 38% on hook shots and has never displayed great touch on these shots. He has attempted only 50 career 3-pointers.

Defense

For a big man with his athleticism, Nance is not a particularly great rim protector. He is allowing 67% shooting at the rim on the season and opponents have shot 4% better at the rim with him on the floor each of the last two years.

He has a low block rate as well (1.1%), but can get jumpy at the rim which leaves him out of position at times.

There is some evidence, however, that if he just shuffles his feet and stays within himself, Nance can provide a modicum of rim protection given his athleticism.

As you can see in both of the above clips, the Lakers were fairly comfortable switching Nance onto guards. You have to imagine that Cleveland—who often allows Tristan Thompson to switch onto guards—will replicate the same formula.

Nance’s athleticism should allow him to hang with guards, but he often gets reach happy and tends to lose them on dribble moves.

But Nance’s Lakers teams have been significantly better with him on the floor defensively each of the last three years. This is largely due to his uncanny ability to force turnovers.

Nance leads all big men in steal rate at 2.8% after finishing in the 97th percentile last season (2.5%). The Lakers are forcing 3.8% more turnovers with him on the floor after forcing 3.3% more turnovers when he played last season.

Nance uses his otherworldly athleticism to clog passing lanes better than perhaps any big man in the NBA. He constantly disrupts pick and roll actions—either as the weakside helper or the man guarding the roller.

Watch as he disrupts this flare screen action—a common play to free shooters—and finishes with a monstrous putback slam on the other end.

Los Angeles’ 17.2 TOV% forced with Nance on the court ranked in the 93rd percentile for all players. This could be a massive addition for a Cleveland team that ranks 25th in turnovers forced this season.

Overall

It’s clear what Cleveland sees in Nance and why he was the crown jewel of a trade that saw the Cavs surrender their first round pick in this year’s draft.

He is an athletic forward who provides a credible lob threat, runs the floor, and fights for offensive rebounds. He injects energy into a team that has solely lacked it many times this season.

On defense, he can hopefully credibly switch onto the perimeter and can disrupt pick and roll actions with his timing in the passing lanes.

Basically, Nance can be what Tristan Thompson provided in 2016, but with an added layer of athleticism.