Today in Fear the Sword’s season hiatus player review series: Larry Nance Jr. Follow the whole series here.
Last season, Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr. was showing glimmers of his potential as a high-energy jack of all trades, master of none coming off the bench for the Cavs. Sure, the rim shattering dunks were there but Nance was also showing his repertoire as a three-point shooter, a facilitator, and a defender as well. In 67 appearances, Nance averaged 9.4 points on 52.0% shooting and connected on 33.7% of his three-point attempts to go with 8.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, expectations for the Cavs forward were sky-high under Cleveland’s new coaching staff. They wanted Nance to play to his newly-found strengths last season and encouraged him to continue growing into his unique niche he developed. At first, Nance did exactly that and was playing mostly in reserve of Cavs All-Star Kevin Love at power forward. But, due to necessity because of injuries, Nance also saw time during the season at the center position, something the undersized Nance isn’t a fan of.
But, when J.B. Bickerstaff took over after John Beilein’s resignation, he also unlocked a new paradigm for Nance’s game. Against the Miami Heat, Bickerstaff rolled with a lineup that featured Nance, Love, and Tristan Thompson, all players with a bit more girth. In this scenario, Nance slid from power forward to small forward, and it worked with Cleveland extinguishing the Heat to the tune of 125-119. It’s a little weird and unconventional of Bickerstaff to do, but Nance is a welcome and enjoys the change.
“If it’s traditionally me, Kevin, and Tristan I’m on the perimeter defensively almost permanently,” said Nance in an interview with Locked on Cavs. “We don’t want Kevin necessarily out there guarding guards and we’d prefer Tristan at the rim protecting the basket. So, for me, I’m chasing around Duncan Robinson, I guard DeRozan in the pick and roll, and defensively it works really, really well.
“Offensively is where it gets a little bit creative,” Nance continued. “Obviously I’m not a traditional floor spacer so we have Kevin play that role. Then I’m kind of the post up, inside out four man and obviously Tristan is the center. If me, Kevin, and Tristan are in together in a game there is going to be a smaller player on one of us. From there, we try to take the game back old school and beat them with two’s instead of chucking three’s.”
Statistically, Nance has also been one of Cleveland’s lone bright spots as well. Before the season came to a screeching halt the Cavs forward was averaging 10.1 points on 53.1% shooting and connecting on 35.2 of his three-point attempts per game. Nance was also dabbling everywhere else on the box score averaging 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game. He’s finally found his niche with the Cavs and has settled in beautifully to his role. With Bickerstaff being willing to experiment in order to help Nance succeed, his importance to Cleveland’s roster will only grow as well.