Larry Nance to Play Small Forward?

Darius Soriano —  March 17, 2016

The idea of “positionless basketball” isn’t new, but in the past 5-10 years it has become more and more en vogue. Front offices fall over for the versatility of bigs who can shoot with range, guards who can post, and players of all sizes having the skill sets of wings who are as comfortable handling the ball as they are setting a down screen.

The Lakers have an interesting mix of players who are capable of helping the team move in that direction. It’s an idea we touched on in the preseason and, while it hasn’t always been the case this year, we have seen hints of the Lakers playing a more positionless brand of ball — especially recently, with the team running more modern offensive sets.

While we often talk about positionless basketball within the context of offense, though, the key to really making it work is as a viable approach is defensive effectiveness. If you want your “PF” and “C” to be Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green in order to maximize offensive spacing, those guys need to be able to be able to defend bigger players and then rebound the ball.

So, defense matters. And, as the old saying goes, the position you play is the one you can defend. The more positions you can defend, the higher your value in a league which wants to pick and roll teams and run a myriad of motion sets designed to force switches and create mismatches.

This brings us to the Lakers and, as the head coach calls it, an experiment they are trying over the course of the team’s final 14 games this season:

Scott recently noted that he mostly wanted to try Nance at SF for defensive reasons. If he can guard smaller guys, the Lakers accomplish several things: 1). they get one of their young players on the floor where they otherwise wouldn’t have 2). they start to clear some of their logjam at PF where Julius Randle is going to command more and more minutes in the coming seasons 3). they get one of their better defensive players on the floor 4). they get more athletic.

One can argue the importance of any of the above points, but they do have meaning. Leaving out Anthony Brown and Tarik Black (for now), the Lakers have four young players who all look to have positive futures in this league. Nance is the only one of those four who currently is not starting, though he clearly has, at the very least, role-player-on-a-good-team potential. Finding ways to get him on the floor, even if at SF, is worth a shot. Again, this is an “experiment” not a full time commitment or a position change.

That said, in a league where nearly every positional swap is sliding a player up a spot (PG’s move to SG, SF’s up to PF, PF’s up C), the Lakers are doing the opposite here. Sliding Nance down does give the team more size and athleticism — things which should help on the glass and in transition offense. There are, however, potential challenges to overcome too.

Namely, moving a player down a position, especially from PF to SF, and especially when that player isn’t a shooter, can have some serious repercussions offensively. Spacing is impacted, shrinking the floor in ways which impact the other players on the court. If you think Randle, Clarkson, and Russell have some tight driving lanes or face quick rotations to them now, those windows and lanes only shrink when you flank them with a non-shooter (or a shooter they do not respect — which isn’t always the same thing).

Nance, then, will need to hit shots, show some expanded range to the three point line on his jumper, and, basically, find ways to hurt defenses who lay off him. Maybe that means finding creative ways to screen or being a smart and aware cutter. Maybe it means hitting the offensive glass even harder or being a more opportunistic post up player — or it needs to be all of the above.

And, lastly, Nance needs to show he can actually defend SF’s. Against the Knicks, Nance got thrown into the fire against Carmelo Anthony in the 2nd half and promptly took a bit of a roasting. There’s no shame in that, ‘Melo can roast the best defenders. But on nights where Nance isn’t facing an all-star, can he hold his own? Can he avoid drifting too close to the paint when guarding a shooter? Can he navigate the myriad of screen actions teams run to free their SF’s? Can he handle his own in isolation?

These are questions we don’t yet have the answers to, but that’s the point in all this. If Nance can have some success, it’s another variable in the Lakers’ potential shift towards more positionless lineups. If he cannot — and, I do think some struggles are coming — then this experiment will fail.

Personally, I’d be more inclined to move Nance or Randle up a position to C to try and push the pace more both in the open court and by running more quick-hitting sets in the half court. I think the best future is in the Lakers having more athleticism and skill on the floor at the 5 spot (we have already seen how effective Bass has been as an undersized C after a slow start to the season). There would be defensive tradeoffs with that choice, but we’re likely to see that with Nance moving down to SF too.

I guess this is where we could argue Scott is still stuck in the 90’s. That sliding Nance down a position rather than up one is just another data-point in the discussion how Scott is behind the times and not hip to current trends on how to be successful in today’s NBA. And maybe there’s merit in all that, I just don’t care to discuss it much, if at all, at this point. Scott is what he is as a head coach and he’s trying this. Let’s see how it goes.

Darius Soriano

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33 responses to Larry Nance to Play Small Forward?

  1. I do think this is a nice try. As stubborn as Byron has been, he has recently shown willingness to mix things up a bit.

  2. at this point, you throw everything and see what sticks, no?

    Nance at 3 is promising not because of its likelihood of success, but because of the willingness to try anything that likely comes after acknowledging that Byron accomplished nothing.

    Then again, it could also be one of those “we’ve tried to tank but now we’re somehow improving, so we’ll try something else to tank more” moves.

  3. He’s about the same size as most Threes anyway (6’8″ 225). As long as he has the lateral quickness to guard SFs on the perimeter why not play him there. The only issue is that he doesn’t create his own shot. He can hit the standstill mid range jumper but he’s not an offensive wizard out there. The Lakers really need a knock down three point shooter on the wing and that’s not Nance or Randle for that matter.

    Look, Nance is not a starter but if he can play the 3/4 off the bench at a high level then he’s a rotation player — and based on what the Lakers need that’s not a bad thing.

  4. The phrase is go big or go home. I prefer the 3-4 experiment over the downshift emulation. Beat other teams at your game not an imitation of their own. Njr’s athletic enough to hang close enough to smaller dudes as long as he’s playing smart angles and anticipating logically. There is nothing more beautiful in basketball for me than an awe inspiring defender. Hopefully some Laker gets beautiful real soon.

  5. Here’s the thing — outside shooting can be taught. It can be learned.

    Sam Perkins, for example, came into the NBA and made only nine 3-pointers (on 36 attempts) as a rookie who played in 82 games that season. A decade into his career, he was making 120, 130+ 3-pointers per season taking 360+ shots from behind the arc one year. It became a real tool in his game, especially as a spot-up guy in Seattle. His dagger in Game 1 of the 1991 Finals was one of my favorite shots in Lakers’ history.

    Likewise, Charles Barkley — whose style in many ways reminds me of Randle — made just one of six 3-point shots in 82 games as a rookie. Later, as his game adapted, he averaged more than one made 3-pointer per game (74 made in 68 games) in a season, shooting nearly 34 percent from beyond the arc. He, too, evolved.

    I’m not suggesting Randle nor Nance Jr. will be as accomplished as pros as either or those retired guys when all is said and done with their respective careers, but if one or both really focus on expanding their outside skils, it’s not inconceivable that one or both could be effective as a part-time small forward. In today’s league, flexibility is a boon.

  6. Anthony brown has the skills to play like kawhi,ariza or Wesley johnson at the three but nance can turn out to be james posey or shane battier wise move by byron scott laker fans give scott a break its been a tough two seasons fixing a fragmented organization

  7. All I care about is keeping the pick. Everything falls into place if the Lakers keep it. I’m not talking playoffs next year or anything like that. With one more youngster the Lakers truly enter the discussion of having the best young talent in the league. This will heighten the interest of a good coach who will help shape the young talent. Then at some point free agents will want to play here — maybe not this summer but certainly in the summer of 2017.

    Most of all having an additional youngster will prevent the only thing that can screw this up: desperate moves by the FO. Absent the pick I fear that they may overspend or over reach in an effort to get better this summer. Keeping the pick locks the team into the youth movement and ensures that the youngsters will have a chance to grow together.

    I think Lakers fans would accept losing next year if it was just the price of developing the core of talented youngsters for the future. I want this year to be the last year that I hope the kids play well but want the team to lose.

  8. Anthony brown has the skills to play like kawhi,ariza or Wesley johnson at the three
    __

    I like AB but think his ceiling is as a 3D back of the rotation player.

    AB’s rookie PER is 4.96
    Ariza’s rookie PER was: 13.32
    Kawhi’s rookie PER was 16.66
    WJ’s rookie PER was 10.20

  9. Given that PER is a “measure” of offensive capabilities at best, it may not be that useful for evaluating a 3 and D player. In addition, Commander Scott has buried AB on the bench when he has been healthy. Maybe it would be better to judge him after he has spent time under a coach committed to developing the younger players.

  10. From John Hollinger, the creator of PER:

    To generate PER, I created formulas — outlined in tortuous detail in my book “Pro Basketball Forecast” — that return a value for each of a player’s accomplishments. That includes positive accomplishments such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative ones such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls.

  11. This move is….curious. Not quite Kelly at the 3 disaster level, but still very weird. The eye test suggests LNJ is going to have a tough time at the 3 even defensively and while I like his midrange j spacing will be horrible. He should be getting minutes at the 5 if you want to experiment.

  12. I don’t think the experiment is necessarily a sign of Scott being stuck in the 90s. He obviously doesn’t have a problem with playing Bass, a natural PF, at the 5.

    To me it looks like a reflection of our depth at the 3 and 5. In recent weeks, Brown (unavailable), Young and Metta have seen a lot of minutes at the 3. Scott probably feels more comfortable with cutting their minutes than the minutes of Bass or Hibbert.

  13. – REPORT: PLAYERS UNION, NBA AGREE TO SHORTER FREE AGENT MORATORIUM…only five (5) days now, not 10. Darius, please get this memo to Laker ownership who always seem to be behind the times.

    http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2016/03/17/the-jordan-rule-players-union-nba-agree-to-shorter-free-agent-moratorium/?ls=iref:nbahpts

  14. This isn’t on the level of playing Kelly at SF. I think Nance and for that matter Randle could guard most NBA SF’s in the league. I’m less sure that Nance and Randle will work well together on offense. Scott has said that he has encouraged Nance to shoot more 3’s. Nance has range but hasn’t shown it in game situations.

    Given the Lakers lack of depth at SF I don’t have much of an issue with this experiment. However, if Brown is healthy then Scott needs to find minutes for him too whom looks like a good back up SF going forward.

  15. I don’t understand why you would be against this move. Reading the comments people are making it sound like Nance Jr. is going to take away minutes from some kind of spectacular floor spacer at the SF. The current options at the three are MWP (his shooting from the outside has been atrocious as of late) or Nick Young. I didn’t add Kobe cause he’s gonna play when he can or wants. Maybe it’s just me but I would take Nance at SF over any of those guys. MWP tries real hard but I don’t think he bring more to the table defensively than Nance at his age and Nick Young doesn’t play defense. Nick Young is a better shooter than Nance but needs more shots and is less consistent than Nance offensively. MWP will always have a special place in my heart for his heroics in game 7 vs. the celtics but if I’m being honest, aside from a hot start to the season behind the 3, he hasn’t looked pretty behind the 3.

    I’m sure if Brown wasn’t out for the season he would have played a lot more post all star break. So given our current options at SF why not play Nance at the 3?

  16. I trust the Tank Commander.

  17. I think putting players in positions to succeed is a key part of coaching. Just because the Lakers currently lack depth on the wing doesn’t mean playing Nance there is a good idea. I don’t think playing a natural PF on the wing is ideal and have expressed reasons why. Maybe Nance does well enough there and that’s that. But, long term, any wing skills he develops would likely still be more advantageous to him as a PF or even a C in a Randle/Nance front court than as a SF in a front court which had more traditional bigs flanking him. I feel pretty confident about this based on a lot of reasons, some of which I wrote in the post.

  18. I have gone back and forth with this idea, as it puts Nance on the floor at the same time as Randle. But the SF has to stretch the floor, and shooting the 3 at 17% is just not going to do that. Two other bigs on the court at the same time will clog the lane take away Nance’s biggest strength, which is attacking the basket. But, I am also not sold on the idea of Nance playing center. Not big enough, not strong enough. Maybe in a few years.

  19. TempleOfJamesWorthy March 18, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Unless the Lakers are thinking long-term along the lines of helping Nance transition from a superior athlete to a superior basketball player (i.e. a homeless man’s Kawahi Leonard), I don’t think playing Nance as a “small forward” makes much sense.

    There has always been a tension in the game of basketball between size/power and speed/athleticism/skill, and thanks to the 3-point line, the end of hand-checking, and other factors speed/athleticism/skill is taking a decisive edge.

    Kevin Durant isn’t one of the league’s top 5 players because he bludgeon’s teams with his 7′ frame in the post. He’s a top-5 player because he has the game of a 6’5″ shooting guard in a 7′ body. Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t going to be Rookie of the Year because of Shaq-like rim-rattling dunks, but because he he pass, shoot, and defend the pick-and-roll in space (Conversely, old school post banger Jahlil Okafor is raising in questions in Philadelphia about whether he can EVER fit with Nerlens Noel).

    I get the Lakers want to try Nance as a wing forward because Randle is going to eat up most of the power forward minutes and Nance has to play somewhere. But unless Nance is going to dramatically upgrade his shooting/ball-handling/passing skills (which seems unlikely given Nance is an “old” rookie), there is a fairly low ceiling to this project.

    I like Nance a lot, but I think his professional future is probably as a defense/hustle/5th offensive option role player on a team with many scoring threats (a la Shane Battier, Tony Allen, et. al.). Playing him as a wing on the current Lakers is not a very productive exercise.

  20. Interesting that Rambis wants to play The Zinger at the 3.

    Why do these showtime lakers think this is a good idea?

    Let’s put draymond green at the 3!

  21. Anon#1 — My Sentiments EXACTLY. I’m fine watching the young nucleus develop ESPECIALLY if we keep the pick.

    I don’t want to see us trade EVERYONE for DeMarcus Cousins and hope & pray that Durant wants to play with him. I don’t want a desperate Jim Buss overpaying second tier free agents MAX money either. AND I DON’T WANT TO SEE PHIL JACKSON leading our Front Office!!!!!

    I don’t have a problem with Nance seeing time at the 3 as long as he also sees ample time at the 5. He’s our most versatile player and having him comfortable at 3,4, and 5 will maximize that versatility. I do think that he should be more 4-5 than 3-4 at this point due to his offensive limitations but if he can add the 3 point range this off season, he can be a 3-4-5 Swiss Army Knife for us.

    Guaranteed win tonight against PHX comin in for the second of a back to back fresh off a 34 pt loss………… Even Byron can’t put together a losing rotation for this game although he will certainly try……

  22. TempleOfJamesWorthy,

    “unless Nance is going to dramatically upgrade his shooting/ball-handling/passing skills (which seems unlikely given Nance is an “old” rookie), there is a fairly low ceiling to this project.”
    —————————

    I humbly disagree with this statement sir. I believe quite the opposite. I EXPECT that Nance will dramatically improve his shooting and I don’t believe his or any other player’s AGE has anything to do with development. We have seen MANY MANY examples over the years of guys developing a very reliable outside shot when they came in to the league lacking in that area. We have seen even more examples of guys EXTENDING THEIR RANGE while already being in the league. What we have NOT seen, is a pattern of ONLY YOUNGER PLAYERS making these progressions. Even the likes of A.C. Green back in the day developed an outside shot over the years. Sam Perkins and Barkley too as noted by Chris J earlier in this thread.

    Excellent Case in point (from David Thorpe): Look at these Stats and guess which player had them after his first year in the league: 23/24 yr old, 6.2ppg, 5 rpg, 1.9apg, 40.7% fg, 33% from 3. 12 total starts.

    Yep. That was Draymond Green, the Poster Boy for what we’d all like to see Nance Jr. become. Nance’s comps on those Stats for this season, his first are: 23/24 yr old, 5.6ppg, 5 rpg, 0.7apg, 54.3% fg, 16.7% from 3. 22 starts to date.

    I strongly believe that development is not capped by age and that Nance could very well improve dramatically with off season work and one year of experience under his belt. I further think he is the type of player with the type of background that he WILL put in that level of work to visibly improve aspects of his game each off season.

    Don’t sleep on Larry bro…….Larry ain’t no Old Man!!! Larry is UNDER THE RADAR and he’s gonna be a big contributor if he can stay healthy.

  23. A Horse With No Name March 18, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    As Clay notes above, unfortunately a very likely win for the Lakers tonight. That said, there’s always a myriad of ways BS can lose a game. If he pulls this one off, I will be pleasantly surprised (but not shocked).

    With respect to Nance at the three, I welcome getting him any kind of minutes he can. It certainly doesn’t hurt to try to play him with Randle. If *both* develop reliable shooting with some range, then you have the real possibility of interchangeable pieces that can cause problems for opponents at both ends–particularly in a movement offense.

  24. I dont know how many of you have paid attention but Nance Jr actually has the range for spot up 3’s and definitely has the athleticism too. I’ve been watching his game attentively and thought he could be VERY GOOD at the 3. He may not ever be the offensive playmaker like Jimmy Butler or Kahwi Leonard but with Clarkson, Russell and Randall all having that as part of their natural game he doesnt have to be! I believe the front office is making this call because after Mitch went to see Dragan Bender (the Croatian center) the Lakers are leaning towards grabbing him in the draft. If Nance does pan out like I truly envision him to as a tenacious defender/slasher on the wing, Bender would solidify 1-5 for the Lake Show regardless of what happens in Free Agency next year. Its really disheartening about Upshaw though, I was hoping he would fill that void next season.

  25. A Horse With No Name March 18, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Clay @ 12:16: To your point, analytics geek Kevin Pelton fessed up last season and said that he really couldn’t predict a given prospect’s ceiling based on age entering the league. There were just too many exceptions to the prevailing wisdom. Personally, I think he will develop into a set feet open window shooter, but not better than that. His ball-handling is quite poor and should get somewhat better, but never enough to dribble more than a short space.

  26. I’m having a long day, if Brown is out for the season I don’t have any problem with Nance getting some burn at SF for the remainder of this year. I understand about putting a guy in a position to succeed as Darius has pointed out but, Nance is about the only guy Scott hasn’t had a bad thing to say about all year. I don’t think his confidence is hurting. It’s only a question of can he or can he not do it. My gut says his best position is PF. But as things are with a couple games left, seeing what else he can do isn’t a terrible idea.

  27. A Horse With No Name,

    I’d agree with those who say his best position is still the 4 with additional minutes at 3 and 5 depending on circumstances. Its tough for anyone to predict a guy’s future obviously. But I think that of the three skills TOJW mentioned, (shooting, ballhandling, and passing), shooting is the area we are likely to see the most improvement in Larry’s game.

    Because of his position(s) (4 w/ a lil 3&5)) he really won’t be called upon to do much ball handling so I see less emphasis placed on this and therefore, theoretically less improvement. I don’t think his passing is bad per se at all. He generally makes the right basketball play and he isn’t at all selfish. That said, he isn’t a creator of shots for other guys and in our offense or lack thereof, he isn’t likely to get many assists. I don’t see a real glaring need for dynamic improvement of his passing that a better offense, better teammates and more experience won’t take care of.

    His shooting consistency from the mid range and his development of 3pt range are where I see a lot of emphasis being placed this off season. Shooting consistency/shooting range improvement would really move the needle for Larry because he’s already willing & able to play D, he’s fundamentally sound, mature, and has a high basketball IQ to go with top echelon athleticism. He’s already one of those “HE DOESNT NEED SHOTS TO PRODUCE” type of players and that’s the perfect YIN to Russell and Randle’s YANG.

    Frankly, the league has MOSTLY YANG players but every team needs the YIN guys to have balance and succeed.

  28. TempleOfJamesWorthy March 18, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Reply to Clay Bennett:

    I hope you are correct. I like LNJr. and hope he succeeds. But the league trend is to play a smaller/skilled guy “up” a position or two (e.g. SF-sized Draymond Green plays center), not to take a bigger player and try to mold him into playing a smaller position.

    Yes, with freaks of nature like Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo (there was an excellent article on ESPN about how Giannis really is a physiological freak of nature), the “rules” don’t necessarily apply. I don’t think LNJr. falls into that category.

  29. A Horse With No Name March 18, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    temple o’ worthy: At 6’8′ and 230 lbs., Nance’s height and weight are pretty average for the league at the 3 position. He is actually undersized as a four, and can get bullied in the post. When you think of guys like Chandler Parsons, Rudy Gay, Melo etc., they are all either taller and/or heavier than Nance. Nance plays bigger because of his tremendous hops and wingspan. It really comes down to whether or not he can develop a reliable outside shot. That more than anything, will determine whether or not he can play as a wing.

  30. TempleOfJamesWorthy,

    Its Clay BERTRAND!!!! Don’t be calling me the Owner of the Thunder who bought the Sonics and moved them to OK City!!!!! He’s HATED!!! Lol……

    Seriously tho, don’t misinterpret my comments to mean that I agree that LNJr. is a good fit at the 3. Quite the contrary. I think he’s a 4 who could play spot minutes at the 3 and 5 under the right game circumstances. I really think the modern option for Byron ( who is NOT modern) would be to try LNJr. at the 5. But the Lakers have 4 guys at the 5 when you count Bass and they are thin at the 3 so that’s where he is getting the experimental minutes.

    In a perfect world he’d be getting more small ball 5 minutes here and there to see how that pans out. At any rate, improvement in the shooting department will serve him and the Lakers well regardless of position because he is going to have increasing numbers open spot up looks.

    I do agree with Horse though that Nance DOES play bigger than his true size which is why I tend to like to bump him to the 5 where he is clearly undersized on paper.

  31. I meant to also make the point that it’s NOT that versatile players like LNJr. HAVE to necessarily match up with the opposing 3 or 5 the whole time he is playing. He basically has to be able to SWITCH onto guarding those guys in the defensive rotations (Byron doesn’t know what those are) so that it renders the opposing teams rapid ball movement less effective. Larry has to be able to contain and at least switch-defend multiple positions and I think that he has that in him once he gets more experience at the NBA level.

    The more guys that can do that, the closer to true POSITIONLESS basketball we will get.

  32. Even if the experiment fails it’s gonna be a valuable learning experience for Nance. It doesn’t have to be a long-term solution.

  33. Love the tank commander comment
    Nance is imputed for defensive reasons, mwp can’t shoot,
    There’s so much insight on these posts