Welcome to a new off-season series focused on how players currently under contract with the Lakers can improve their games from last season to this one. Whether they are young players or veterans, there are always things that can be bettered withing the context of what the Lakers want to do on both sides of the ball. Our first installment is on Larry Nance Jr.
For Larry Nance Jr. it did not take long for fans to go from “who is he?” on draft night to one of their favorite Lakers from this past season. From the highlight dunks to the hustle plays to his team first attitude, Nance has a lot of redeeming qualities that fans ate up. But with a higher profile comes higher expectations and fans will be looking for Nance to make positive strides in his second season.
And while Nance came into the league as a 22 year old (and will turn 24 next January), he still has areas in which he can grow. Some will point to his age as a negative in that regard, but the fact that he came to game late and did not develop physically until after his crohn’s disease was diagnosed in highschool, his age is not too much of a negative in my eyes. Still, though, the ability to develop — even at a more advanced age than most 2nd year players — doesn’t mean it will actually happen.
But Lakers fans have high hopes it will. By all accounts Nance is a hard worker who takes to coaching well. Where that work is best directed is another question, especially in the wake of Luke Walton’s hiring and how that might translate to an adjusted role. With that, let’s take a deep dive.
Below is Nance’s shot chart from this past season. It looks like a fairly typical chart of a PF who played in a traditional offense.
A couple of general observations:
- Nance took most of his shots in the restricted area and finished well. His 65.1% rate from that distance is better than Paul Millsap (61.6%) and a tick below Anthony Davis (67.7%).
- Nance showed a nice ability to hit jumpers from the left baseline and elbow areas. These are classic release points for big men who camp on the weak side while middle or strong side P&R’s are run. They also serve as the drop pass point for pick and pops run from the left wing going middle.
The rest of Nance’s chart starts to give us insight into areas where he can improve. Per NBA.com’s stats tool, Nance only shot 32% on catch and shoot jumpers. Further, Nance only produced .83 points per play and 44% shooting as the roll man in the P&R. This tells me Nance did not do a lot of hard rolling to the rim, instead settling into the mid-range where he would end up shooting a jumper.
Also, Nance only attempted 10 total 3-pointers all season and only made one. The game after he hit that lone three, we discussed Nance’s offense and why he was becoming a fixture in the Lakers’ lineup. I stand by the root of that analysis, but as the season progressed what became evident was Nance still showed a bit too much hesitation on shooting the long ball and continues to need to work on his jumper in general. Improved confidence from increased reps should help that, but it will still need to be carried over to the court.
With Walton coming on board for next season and his desires to run an offense similar to what the Warriors run, it becomes more clear Nance will need to shore up some of the above areas.
His ability to be a threat as a dive man in the P&R will need to improve. Some of that will likely come with improved health (Nance nursed an achy knee post-All Star break), but even more will need to come with consistent aggressiveness when playing in those actions.
He will also need to show more assertiveness as a shooter and continue to try and stretch his range beyond the arc. Nance was known to work on his 3-point shooting after practices and that will need to continue through this summer and into next season. I don’t think anyone is saying he needs to be a 35%+ shooter from distance next season, but the willingness to take that shot with confidence will help open the floor for himself and his teammates.
Nance may never end up being anything more than a fine rotation player/3rd big man or a role-player type of starter who does the dirty work and has the occasional highlight play and nice scoring game. His work on the glass, defensive instincts, and plus-athleticism already give him a nice foundation to become that exact type of player.
But if he can really grow his offensive game to include a reliable jumper and, even better, a jumper with range beyond the arc, he can be even more than that. Add to that an ability to leverage his athleticism into being a better P&R finisher and his ceiling raises a notch or two. I’m sure both the Lakers and Nance are hoping more for the latter, even if the former would still be quite useful.