With Julius Randle not participating in summer league, Larry Nance Jr. has taken on the starting role for the Lakers’ in Las Vegas. Over the first two games, he’s played 68 out of a possible 80 minutes and racked up some pretty good stats in the process.
Against the 76ers, Nance as a key performer in helping the Lakers come back from a big 2nd half deficit, playing strong defense and throwing down some highlight dunks. These are things, of course, Nance is already known for. Coming out of Wyoming and through his rookie season, Nance made his noise as a ferocious finisher above the rim and a guy who took pride in his defense.
Where Nance has opened some eyes — or at least my eyes — is in some of the other things he’s been doing. Against both the 76ers and the Pelicans, Nance hit a three-pointer (he’s 2-4 through two games) and took those shots with confidence and without hesitation. Against the Pelicans he also hit a rhythm mid-range jumper out of the P&R — the type of jumper he did not take often enough last season.
Further, he’s been much more assertive taking the ball off the defensive backboard and pushing it up court himself, looking to attack in the process. After the Philly game, he described this new approach:
We have the freedom to do almost whatever we want now. Coach has given me his blessing to push the ball up the court, take the ball off the rim and push the ball up the court. If they commit to me I’ll kick it. If they don’t I’m coming down the lane. It’s a position I love playing. I love going down-hill with the ball. I hope to continue to play like that.
This isn’t really a style which we saw from Nance often, if at all, last season. Julius Randle was a guy who would grab and go, but Nance would more often look for his guard to outlet to and then get up-court to get into position to run the team’s sets. Now, though, he looks much more like Randle — he’s pushing the ball himself, looking to get into the paint, and if nothing is there, he’ll move the ball onto a guard and then get right into a pick and roll or work backside to get into one of the team’s screen/motion sets.
This type of aggression is welcome, but beyond that it reminds of the versatility Nance showed some flashes of while at Wyoming but did not immediately translate to the pros. It also reminds me of a comment Zach Lowe made to Baxter Holmes when they podcasted last season:
Enough talent evaluators who I respect have told me “just keep an eye on Larry Nance Jr.” And specifically, “he has a little Draymond Green like switch-ability, versatility, just a little whiff of that.” So let’s see if it pans out.
I’m not trying to call Nance the next Draymond, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think of the Warriors’ all-NBA forward when watching Nance push the ball in transition after a defensive rebound, when lining up a three pointer out of the P&R, or when he’s made a quick read off a short roll and hits an open teammate. Nance also continues to flash the type of defensive versatility Green has made his calling card, racking up 4 blocks and 7 (!) steals against the 76ers.
Again, no one should jump to conclusions here. Not only has this only been two games, but they have been summer league games. No one should mistake this environment for actual NBA action.
That said, Nance is showing some flashes of being the type of all-court player who can thrive in Luke Walton’s schemes. With improved assertiveness (something I have written he needed to work on), budding confidence in taking open jumpers, and a decent handle he can be the type of rangy forward who can play 3-point line and in, rather than just someone who will do the dirty work — even though he will continue to do those things to.
After Saturday’s win, D’Angelo Russell said that “Larry is a winning piece on a winning team” and added that “every team needs a guy like Larry” while noting how he’s always positive, giving good energy, and that he just “knows how to play”.
If Nance can continue to build on his promising start this summer league, continue to make strides in his individual skill development when these games start, and carry over his new found aggressiveness into training camp and the regular season, he might just be making that sort of difference and impact for these Lakers.