At the beginning of the 2017-2018 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers had two players under the age of 26 on their roster. Throughout the first half of the year, Cleveland’s age took a toll on the team, and at the trade deadline, general manager Koby Altman sent out six players with a combined age of 185 years in exchange for four players with a combined age of 108 — three of the four are 26 or younger.
Of the three younger acquisitions, the one who made the largest impact with the Cavaliers was Larry Nance Jr.
Nance is the son of former Cavs legend Larry Nance, who played for the team from 1987-1994. Nance Jr. attended The University of Wyoming and was drafted 27th overall in 2015 by the Los Angeles Lakers. He was quite effective in his rookie season, averaging 5.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in 20.1 minutes per game. Nance has improved every season he has been in the NBA, despite not seeing a significant increase in playing time.
2015-2016: 20.1 minutes, 5.5 points, 5.5 rebounds
2016-2017: 22.9 minutes, 7.1 points, 5.9 rebounds
2017-2018 (LAL): 22.0 minutes, 8.6 points, 6.8 rebounds
2017-2018 (CLE): 20.8 minutes, 8.9 points, 7.0 rebounds
However, Nance’s impact goes beyond what can be shown on a stat sheet. He is an active defender and a tenacious rebounder, and always gives 100 percent effort on the court. He can play both power forward and center, and his high-flying alley-oop dunks give the rest of the team a morale boost.
Cleveland’s trade with the Lakers was a bit odd, as Los Angeles was able to accomplish both of their objectives (shed Jordan Clarkson’s salary and acquire expiring contracts) while giving up only Larry Nance and getting a first-round pick back from the Cavs. That pick became Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, and even though it was 25th overall, Cleveland could have made very good use of it, given that they are currently rebuilding.
Clarkson ended up imploding in the playoffs, and was benched for the last two games of the NBA Finals. Nance, however, became an integral part of Cleveland’s rotation. He was every bit the defender starting center Tristan Thompson was, but a better offensive player. Nance’s mid-range jumpshot is quite solid, and if he can continue to improve his range, he will become a much better player than he already is.
Where Nance thrives is running the pick-and-roll. His size and athleticism makes him the perfect roll-man, and his physicality is a major part of his success in this aspect. He and Collin Sexton could form a fantastic pick-and-roll duo in the future.
At 6-foot-9, 230-pounds, Nance is small for a center, but he is a good fit for today’s NBA. His fluid athleticism allows him to both protect the rim and switch onto smaller players on the perimeter. He isn’t a lockdown defender outside or an elite rim protector, but he is solid at both skills.
At this stage in the Cavs’ rebuild, no player should be untouchable, but Nance is on of Cleveland’s five most important players currently, along with Kevin Love, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Collin Sexton. The Cavaliers should not be actively shopping Nance, and should only part with him if they are blown away by an offer.
Nance will be a restricted free agent after the 2018-2019 season, and both he and the Cavs are interested in a a long-term extension. At $2.7 milllion for next year, Nance is one of the best bargains in the league, and should command $8-$10 million per year on his next contract. For a very good rotational player, this is a fair price, especially with the current salary cap.
Had LeBron James remained in Cleveland, Nance would have reprised his role as one of the first players off the bench, and may have possibly overtaken Tristan Thompson as the starting center. He may still end up doing that regardless, but with how Ante Zizic has dominated the NBA Summer League, Zizic may end up being the starting 5.
If that happens, Kevin Love would be the starting power forward by default, but Love may very well be traded, whether it is before the season or at the trade deadline. Both Thompson and Nance began their careers playing the 4, so either could start there as well. Regardless, both will see plenty of playing time.
Larry Nance may end up finding himself as one of the veteran leaders of the team, despite only entering his fourth season in the league. However, despite his youth, he is well-suited for the responsibility. He is very mature, and was a respected locker-room leader both in Los Angeles and now in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers’ future is uncertain, but Nance will be a major part of it.