At the trade deadline in 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers reshaped their entire roster, trading away six players and bringing in four new ones. 15 months later, half of those players have been traded again, but the two who remain are significant contributors. Jordan Clarkson is a 6th Man of the Year Contender, and Larry Nance Jr. looks to be a valuable member of the rotation for years to come.
His game is perfectly suited for today’s NBA, and he continues to perfect his craft. Nance was given a rich contract extension worth nearly $45 million over four years, and responded with the best season of his young career.
Drafted 27th overall in 2015 out of Wyoming by the Los Angeles Lakers, Jr. is of course the son of Cavaliers legend Larry Nance. He spent two-and-a-half seasons in LA before being traded to Cleveland for an NBA Finals run. In his 24 regular season games with the team, Nance averaged 8.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 20.8 minutes per contest. Very solid numbers for a bench player. Nance is a bit undersized for a big man at 6’9″ 230lbs, but he’s an excellent defender and has the agility and quickness to guard on the perimeter.
Nance’s playstyle is best described as a discount Draymond Green. He rebounds and defends very well, is a great passer from the post, and can score when needed, but is not an offensive focal point. Nance played in 67 games last season for Cleveland, and with injuries to both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, ended up starting 30 of them. He played 26.8 minutes per night, and was able to show off the improvements he made to his game over the offseason.
He averaged 9.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game, with his marks in points, rebounds, assists, and steals being career-highs. He had clearly worked on becoming a better distributor from the post, and that ability should only improve as the Cavs add more perimeter shooters.
He only attempted 1.5 per game, but Nance shot 34% from beyond the arc, showing the beginnings of a three-point shot, which would do wonders for his offensive game. With his defensive prowess, rebounding and passing ability, and post finishing, adding floor spacing would make him a legitimate scoring threat and would open up the paint for slashers like Collin Sexton and Clarkson.
The great thing about Nance is he doesn’t need touches to be an effective player. Whether he plays 30 minutes or just 10, he’s going to make an impact. He always gives 100% effort and is a fantastic teammate. From the moment the trade was made, Cleveland gave up too much. The Lakers were looking to create salary cap space for the next offseason, ironically to pursue LeBron James.
The Cavs gave them two expiring contracts in Channing Frye and Isaiah Thomas, and took on Nance and Clarkson’s salary, as well as handing LA the Cavaliers’ 2019 first-round pick. Cleveland gave the Lakers everything they wanted plus a draft pick. But Nance’s performance has made that water under the bridge.
Larry Nance played the most games and highest minutes of his career last season, but his role could increase even more in 2019-2020. Both Tristan Thompson and John Henson are in the final year of their respective contracts, and could very well be traded prior to the deadline.
Even if that doesn’t happen, getting Nance more playing time should be a priority for new head coach John Beilein, as Nance is clearly the team’s most effective big man outside of Kevin Love. This will only become more apparent if he can continue to develop his outside jumpshot.
He presents a model for the young players currently on the team and those yet to be added. Nance puts in the work to constantly improve his game, and it’s paid off for him, both in the box score and the check book. It will be very interesting to see his continued development under Beilein, who is known for getting the most out of his players.
One of the most important players in Cleveland’s ongoing rebuild, Larry Nance is still just 26 years old and his best basketball is likely ahead of him. He should be a fixture in the rotation for years to come, and one of the team’s leaders for its next playoff appearance.