With the Los Angeles Lakers season getting off to an uninspiring start, there hasn’t been many positives for fans to hang their hat on. One unexpected development has been the play of rookie Larry Nance Jr. since being inserted into the rotation.
In the preseason, Nance didn’t get quite as much attention as his fellow rookies. D’Angelo Russell, as the second overall pick, was always going to have plenty of eyes on him, and even second-rounder Anthony Brown garnered plenty of praise when he stepped into the starting lineup for Kobe Bryant. Nance’s dunk over Festus Ezili was on all of the highlight reels, but he still seemed to be further away from contributing.
That turned out not to be the case as Nance has impressed coaches and fans with his energy on both ends of the floor as well as his basketball IQ, especially on the defensive end. Nance has proven himself to be one of the best Laker players when it comes to off-ball defense and rotations.
Nance has also shown off a much better jumper than anticipated and made all six of his attempts in the Lakers loss to the Orlando Magic. Needless to say, expectations for Larry Nance Jr. have gone up recently.
So we asked our panel of experts what they believe is Larry Nance Jr.’s ceiling. This is what they had to say:
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): When the Lakers selected Larry Nance Jr. with the 27th overall pick it was a huge surprise. Most assumed that Nance’s name wouldn’t be called until the middle of the second round, if at all. With players like R.J. Hunter, Kevon Looney, and Montrezl Harrell still on the board many Lakers fans (myself included) were dismayed when pick was used to take a senior out of Wyoming instead of a younger player with a higher ceiling.
Well, I’m here to say I was wrong, and Mitch knew what he was doing. Though he has played in just a handful of games so far, LNJ has made his presence felt in ways that don’t show up on the box score. His nimble feet and the on-court tutelage of Metta World Peace have turned him into a capable defender who is getting better and better at making the right reads.
His jumper, while still a work in progress, gives hope that he will eventually provide the type of floor spacing that modern offenses need. And his athleticism…oh boy, can Nance get up. His dunk over Festus Ezeli during the preseason is destined to live on, and it’s only a matter of time before someone else gets posterized.
That said, Nance doesn’t project to be a starter in the NBA. He does a lot of things really well, including hustle, but seems like his best role will ultimately be as the first big off the bench. He is something of a Swiss Army knife, capable of providing a lot of different things on the court, especially on the defensive end. This versatility makes him a great change-of-pace player that can come into a game and quickly make an impact. I think of him as being similar to Orlando’s Aaron Gordon in some ways, just with less upside.
Nance may never be an All-Star, but he can certainly play and will help the team this season as well as in the future. To find a player who can do that with the 27th pick absolutely has to be considered a success.
Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner): Larry Nance Jr. may have a bright future in the NBA. The rookie forward hasn’t gotten on the floor much for head coach Byron Scott, but when he has, the Wyoming product has made an impression on his teammates as well as the fans and coaching staff.
Nance won’t get mentioned in the same breath as some of the big-name rookies in the league and will likely be overshadowed by D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson this season. Despite that fact, Nance could become a solid sixth man for the Lakers.
At this point in time, I don’t see Nance developing into a starter. This may ultimately be his ceiling, but I see him fitting in more as a solid option off the bench for Los Angeles. Nance is already proving to be a valuable asset for Coach Scott and could prove even more resourceful if he continues to get the minutes on the floor.
Right now, an athletic and potentially versatile sixth man is Nance’s ceiling in my opinion.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): I was admittedly skeptical when Larry Nance Jr. was drafted, but was aware of his defensive potential. Early on this season he has shown the potential to be far more than just an average rotation player.
Projecting Nance’s potential is tough considering the team already has Julius Randle entrenched as the power forward of the future. That being said, I do see Nance as a first big off the bench type with the ability to become a regular starter if he develops. The key to that will be his jumper.
If Nance can continue his shooting and become a consistent threat from deep, that would drastically improve his ceiling. He has the quickness and knowledge to guard multiple positions and could be a future defensive stopper. If his offensive game becomes respectable enough, a Shawn Marion-like role is feasible.
As it stands now, however, I see him more as a Nick Collison type role player off the bench, though with much more athleticism. A player like that will have a long career in this league, and I see that happening for Nance.
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): Admittedly, when the front office made the selection of Nance with the 27th pick, my reaction was similar to that of many others that weren’t necessarily experts on Mountain West basketball.
Not that the athleticism, reported “motor” that never ended and being the son of a former great -Larry Nance Sr.- weren’t intriguing enough reasons to take the 6’8 power forward, but most projections had him going at some point much later in the draft even though he impressed at times at Wyoming.
Although the front office has been somewhat maligned given the team’s futility over the past few seasons, the talent evaluation of young players has been strong. With questions surrounding what an actual role in the NBA might look like, Nance has wasted no time showing precisely what the front office saw in him and why they were comfortable making the pick prior to other teams that may have shared a similar interest.
Julius Randle is clearly the present and future at the power forward position, but that isn’t to say Nance doesn’t still have plenty of room to continue to carve out a significant role with this team. The energy and effort have been as advertised, but Nance is also clearly working at improving his ball-skills and becoming more and more comfortable from the outside.
He’s the type of “disruptor” around the basket on both ends that generally makes positive things happen when in the game. He may not have many opportunities to “start” given the roster composition, but Nance has shown the type of versatility and willingness to improve in all facets of the game that will likely result in him continuing establish himself as a contributor and dependable rotation piece with these Lakers as the young core develops.