So far this season, the Los Angeles Lakers have only had to deal with one major injury. Starting power forward Larry Nance Jr. fractured a bone in his hand and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
It looks like Nance will be on the lower end of that prognosis as he has worked hard to be able to return quickly. Last week, Nance was cleared to return to practice, and head coach Luke Walton says Nance has looked good so far.
“He’s been practicing with us, as much as we’ve done,” Walton said Tuesday. “He’s been out there mixing it up with the guys, getting his shots up, getting his running in. A couple good practices, I think he should be fine.”
Nance didn’t participate in practice on Tuesday after having a wisdom tooth removed, but Walton went so far as to call a return next Monday against the Clippers “reasonable.”
“We’ve got plenty of time now to get him back and get him going again,” he added. “As long as there’s no setbacks, he should be back soon.”
Nance had been enjoying a career-year before his unfortunate injury, so his return will certainly be welcomed, especially on the defense. The Lakers have had some issues recently on that end, and Nance’s energy, hustle, and basketball IQ should provide a boon.
With the Lakers’ new defensive identity that has been forged this season, Nance has set the tone for that. He is arguably the team’s best overall defender and brings a ton of intangibles that can’t be replicated.
The question for Walton now is whether he will re-insert Nance into the starting lineup. Rookie Kyle Kuzma has been excellent as a starter, averaging 17.8 points and 8.6 rebounds in the nine games since Nance’s injury.
Even though Kuzma isn’t as good defensively as Nance, he brings much-needed offense to the starting lineup and it could be hard for Walton to remove him.
What’s great about Nance is that his game remains effective whether he starts or comes off the bench. The most important thing is simply that he is on his way back much quicker than anyone expected.
Walton said he had not yet given any thought to how he would integrate Nance back into the rotation.
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