Larry Nance Jr. is the Centerpiece of the Cavaliers' Future Frontcourt

Both Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. are getting minutes at center for the Cavaliers. With Nance under a new four-year extension and Thompson expiring in the summer of 2020, what's going on with the minute-allotment for these two players?

First thing's first. Congratulations to former head coach Tyronn Lue, who will now avoid the unbearable stink of a last-place finish this season. He will also continue to get paid and have a chance to really get back to being healthy, after a health-scare sidelined him for a couple of weeks late last season. To no longer work for Dan Gilbert has to feel like a victory at this point.

Moving on, the Cavaliers still have a mountain of payroll and an even larger mountain of questions. Of course, now that Lue is gone, the coaching and roster situations are inextricably tied together. With Dan Gilbert at the helm, there's not a lot that suggests a clear long-term plan, but contracts are contracts and some players are in Cleveland for longer than others. Presumably, Kevin Love will be a Cavalier for most of the length of his new contract, which expires in the summer of 2023. After inking Larry Nance, Jr. to a four-year extension, he appears to be the other long-term piece of the Cavaliers front-court. But was it correct to extend Nance? And where does that leave Tristan Thompson?

Larry Nance is Good at Almost Everything

This is a strange thing to say, but if you were to answer the question "what is Larry Nance, Jr. good at?" the response is tricky. He's not a great shooter, as shown by the 59 three-pointers he has taken thus far in his career (he is making 22% of them, or 13-59). But what are his other weaknesses? He's an above-average passer, rebounder, defender, and off-ball player. He runs the floor, he controls the offense, and he makes his teammates better. Recently displaced head coach Ty Lue even got into the habit of playing Nance for stretches when the Cavs were most likely to lose track of their opponents. For example, Nance played the final 17 minutes of a tight loss to the Pistons, and he also bridged the 3rd/4th quarters with about 13 consecutive minutes against the Pacers on Saturday night.

After playing the last several years with a tremendous on/off split, Nance is at it again. Through the first six games of this season, the lowly Cavaliers are 19 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions that Nance is on the floor. Despite that, and despite Nance's 22 minutes per game, Cleveland was 0-4 in the first four games he appeared in.

When Nance is on the floor, things and players move. In the clip below, he acts as a facilitator, screener, and rim-runner in a matter of five seconds. He fakes two passes, has two players run by on what could be ball-screens (but they didn't get tight enough to his body), then sets the screen after a dribble hand-off and rolls inside for a dunk. That's an absurd amount of action for a center to be in charge of, unless you're Nikola Jokic.

But what separates Nance from a typical center (note: Jokic is not a typical center) is that he could have - and would have - made the right pass if either rim-running guard had been free.

In the clip below, we see more of Nance in the center of the offensive action. While the floor-spacing in this play is not exactly perfect, it shows how effective Nance can be as the driver of the offense. Nance bluffs a screen for Collin Sexton before a perfectly-timed move to screen for Kyle Korver. Nance's defender, Zaza Pachulia, has to step toward Korver because, well, it's Kyle Korver. That allows Nance to make a quick break to the basket and draw weak side help. It's important to note that Nance isn't expecting this pass. Look where his eyes go after he sets the screen - he's clearly rim-running for an offensive rebound attempt, without looking back at Korver. The ball appears at his side as he's moving, so Nance makes the smart play. How many big men in the NBA can make that pass - over a double team - to the corner for this Clarkson three-pointer

I know a big man who cannot make that pass. 

What about Tristan Thompson?

Tristan Thompson was an integral piece of the 2016 NBA Champion Cavaliers, and for that, he will forever hold a place in the hearts of Cavs fans. However, by being an integral piece of the first Finals run in 2015, Tristan Thompson (along with JR Smith the following summer) put Dan Gilbert in a tricky spot: Pay the guy what he wants because he helps give you a title chance, or pay him what he's worth on the open market?

Dan Gilbert more or less paid Tristan Thompson what he wanted, as there weren't exactly suitors lining up at Thompson's door. The Cavaliers signed Thompson for five years and $82 million - lower than the $94 million that Tristan's camp wanted, but Thompson didn't appear to receive offer sheets from anyone else (Thompson is represented by Klutch Sports Group, run by LeBron James's dear friend Rich Paul, who also represents LeBron). In short, he wasn't in high demand.

The fallout is precisely what fans feared. Tristan Thompson is a fine basketball player, but he is not a $16 million per year basketball player, especially in the modern NBA. While Larry Nance, Jr. is not a shooter, Thompson falls short of the mark in the other offensive areas where Nance excels. Chief among those areas is passing.

According to stats, Thompson and Nance throw a relatively similar amount of passes per game - Nance averages 37 in 22 minutes per game, Thompson averages 31 in about 26 minutes. The telling statistic is that over 11% of Nance's passes are assists, while Thompson is down below 5%. Between true assists and secondary assists, Nance creates almost three times as many possible points off assists as Thompson does, and Nance is still averaging fewer minutes per game. To simplify, Nance is throwing meaningful passes and Thompson is just getting rid of the ball because he can't do much with it.

So what happens next?

With $17.5 million going his way this season and another $18.5 million next year, Thompson isn't exactly on a team-friendly contract that could make him an appealing trade target. Even so, he's not dead weight. Despite the feeling that he's been around forever, Tristan Thompson is still just 27-years-old. He has definite value as a rebounder (on both ends) and the eye test suggests he's an OK defender. The advanced stats suggest that he's a mannequin on defense, but he has been dealing with various minor injuries over the past 12 months, so perhaps some team believes he can get back to his 2015-16 form.

That was a long way of saying that the Cavaliers should take whatever they can get for Tristan Thompson. Give him a nice handshake, try to do right by him, and send him on his way. If someone with cap-space wants a rebounder/energy guy off the bench and wants to give up a late first-round pick along with contract filler, take it. If it's two second-rounders and contract filler, take it. Something is better than nothing, and Tristan Thompson is not a long-term piece for the Cavaliers, unless he sticks around at a heavily discounted price. And with Klutch Sports (and a Hollywood lifestyle with the Kardashians) in his corner, a discounted price is not very likely.

Larry Nance, Jr. is a better version of Tristan Thompson for a lower price. Thompson will hold that special place in the hearts of Cavaliers fans forever, but it's probably time to cut their losses. The team is going nowhere for the next 18 months, so they should take whatever assets they can get.

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