Larry Nance Jr could be the most important player on the Los Angeles Lakers next year.
The main thing I’ve learned from watching these first three summer league games is that Larry Nance Jr. is a damn American hero. That dude is incredible. Once Luke Walton was hired I thoroughly talked myself into Julius Randle filling the Draymond role. But it turns out that Larry, waiting quietly in the wings, was being overlooked. He’s getting his due now.
Larry Nance Jr should be a crucial element of the Lakers offensive success next season. Common sense says that the Lakers will play some variation of the Golden State offense. To be successful in that system is to get the ball moving, but side to side passing that doesn’t warp the defense is pointless. Having a big like Nance that runs towards screens is crucial to helping the ball handler get past his man, which forces the defense to scramble and creates drive and kick opportunities. Pair Nance’s willingness to set picks with his improved offensive game, and he could prove to be the unlikely lynchpin that holds the Lakers offense together.
His stat line from the 76ers game is certainly eye popping. But the most encouraging part of that game for him was the versatility he showed in the pick and roll on offense. Look at this play:
When Nance sets a screen for D’Angelo, the two defenders trap Russell. Larry acts as the release valve, getting the ball with a 4 on 3 and attacking to draw a foul. The next two plays showcase his ability to do different things in the pick and roll.
In one play he reads the defense and finds Anthony Brown open in the corner. The next he picks and pops to knock down a three pointer. Three different plays, three different decisions. Larry Nance Jr has the ability to attack the defense in multiple ways and that will make it hard for teams to defend him as a screener. This will free up space for Los Angeles’ main ball handlers and should be a very crucial part of the team's offense.
The other part of Nance’s game that makes him look to be a very valuable player next season is his defense. He’s obviously recovered from his torn ACL in college and is the most athletic player on this Lakers team. He has the mobility to switch on pick and rolls and the leaping ability to defend the rim. Although physical tools are necessary to being a great defender, they’re not sufficient. But all signs indicate that Larry is a smart guy and very coachable, so he should be able to put everything together on the defensive end. While Nance may never be a game changer, he will at least be above average.
All of what Larry Nance has shown, throughout last season and this summer league, is that he should be the Lakers starting power forward. Yes, over Julius Randle. Randle isn’t a good shooter, screener, or defender. Of course he makes up for it with his rebounding and ball handling abilities, but what that means is that he’s only contributing when he has the ball in his hands. Nance contributes when he doesn’t have the ball. That makes him a much better fit alongside D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. That would also bring Randle off the bench and let him match up against worse defenders with less length. Luckily, Luke Walton seems like the type of coach who can manage egos well enough to make this switch without creating locker room tension.
Throughout this summer league, Larry Nance has shown flashes that he can be the player the Lakers need. A swiss army knife capable of being the lynchpin of a swarming defense as well as the screener who creates space for the Los Angeles ball handlers. He might never be one of the best players on this young Laker core, but he could prove the most important.
Oh, I almost forgot.