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Lakers' Nance Jr. quietly forging his own path in NBA

Strong work on the glass and flashes of potential have made the No. 27 overall pick a gem of sorts for Los Angeles

POSTED: Nov 25, 2015 11:21 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Larry Nance Jr. has become one of the few bright spots in the Lakers' dismal season.

This isn't about drawing attention because of his famous last name or wanting to follow in his father's footsteps as a Slam Dunk champion. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Larry Nance Jr. has gone from being taken 27th overall -- the end of the first round of the 2015 Draft -- to into the Lakers' rotation because he is willing to be understated. He plays with a high basketball IQ that packages intelligence and athleticism to anticipate and attack rebounds out of his immediate area.

Dunk of the Night: Larry Nance Jr.

Louis Williams passes to Larry Nance Jr. off the pick-and-roll and Nance throws it down with authority.

He plays with the experience of a four-year collegian (which he was at Wyoming), from growing up as the son of a three-time All-Star who spent 13 seasons with the Cavaliers and Suns, had his jersey No. 22 retired by Cleveland and won the 1984 dunk crown. Most of all, Nance willingly fits a role that includes a lot of minutes but little chance to become an important part of the offense.

Fine with him. In what has quickly become a disastrous season for the Lakers, his development at least provides another potential piece for the future along with lottery pick D'Angelo Russell and the two draft picks from 2014: Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.

"His steadiness and how hard he plays," coach Byron Scott said when asked what has jumped out about Nance. "I think he has a very good idea of what he is out there on the basketball court. He doesn't go outside that box. He sticks within himself. But he plays hard. That's the thing I love about Larry. I've said this a few occasions, the four years that he spent in college was a big help to him because he's obviously NBA ready. It's just a matter of him gaining more experience and playing time."

Lakers in Transition

Louis Williams picks the pass and runs the break before tossing a lob to Larry Nance Jr. for the finish.

Averaging 17.9 minutes will help. So will the maturity and the understanding most rookies don't have about dealing with the length of the season and life around the league. It's a very good spot for now, away from the spotlight but making a good early impression.

To this week's Rookie Ladder:

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (Last week: 1)

Kia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Rookie of the Month for November.

Towns is producing on offense (shooting 51.8 percent with success away from the basket) and has had a very good start on defense. He is clearly the best rookie the first quarter of the season. That makes the 28.7 minutes a game a little surprising, especially with Nikola Pekovic, last season's starting center, missing every game and still sidelined indefinitely with an Achilles' injury. Towns could easily grow into a lot more minutes. If not, the early stat watch is that no Kia Rookie of the Year has ever averaged less than the 29.1 minutes of Mike Miller in 2000-01.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks (3)

Kia Awards: Kristaps Porzingis

See the highlights that made Kristaps Porzingis a nominee for the Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November.

Porzingis vs. Jahlil Okafor for No. 2: Okafor leads all rookies in scoring, by about 3.1 points per game over Towns, and is third in rebounding and surging in that category. And he is shooting 48 percent compared to 42.3 percent for Porzingis, although the 48 percent is underwhelming as well because of his limited range. But Porzingis has been better as a two-way player and has taken advantage of the opportunity Okafor could never get: Having an important role on a decent team. Porzingis' 26.9 minutes for the 8-7 Knicks means a lot more than 33.3 minutes for 0-15 Philadelphia.

3. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers (2)

Sixers vs. Timberwolves

Andrew Wiggins goes for 32 points and six rebounds as the Timberwolves beat the 76ers 100-95.

He did well in the first meeting of the top rookie big men, getting 25 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes on Monday in Minneapolis compared to six points, two rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes of foul trouble for Towns. That pushed Okafor to 18.4 points overall and gave him double digits on the boards in four of his last six contests. Games with multiple blocks are also becoming common.

4. Nemanja Bjelica, Minnesota Timberwolves (4)

Bjelica did not play Friday against the Detroit Pistons or Monday against the 76ers and is questionable tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. The bigger problem, if the injury is temporary enough that he might only miss one or two more games, is the recent shooting slump. Not playing well and then not playing at all is a bad combination. The impressive start and the good defense keeps him in the top five, though. For now.

5. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat (6)

Winslow Scores And One

Justise Winslow drives and hits the layup plus the foul.

The team tied for the second-best record in the East continues to give him big minutes. Winslow is consistently in the high-20s and low-30s, in addition to the especially strong endorsement, as mentioned last week, of the Heat relying heavily on him in fourth quarters. The No. 10 pick is also taking advantage of the handful of scoring opportunities by shooting 46.4 percent, though so far with limited range.

6. T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia 76ers (5)

The undrafted point guard is still enjoying a surprisingly good start of 6.9 points, 6.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 48 percent from the field and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.33-1, but there has been a definite leveling off. Or a return to reality. McConnell has been worse than 2-1 on assists-turnovers in five of his last seven games and had as many or more turnovers three times in that span. Passing to a team of mostly non-shooters obviously hurts, but dependability with the ball got him on the Ladder in the first place. McConnell still has the advantage that no one ranked lower has shown the ability to put together the kind of run that would knock him very far down the list.

7. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets (8)

Mudiay To The Rack

Emmanuel Mudiay darts through traffic and euro-steps in for the finger roll.

The guy with the best potential to not only make McConnell pay for a slump but to make a big climb. Mudiay has done better lately handling the ball, even with five assists and six turnovers Friday against the Phoenix Suns, in a much-needed improvement and sign of offensive stability to go with the good defense. He is making a run at McConnell for the rookie lead in assists. Now to get the same positive direction with his shot: Mudiay is at 33 percent from the field.

8. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn Nets (10)

Hollis-Jefferson Denies Lee

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson defends the rim with a great block.

The defense remains the primary selling point, now with five and three steals in the last two games and six outings in all with at least two, along with what has grown into a consistent and prominent role. Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson is also capitalizing on limited opportunities in the offense by shooting 49.1 percent. The majority of the attempts come within 10 feet of the basket, but if he is not hurting the Nets on that side of the ball while living up to expectations on defense. All said, an encouraging first month for the No. 23 pick.

9. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings (7)

McLemore Connects With Cauley-Stein

Ben McLemore tosses up a perfect alley-oop, and Willie Cauley-Stein finishes with the dunk.

He fell two spots and appears ready to drop completely out of the rankings because of a decline in minutes, down to 18.7 per game, as part of an inconsistent role. But Cauley-Stein is fourth in blocks and sixth in rebounds while shooting 62.5 percent. To be that high on some categories despite problems staying on the court can actually be a selling point. But if he doesn't start playing more, he doesn't stay on the list.

10. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (not ranked)

Jokic Denies DeAndre

Nikola Jokic gets the block on DeAndre Jordan and on the other end Darrell Arthur converts the jumper.

This is a small sample size of just 17 minutes a game and the last couple weeks in particular. But what a sample. Jokic, the 41st selection in 2014, came to the NBA after playing in his native Serbia. He got decent minutes early and then started string together big contributions, all the way to double-digit rebounds in two of the last four games. He does not block many shots but is a tough defensive presence making it hard for opposing big men to score inside.

Dropped out: Jerian Grant (9).

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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