Larry Nance Jr.'s Growth Continues Year After Year
If there are two words that accurately describe Larry Nance Jr.’s basketball career, they would be “trending upward.”
His trajectory isn’t like one of those fictional graphs – where the red line just keeps soaring up and up and up. It’s just a steady climb. Larry Nance Jr. just keeps getting better.
Already saddled with all the pressure that comes with being the son of a local legend, Nance came to Revere High as a 5-10 point guard and left as a 6-7 forward, having led the Minutemen to a 28-0 conference mark over his last two seasons. As the school’s all-time shot-blocking leader, he was inducted into Revere’s Hall of Fame last year.
In those early days, Nance wasn’t even sure he wanted to follow in his father’s famous footsteps.
"I had several conversations with my parents about potentially wanting to quit, saying, like: ‘I think I might want to be done,'” recalled Nance. “And they would always say, 'Hey, this not what you have to do. Whatever you feel like doing – go to school, get your degree, get your education and then after that if, you want to get away from basketball, do it.'
"When it comes to the Nance family, (basketball) is something we like to do. Not something we're forced to do.”
Despite his success at Revere, Nance was lightly recruited, with Michigan and Bowling Green showing interest. But he eventually chose Wyoming – where, once again, he mounted a slow, steady path upward. In each year, his numbers increased – in some areas exponentially – and as a senior, led the school to its first Mountain West title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years.
In his final year at Wyoming, Nance was named All-Mountain West First Team, All-Defensive Team and the conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Nance was the 27th overall pick of the Lakers in 2015 – 25 spots after tabbing D’Angelo Russell out of Ohio State. Russell had a short and somewhat rocky career in Tinseltown while Nance did his slow climb – improving his numbers through his first two-and-a-half seasons with L.A.
But after that uneventful stretch with the Lakers – a team still light years away from the its current composition – Nance had his career completely altered when he was dealt to the Wine & Gold at the 2018 Trade Deadline. Cleveland sent Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a 2018 first rounder in exchange for Nance and Jordan Clarkson.
The family reunion breathed life into Nance’s career, and after two relatively fruitless seasons with L.A., got a taste of the NBA Finals in his first half-season with Cleveland.
The Cavaliers struggled last year and won 19 games before their 2019-20 campaign came to its abrupt end in March. The tragedy of this truncated season is that Nance – and the Cavs – were playing their best ball of the season when it ended.
Nance, in particular, was flourishing under new Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff – who was able to use him at both the 3 and the 4 with the arrival of Andre Drummond. Mixing Nance, Drummond, Tristan Thompson, and Kevin Love gave Cleveland one of the most talented and versatile frontlines in the conference.
"I think the biggest thing was just the level of competition that we were playing,” said Nance. “I mean, we swept the Nuggets. During that stretch with J.B., we beat a very good Heat team. We beat the Sixers. We beat San Antonio on our home court. We really competed with and beat some really good teams in that stretch, and I think it was how we did it. It was no fluke.”
As Nance has done throughout his career – and again during his time in Cleveland – his numbers gradually improved as the season progressed.
After not scoring in double-figures in any game in December, Nance turned the corner in January. He returned full-time to the lineup in a road matchup in Memphis, going 7-for-8 from the floor for 16 points – and his season took off from there.
Nance proceeded to score in double-figures in 19 of his final 22 games. He was very good in a reserve role – his eight double-doubles off the bench are good for 3rd-best in the league. And his numbers as a starter were outstanding – averaging 14.6ppg, 10.4rpg, 3.1apg and 1.5spg in 10 starts this season; 17.2ppg, 10.0rpg, 4.2apg, 2.2spg over his last five.
With his game reaching the next level this past season – canning 10 more triples this year than in his previous four combined – it’s easy to see why Nance was chomping at the bit to get back on the floor when the lockdown started.
"There's a whole lot that comes into play, but for me, the number one reason I want to get back is just loving the game,” said Nance earlier this summer. “This is the longest that I haven’t played a game of basketball in my entire life.”
Nance and the Cavaliers will get back after it when next season rolls around. When it does, there’s one constant that fans can count on: Larry Nance Jr.’s game will take another step up.