CLEVELAND, Ohio – Larry Nance Jr. is arguably the most versatile player on the Cavaliers, so it’s no surprise he excelled Monday in a role he doesn’t usually assume.
Nance played small forward in the lineup that led the Cavs to a 125-119 overtime win against the Miami Heat. He joined Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love in the frontcourt, with rookies Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. in the backcourt.
Standing at 6-foot-7, Nance actually has the size of a traditional small forward. But he’s mostly played power forward or center because of his rebounding ability, defense and above-the-rim athleticism.
In today’s NBA, though, Nance could potentially be a player who switches seamlessly between playing any of the frontcourt positions.
“I think he’s versatile enough where when nights we need him to be that, he can,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Nance playing small forward. “He’s ball-skilled enough where he can play on the perimeter. He shoots it well enough where he can play on the perimeter. He defends well enough where he can be on the perimeter. So that’s not out of the question.”
Nance scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 32 minutes. He scored two key buckets off jump hooks, a testament to his improved post play. Nance banked in a bucket to cut the lead to one point with 2:54 left in overtime. With two minutes left, Nance made another shot to give the Cavs a brief one-point lead.
With Nance playing at small forward beside Thompson and Love, the Cavs created an advantage for themselves. Nance could simply play anywhere within the offense and provide his value wherever needed.
“I didn’t like playing the five when I had to guard the beasts,” Nance said. “(Nikola) Jokic, (Hassan) Whiteside, Andre (Drummond), glad he’s on our team and don’t have to guard him anymore. I don’t mind playing the 5 in that sense because then I get to control the team. You know what? Next 2K or fantasy (basketball), they need to put small forward next to my name as well. Small forward, power forward, I’m like a Swiss Army knife. It’s great.”
When he came into the league in 2016, Nance was primarily utilized as a rim runner because of his athleticism. While with the Los Angeles Lakers, Nance took 48.2% of his field goal attempts from 0-3 feet, according to Basketball Reference. Nance is taking just 38.5% of his shots from that same area this season.
His offensive game is as well-rounded as it’s ever been. He can handle the ball and be a playmaker in the halfcourt. He’s shot the most 3-pointers of his career (136), and he’s also shot the highest 3-point percentage of his career (33.8%).
Despite his quality play in this calendar year, Nance’s versatility hasn’t always been fully showcased this season. Earlier in the season, Nance was being used more as a floor spacer. But that didn’t work for him.
December was one of his worst months of the season, as he averaged 4.5 points in 13 games — his lowest scoring average of the season to date. He shot 23.3% from deep.
Since the calendar flipped to 2020, though, he’s been one of the Cavs’ most consistent players. He averaged 11.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in January, shooting 60.0% from the field. In eight games this month, he’s scoring 13.5 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds, while shooting 55.4%.
As the Cavs continue their development, Nance being the versatile player adds value to his role with the franchise.
“I took my game into my own hands,” Nance said. “December, all of December, I was trying to fit a mold that wasn’t me. I was trying to play a role that I was not necessarily comfortable with – a lot of standing in the corner, not being involved. If you’ve seen me play, I like to have the ball and make some decisions, get guys open and pass, so I just kind of said, ‘I’m off that. Time to play my game.’ It’s been working pretty good ever since.”