Most Los Angeles Lakers' fans were unhappy when it was announced that Julius Randle would be coming off of the bench for the rest of 2015. Looking at the positive side, Lakers head coach Byron Scott was at least not benching his young forward in favor of a veteran, like was the case with D'Angelo Russell and Lou Williams. Randle would instead be replaced among the the Lakers starters by the team's second 2015 first round pick, Larry Nance, Jr.
The results for Nance, Jr. have been mixed. The late first rounder has not put up eye popping statistics (averaging 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in 23 minutes) since the move, predictably struggling to stand out against other team's starters, all par for the course for a raw rookie. Nance, Jr. has at least been efficient in limited opportunities, shooting 51.5% from the field as a starter, and on Sunday afternoon against the Memphis Grizzlies he translated that efficiency into a larger impact (or at least as much "impact" as a player can have in a 16-point loss).
Nance, Jr. set new career highs in scoring and rebounding with 17 points and 11 rebounds (second on the team in both categories), his first career double-double. He also made eight of his twelve field-goal attempts, and was one of the more active players on the floor for a Lakers team that Scott described to reporters as "a little fatigued from a mental standpoint" after their 26th loss of the season.
That activity and constant motion is what allowed Nance, Jr. to be effective in a starting lineup with three shoot-first players like Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams, and Jordan Clarkson. One of Nance, Jr.'s best sequences of the game came on one of the first possessions:
Nance, Jr. got back in transition to cut off the basket, ran out to contest an open trailer's three pointer, out-hustled three Grizzlies to the rebound, and then took the ball the length of the floor. He missed the layup because the 2015-16 Lakers are not allowed to have nice things, but it was still 10-15 second demonstration of the type of player the Lakers hope he can become.
Nance, Jr. showed the same type of hustle at the offensive end of the floor:
Here Nance, Jr. sets multiple screens for Lou Williams before rolling hard to the rim and attempting to end Marc Gasol's life. Then he followed up and was able to tip his own missed dunk attempt before having it taken away. This set of plays resulted in no points, but again demonstrates the types of skills Nance, Jr. will have to develop on offense.
Nance, Jr. had a nose for rolling to the rim all game, something the Lakers' bigs have not done enough of this season:
He did not get the direct pass out of another pick-and-roll with Williams, but utilized good timing in waiting for Roy Hibbert's miss and dunking it home.
Here Nance, Jr. directs both the ball (and apparently Marc Gasol and Matt Barnes) to an open Kobe in the corner. When he sees the lane is open, Nance, Jr. immediately cuts hard to the rim, where Bryant hits him with a pass for his easiest look of the night.
Less easy was this rebound he had to fight off an active and handsy JaMychal Green for:
Nance, Jr. had to shake his arm free of Green's hold before pushing his fellow scrappy rookie away and securing the board. That type of grimy work on the glass is a must for a player like Nance, Jr. to stick in the league, and already doing it as a rookie is a good sign.
When a softer touch was required, Nance, Jr. had that going for him as well on Sunday afternoon, showcasing a pleasant but unexpected right-handed hook shot:
As well as a relatively fundamentally sound, arcing jumper:
It's still FAR too early for the pie-in-the-sky Draymond Green comparison that some have bandied about, but if Nance, Jr. can continue to hit that jumper, roll to the basket, rebound, defend, and handle the ball like he did tonight he does have the potential to look like a very solid pick, if not even a steal, at 27th overall. It's not ideal for him to get so many minutes at the expense of Randle, but it would be a lot worse if he did not at least show something in that floor time.
All quotes transcribed via TWC Sportsnet.