Las Vegas -- Larry Nance, Jr's introduction to Los Angeles Lakers fans on draft night went about as poorly as reasonably possible. For one, Nance's selection 27th overall was almost universally panned as a reach. Our own Silver Screen and Roll staff gave it an average grade of a D. Compounding this reaction was the research of an enterprising individual with too much time on their hands digging up a tweet of Nance's from high school critical of Kobe Bryant.
There was no where to go but up for Nance. Fortunately for Nance, up is a direction he specializes in going. He's spent the first two games of Las Vegas Summer League delighting fans by flying all over the court and attempting to either block or dunk every ball in his immediate vicinity. Saturday night was a breakout performance for the Wyoming product, as he tallied eight points on four-of-six shooting to go with five rebounds, three steals, and two blocked shots in his 20 minutes while posting a team high plus-minus of +20 in the Lakers' 68-60 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
More impressive than Nance's stat line was the effect it had on another overwhelmingly Lakers devoted crowd. While not quite as raucous of an atmosphere as the Lakers' Friday night loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the fans in the Thomas and Mack Center couldn't resist taking to Nance. With four minutes to go in the third quarter, Nance left the fans going ballistic with the loudest cheers of the night when he obliterated highly-touted 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor's shot.
"I actually blocked it so hard, I looked over at the bench like 'I think I broke my hand'" said Nance of the play after the game. As good of a salve as any for the hand Nance mentioned was fine was the response of the crowd, who began chanting "LAR-RY LAR-RY LAR-RY." When Lakers Summer League head coach Mark Madsen removed Nance to rest a few moments later, the crowd gave him a miniature standing ovation.
"I have energy, I'm athletic, and I'm going to lock you up on defense," Nance said, describing his game. Hustle players like Nance are always fan favorites, their grind always appreciated by their team's faithful. But that doesn't mean that was the type of player Nance always wanted to be. "[ I don't know] if kids at home are looking at energy guys like 'oh that's my role, that's what I want to be,'" said Nance. Nevertheless, he always "looked at energy as a skill .... you see guys like that popping up everywhere in the NBA. That's kind of where I want to find myself here."
Another energy guy to have played in the NBA is none other than the Mad Dog Madsen, who carved out a nine-year career on the degree of his floor burns. "If you put me in the same breath as Larry, I take that as a huge compliment," praised Madsen after the game, "That guy is a special player .... These energy guys are the guys that go in and change a basketball game." Nance appreciates having a player of a similar skillset captaining the team's bench. "That's great having a head coach like that," said Nance. "We're kind of thinking the same thing at all times."
From fan hatred to fan favorite, Nance's image has made as quick of a transition as, well, Nance moving in transition. "I couldn't be more happy about it," Nance said of the atmosphere in Las Vegas for his breakout game, and as long as what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas, Lakers fans and the organization could soon feel the same way about his selection in the 2015 NBA draft.