The Los Angeles Lakers reserves were a huge part of yet another win on Sunday night. Larry Nance, Jr., Tarik Black, Brandon Ingram, Lou Williams, and Jordan Clarkson were the biggest key to the team’s Sunday night victory over the Atlanta Hawks, the latest superlative performance from a group that has been great all season.
Over 22 minutes, that five-man grouping posted a net rating of 58.6 against Atlanta, meaning that the team outscored the Hawks at a rate that would have translated to a 58.6 point deficit over 100 possessions.
The offense was great, scoring 124.2 points per 100 possessions, and the defense was better, only allowing 65.6 points per 100 possessions, a rate that would essentially be like if you had a Byron Scott coached high school team go up against the 2008 Boston Celtics.
“You can throw whatever you want at us, but we just have the guys that mesh well,” Nance told Baxter Holmes of ESPN following the game. “it’s a very versatile group and that’s a little bit of what makes us so successful.”
The Lakers bench Energizer Bunnies have been great because the whole is better than the sum of their parts, but Nance has been the screws holding those parts together. The sophomore forward doesn’t jump off the screen as doing any one thing at an exceptional level, but he doesn’t have to because he does just about everything well.
On offense, Nance allows the reserves to play to their strengths and not have to go outside of them. He pushes the ball in transition off of rebounds so the team can get into their offense quickly and offset their lack of a traditional point guard, and he gives ball-handlers like Ingram, Williams, and Clarkson an outlet by spacing the floor to mid-range:
But Nance isn’t the stereotypical jump-shooting big who can’t get his hands dirty on offense. He is also just as happy (if not happier) to mix things up in the paint, and he has great instincts on when to cut to the basket for a pass or to put back an offensive rebound:
The final skill that truly allows Nance to help keep the Lakers’ bench humming is his burgeoning ability as a playmaker. Nance’s first choice is only “shoot” if he’s gliding towards the basket and David West is in his way. Otherwise, he’s more than happy to hit a teammate when defenders rotate over to account for one of his attacks:
Nance’s wide-ranging offensive abilities have been a happy bonus for the Lakers, who drafted him 27th overall in 2015 because of his already excellent defensive instincts. The four-year product has the advantage of looking better than most second-year players by virtue of being older, but he’s more that just good on defense for a young guy. He’s just plain good on defense, full stop.
He and Black have talked at length since the preseason about how their ability to switch everything is part of what makes that bench unit so dangerous, and Nance’s athleticism allows him to match quicker guards stride for stride or corral pick-and-rolls:
The undersized reserves have also struggled on the boards at times, one of their few areas of weakness so far. Nance has not been blameless, but he has done a good job of making sure that when he does end a possession with a board he quickly takes the ball himself or outlets it forward to a guard:
Nance showed everything he’s does to make the reserves so special this season, and after the game he credited his coach for empowering him to extend his game.
“Whether it’s my jumpshot or taking it off the dribble, I’m having confidence,” Nance told Mike Trudell of Spectrum Sportsnet. “Luke’s done that, given me the confidence and freedom to play basketball the way I know how, and his system is great for everybody.”
Walton’s system has allowed members of the Lakers’ bench to cover for their respective weaknesses while accentuating each other’s strengths, and the unit has been so successful that Walton would rather start guys like Thomas Robinson and Jose Calderon than break up that grouping.
Nance has been a key cog in making that happen, and his play this year has demonstrated that his versatile game is exactly what the Lakers’ need in a league continuing to get quicker and rangier. From guarding smaller players to finding the open man, Nance can do it all.
As his teammates would say, “that’s just Larry being Larry.”
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here) where he talked about why the Lakers’ bench has been so successful and much more in our latest episode. You can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.