The Los Angeles Lakers are going to be without sophomore forward Larry Nance, Jr. “indefinitely” after he sustained a bone bruise in his knee. The team is going to reevaluate Nance’s health on Sunday, although it seems safe to assume the Lakers are going to be missing their athletic super-sub for a while.
That’s a problem, because the Lakers are generally at their best when Nance is on the floor. His net rating (how much the Lakers outscore or are outscored by their opponents per 100 possessions while Nance is on the floor) of -3 isnt’ going to blow anyone away, but it is the fourth-highest on the team and gets way better when games are in the balance.
The Lakers are outscoring their opponents by an absurd 11 points per 100 possessions with Nance on the floor in fourth quarters, the highest rate on the team by nearly four full points.
We all know about Nance’s defense, his passing ability, and his athleticism, but what else is he doing to help the Lakers so much? Screening, for one, a role he seems to be very much enjoying.
"Oh, man, I just head hunt out there," Nance told Zach Lowe of ESPN in a recent feature. "I blast people."
Nance has blasted people on his 64 screen assists this season, a top-fifty mark in the NBA and third-most on the Lakers. But it’s not just screens that will make the Lakers miss Nance. It’s cliche to say, but he does all of the little things, ranking third on the team in deflections (59), first in loose balls recovered (24), and fifth in contested shots (208).
The Lakers’ offense, defense, and shooting efficiency all improve while Nance is on the floor as well, and it’s clear the Lakers are really going to have to dig deep for answers while he’s out. With Julius Randle missing at least their next game as well, it appears one of the answers the team might go to is more time for Luol Deng at power forward, and some minutes for Thomas Robinson.
While both of those guys bring some positives to the table, neither of them can really come close to offering Nance’s unique mix of skills, and the Lakers are really going to miss their sophomore forward while he’s out.
All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.