Larry Nance, Jr. has missed six of the Los Angeles Lakers' last nine games with a knee injury, but those hoping for good news finally got their wish. Nance, Jr. caught up with Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News on Tuesday and the rookie forward revealed that he expects to return to the lineup for the team's next game, possibly even as soon as their Wednesday practice.
Other than the talent starved Lakers needing all of the help they can get, another positive of Nance, Jr.'s return to the lineup is further opportunities for the team to evaluate how he and fellow young forward Julius Randle look when paired alongside one another. Both are nominally "power forwards," but like fans and the team, Nance, Jr. wants to see if they can play together instead of replacing each other in the lineup. Just not necessarily at the position most were hoping for (again, per Medina emphasis mine):
"Julius has been playing like the beast. He's gobbling up rebounds and the way he's finishing around the basket has gotten a lot better," said Nance, who questioned why Randle was left out of the Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star weekend. "I would like one of us move to [small forward] and then have a big center. We're versatile. We can switch and play physical, get past you, over you and through you. It's going to be really good for us down the road."
The Lakers are envisioning the same thing with Nance, whom Scott described as "fantastic" for doing "all the little things."
During the very limited 44 minute sample size in which the two have shared the court, it has mostly been with Nance, Jr. at center and Randle at power forward. In those minutes, both Randle (52.6 percent with Nance, Jr., 41.3 percent without) and Nance, Jr. (62.5 percent with Randle, 53.8 percent without) have shot better from the floor, utilizing the increased spacing provided by that pairing to score more efficiently.
That advantage would be mitigated if the team were to take Nance, Jr.'s suggestion and pair them with "a big center" of which the only two players on the roster who fit the bill are Roy Hibbert and Robert Sacre. Defensively, Nance, Jr. could likely stay in front of most small forwards credibly enough, but taxing him in this fashion may not be a wise decision while he is just returning from a knee injury . That would mean giving that assignment to Randle, which is only the answer if one is looking for one of the very few ways the Lakers could make their already league worst defense even more awful.
As the NBA continues to downsize, seeing if the Randle-Nance, Jr. combo could work as the team's two big men just makes more sense than trying to shoe-horn one of them into the three spot. The aforementioned 44 minute sample size is too small to draw definitive results from, but the early returns are somewhat promising, with lineups featuring the two being outscored by just 6.2 points per 100 possessions as opposed to the team's average of 10.8.
The pairing is worth playing around with, but the Lakers should be experimenting with Nance, Jr. playing up a position rather than down.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.