#6. Larry Nance, Jr.
Average Rank: 6.3
Larry Nance Jr., the 6'9 power forward entering his second year, checks in at No. 6 in our Los Angeles Lakers rankings. Nance Jr. received plenty of praise over his first NBA season and two stellar showings in Summer League play only added to the hype. It's even sparked debate over who is the better fit for the Lakers going forward between Nance Jr. and Randle (we can save that for another day), and the team may have to make a decision regarding both players in the future. Even though Nance Jr. is an athletic freak that plays above the rim on both ends of the floor, he will have to produce over extended minutes and evolve offensively to take the starting job.
This ranking is based more on potential than on production because Nance Jr. wasn't exactly tearing up the league last year. He was a stellar defensive rebounder and rim protector, but his offensive game was predicated on open lanes to the rim and being able to out-jump just about everyone on the floor. The NBA values shooting at all positions and both Nance Jr. and Randle will have to develop that aspect of their game. Expect new head coach Luke Walton to work on advancing that outside touch with both power forwards. Here is Nance Jr.'s line from his rookie season.
Before we freak out that Nance Jr. only shot 10 percent from deep, let's remember that he only took 10 threes all season. He was good on both ends of the floor according to the offensive and defensive ratings at basketball-reference.com, although his defensive prowess isn't as great as it may have seen. Even his 52 percent clip from the floor is skewed. According to basketball-reference.com, Nance Jr. had 53 dunks (that's a lot of posters) and that accounts for 33.5 percent of his total makes. Take out those 53 easy baskets and Nance Jr.'s field goal percentage drops considerably to 42 percent. Even if we look at Nance Jr.'s per-36 numbers, he's barely touching starter-level production.
Nance Jr. is an elite rebounder and his numbers reflect that. His defensive rebound percentage was 18.6 percent and his total rebound percentage was solid at 13.3 percent. Nance Jr. gets his buckets finishing good passes and cannot create a scoring opportunity like Randle can. He dunked the ball a lot, and while that's cool, he has to do more to be a long-term starter. Nance Jr. did play limited minutes and even though his skills would fit ideally in a small-ball lineup, it might be hard for him to get significantly more minutes even under Walton. I expect Nance Jr. to get better on both ends of the floor in his second season, but will his numbers be enough to push beyond Randle and other frontcourt players for enough time on the court? I think Nance Jr. will turn in something along these lines this upcoming season.
Nance Jr. shot 30 percent on 117 three-point attempts over his four seasons at Wyoming. Assuming he even comes close to taking 100 threes (considering he took 300 total shots last season), I expect him to shoot a similar percentage. He will improve significantly on the defensive end as he gets more familiar with fundamentals, and his offensive game should improve slightly.
While I don't think this effort will get him the starting job, Nance Jr. will get serious consideration in small-ball lineups because of his ability to rebound and protect the rim. Expect him to be a solid contributor off the bench and possibly in crunch time if Walton opts to go small at the end of games.