Emerging Forward Seeks to Build Off Career Year

by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
9/19/19 | Cavs.com

Cleveland sports fans love nothing more than an athlete who “gets us.” And no Cavalier understands this better than Larry Nance Jr. – who’s one of us.

Nance understands the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat that comes with being a Clevelander. That’s why he takes his and his team’s improvement so personally.

Nobody on the roster spent more offseason time honing his game at Cleveland Clinic Courts than Nance – a fixture in Independence over the summer. As he did over his four-year career at Wyoming, he’s gotten incrementally better in each of his four NBA seasons – showing marked improvement in all major categories.

Taken No. 27 overall by the Lakers in 2015, Nance was dealt to his hometown team – along with Jordan Clarkson – at the 2018 Trade Deadline, with the Wine & Gold shipping Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a first rounder that turned out to be Moritz Wagner to the Lakers. (Thomas has played in 29 total games since the trade, Frye retired after his final season with Cleveland and Wagner was shipped to the Wizards this summer.)

The scion of a local legend, Nance has dealt with the barrage of questions about his father, and has handled the pressure of that lineage with aplomb. He’s not the shot-blocker that his father was, but he definitely emerged as one of Cleveland’s best defenders in his year-and-a-half with the club – leading the Cavs in both blocks (40) and steals (100).

Nance appeared at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles in 2018, finishing second in the Slam Dunk Contest. And he’d love nothing more than to represent the Wine & Gold when the midseason classic comes to Cleveland in 2022. He’s done nothing but improve over his first four years in the Association, and the work he’s put in over the summer indicates another leap in 2019-20.

A fan and media favorite, Nance is also one of the team’s best guys and an outstanding ambassador for the franchise and city.

Already having put plenty of time in at CCC, there’s absolutely no doubt that he’ll be ready to go when Training Camp tips off in just over a week.

With a new coaching staff this year, Larry Nance Jr. will be looked to for veteran production and leadership.
Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images

LOOKING BACK — It’s no secret that the Wine & Gold limped to the finish line last year, dropping 13 of their final 15 contests. But that didn’t mean that some of their young guns – like Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson and Nance – didn’t have strong finishes to a frustrating season.

Nance sprinted to the finish – grabbing at least 10 boards in the final seven games of the campaign – averaging a double-double over that span (10.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.9 spg).

Overall, he put up career-best numbers in points (9.4), rebounds (8.2) and assists (3.2). Defensively, Nance was strong all season – averaging 1.9 steals per contest – good enough for 15th in the NBA. He grabbed at least one steal in 15 straight games, tallying 33 overall and swiping at least two in 11 of those tilts.

Matthew Dellavedova led the squad in assists at 4.2 per contest, with Nance right behind. As the year progressed, Coach Larry Drew even began running some of the offense through his power forward, who emerged as the team’s best passer with Delly on the shelf. He handed out a career-best seven assists on six occasions.

Kevin Love’s injury early in the season opened the door for Nance’s career year, and he followed closely in Love’s footsteps in terms of double-doubles – doubling up in a career-best 18 games, including a six-game stretch just before the All-Star Break.

And while the Cavaliers didn’t post a bunch of dramatic wins this past season, Nance was responsible for one of the team’s best closing moments – scoring on a tip-in to the beat the buzzer (and the Pacers) in a 92-91 thriller in Indiana on December 18.

BY THE NUMBERS: 45 … years that have passed since a player posted a night like Nance did against Atlanta on December 29 last year – finishing with 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting to go with a career-high-tying 15 boards, seven assists and four steals.

He became the first player since steals have been tracked to put up at least 18 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and an .875 field goal percentage in a single game.

LOOKING AHEAD — Nance has been preparing for the upcoming season almost immediately after last season wrapped up. He’s been one of Cleveland’s hardest workers over the offseason and will look to build upon his career year in 2018-19.

Cleveland’s new coaching staff will need some young veterans to channel their message through. And the Cavaliers group of youngsters will need a young veteran to learn the league’s ins and outs. Nance is the ideal man for both jobs.

In his first full season with the Wine & Gold, Nance emerged as both a team leader and an emerging force at power forward. Already one of the club’s most versatile players, look for him to take a step forward from beyond the arc this season – and to continue his ascension within the league and organization in 2019-20.

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