Cavs: Larry Nance Jr.’s shot is encouraging sign if team drafts big

Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Larry Nance Jr. is now a nice spot-up threat for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s clear as day that over his first two full seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers, big Larry Nance Jr. has worked tirelessly to become a viable three-point shooter off-the-catch.

In 2019-20, most notably, he hit a respectable 35.2 percent of his 2.8 triple attempts per outing, almost entirely off-the-catch. On spot-ups, he placed in the 65th percentile and had a healthy frequency of 24.7 percent, per Synergy Sports.

Nance showcased a much improved handle during this now-past season, too, which only aided him more as a secondary playmaker and factored into Nance having yet another career-best in scoring with 10.1 points per outing.

Nance at this juncture, with his athleticism, offensive growth, rebounding capabilities on both ends and rim running/cutting is Cleveland’s best all-around big. But his shooting progression, from my perspective, jumps out in relation to the 2020 NBA Draft.

Nance’s shooting growth is an encouraging sign for if the Cavs draft a big.

With the way Nance has firmly established himself as a spot-up threat from beyond the arc, and with how that makes him more dangerous on the interior, that’s encouraging for if Cleveland drafts a big.

As far as a few bigs I’d be on-board with for the Cavaliers, USC’s Onyeka Okongwu at #5 and Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa we’ll focus on here, who both project to be impact defenders from the jump in their minutes-share. In Achiuwa’s case, he was suggested by Forbes‘ Evan Dammarell as a potential target for Cleveland seemingly via late-first round pick purchase.

That’s with how teams lower in the first round would maybe be willing to forego paying a fully-guaranteed first-rounder salary. And that’s seemingly much more so with the financial effect of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

As a quick side note here, as opposed to Okongwu and Achiuwa, while he projects to be a nice rotational scorer, given major defensive concerns for him, I’ll pass on Dayton big Obi Toppin, who is rumored to be well in-play for Cleveland at #5. So let’s get that out of the cards here.

Circling back to Okongwu and Achiuwa, though, while both are far from being considered floor spacing bigs currently, they did show positive signs as shooters in their lone collegiate seasons in 2019-20.

That again, with how they both appear to be high level defenders, which is something Cleveland is mostly devoid of, leads me to how Nance’s shooting progression is an encouraging sign for if Cleveland drafted either.

To put this out there first off, neither Okongwu nor Achiuwa again are polished off-the-catch shooters, let alone floor spacers. Okongwu only hit one-of-four three-point attempts at USC, and Achiuwa hit 13-of-40 (32.5 percent clip) triple attempts at Memphis. The latter only hit 59.9 percent of his free throw attempts in 2019-20, too.

Achiuwa, per Synergy and as h/t The Stepien’s Spencer Pearlman, only placed in the 34th percentile in “pure” catch-and-shoot scoring situations, along with that. In Okongwu’s case, rather, again per Synergy and as h/t The Stepien’s Cameron Purn, placed in the 73rd percentile on spot-ups, albeit that was only on 15 occasions.

So you might be thinking, “What is Dan getting at here?” And that’s fair.

Anyway, with how both players are far from polished shooters at this point, but have shown positive signs off-the-catch, with Achiuwa at least flashing some catch-and-shoot capability, and Okongwu showing positive signs via face-ups/in the short roll, that’s a plus. That’s for in the scenario if Cleveland were to select either in the 2020 NBA Draft, at the aforementioned situations.

And with both of these prospects being so athletic vertically/being high level cutters/lob threats and being so dangerous in transition, like Nance, catch-and-shoot progression will only make them more capable in that regard, as has been the case for Nance.

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I firmly believe the Cleveland Cavaliers player development staff, which has worked wonders for Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton as shooters, to go with Nance, too, very well could do the same for Okongwu/Achiuwa.

I highlight those two in this sense, given that like Nance, would seemingly provide a defensive impact even early on, feasibly in rotational roles early on, with Kevin Love and likely Andre Drummond in the fold.

But with it being uncertain as far as Drummond long-term, assuming he picks up his player option for next season, which is reportedly highly likely, Okongwu, in particular, could have a starting role after next season.

And furthering his growth as a shooter would only aid him and the Cavs looking onward, with how versatile he is defensively/with his capability as a rim protector.

In Achiuwa’s case, as more so a rotational 4 early on, but with some small-ball 5 abilities at also 6-foot-9 (like Okongwu), being around one of the league’s best shooting bigs in Kevin Love could aid him, along with the presence of Nance.

And perhaps Achiuwa, with how he could be a key defender against multiple positions, and with how he had 1.9 blocks per game in 2019-20, with some ability to put the ball on the deck already, could be a long-term Love replacement. That’s with how Love is constantly in trade rumors, and I could very well see him dealt before the 2021-22 season.

So to reiterate, with how both Okongwu and Achiuwa would project to be instant significant contributors for the Cavs defensively/as energy bigs, and have shown signs as shooters, with Nance’s shooting growth, that’s encouraging should Cleveland draft either.

The Cavaliers could definitely draft a wing at #5, it would seem, which would cut Okongwu out of this possibility. Achiuwa, if the Cavs don’t end up somehow acquiring another selection in the 2020 NBA Draft, wouldn’t be in-play, conversely.

But if either end up with the Cavaliers, Nance’s shooting progression is something that should lead to optimism, and be a blueprint, in that realm, for both/the organization.

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With how Cleveland’s player development staff has been instrumental in that way for Jr., too, that’s even more so the case.