2020-21 was an injury-riddled campaign for Cleveland Cavaliers big Larry Nance Jr., who first missed 12 games because of a fourth metacarpal fracture on his left hand. A bit before that, he missed a few games with a right wrist sprain on two occasions, too.
Then, from late March until some into April, Nance had an extremely rough bout of illness, and ended up at one point losing up to nearly 20 pounds, leading to a seven-game absence. It took him some time understandably to gain his stamina back; the same went for him in adding on the weight back gradually it appeared, as one would assume.
Then unfortunately, after he was back for some games, Nance fractured his right thumb in a game on April 25 at the Washington Wizards. From there, while the hardship exception signing of Anderson Varejao for his end-of-career stint could’ve played some into it, Nance being back following that was up in the air anyway.
He ended up missing the rest of the season from there. Overall, it was a rough year health-wise for Nance, who ended up only playing in a career-low 35 games.
The league’s condensed schedule/reduction of games to 72 could’ve factored into it, to an extent, but Nance had his injury troubles regardless.
Somewhat lost in that though, when Nance was able to be mostly healthy/more so engaged, he did play well for the most part. He had 9.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per outing, and had filled in pretty competently earlier on pre-All-Star break when Kevin Love was sidelined with a right calf strain. Out of the 35 appearances he had, Nance started in 27 of those.
It was again an injury-riddled year for Nance, but he should be a quality piece still in 2021-22/feasibly from there.
Nance will make his presence felt next season for the Cavs.
When Nance was healthier, and even in a number of games later on, he was again proving to be an impact player for Cleveland, whether that was in starts or off the bench. His passing feel for a big, timing in hitting cutters and making precise skip passes and/or quick reversals aided guys such as Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Dean Wade, and Nance’s vision again helped the Cavs.
That sort of thing has led to him meshing with a variety of pieces, and makes him so valuable as a transition player. That includes with him as a grab-and-go threat after defensive rebounds.
Additionally, though it wasn’t shown as much when he was in there post-All-Star, Nance has made strides as a catch-and-shoot threat, and I’d expect to see that moving forward. Thanks to his efforts in that regard earlier on, Nance did still hit a career-best 36.0 percent of his three-point attempts last season, too.
Plus, as has been the case throughout his career, he’s a quality cutting option, to go with him being a vertical spacing threat, and his screening should be meaningful next season, also.
Now, defensively, as Cavs fans know, Nance again is likely Cleveland’s best player in that realm and likely would project as so again next season.
He is a multi-positional defender, which enables him to be a viable 3 man option at times, and in the team defensive realm, he’s proven to be such an impactful player.
Last season, he had a career-best 1.7 steals per contest, which was among the league’s leaders, had he qualified in terms of games played, for one. The same went for him regarding deflections per game, of which he had 3.4 per outing and was fourth leaguewide, per NBA.com’s player hustle data.
That I’d expect to see once again from him next season/looking onward, and it’s evident that his presence helps others around him, to go with his feel as a helper to aid in deterring drivers/pull-up attempts with his rotational feel.
Along with the deflections/steals and with his quality closeouts to shooters, in a general sense, Nance’s defensive feel and elite IQ led to the Cavaliers’ defensive rating being 6.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor last season.
So while it’s not breaking news, per se, Nance being seemingly hopefully ready to roll and healthy heading into next season should be meaningful in itself with his all-around abilities. Nance has had some trouble with minor injuries in prior seasons, sure, but he one would think by next season will be able to be well-equipped to make a difference and be fully back.
And Kevin Love perhaps coming to a buyout down the road with the Cavs and/or if he’s potentially waived and stretched, whether that’s before next season or maybe during it at some point reiterates that Nance’s presence is crucial. That’s not a simple ordeal with Love, however, in fairness; we’ll see.
Moreover, although Nance has been previously mentioned in trade rumors, with what he means for this team, and also as a leadership presence/off-floor culture piece, I don’t foresee that happening. He is set to be 29 next January, albeit he’s still a very effective player that affects games in a variety of ways and the young guys seem to love him.
In relation to the off-floor difference, Nance has also helped small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic throughout this season in a huge way, and for both sides of the spectrum, I’d expect him to stick around.
KJG’s own Robbie DiPaola felt the same way, and further highlighted Nance’s efforts to help those aforementioned small businesses game-to-game/the Cavs matching of donations involved, too, of which you can view more on in his piece.
I anticipate we’ll see Nance make his presence felt next season, in what I’d hope could be a get-right year for him after a rough one health-wise, particularly in the condensed season.