The Cavaliers are still trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. They’ve gone 9-7 since blowing up their team at the trade deadline, putting them at risk of entering the playoffs without homecourt advantage in the first round for the first time since LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014. There have been games when they’ve looked like the best team in the Eastern Conference again, but recent losses to the 76ers, Nuggets, Clippers and Lakers served as a sobering reminder of how much further they have to go if they hope to return to the NBA Finals.
However, there is one thing that’s for certain. As inconsistent as George Hill, Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson have been over the last five weeks, Larry Nance Jr. has been everything the Cavaliers could’ve ever hoped for and more.
The Cavaliers have been 16.4 points per 100 possessions better with Nance on the court since he made his debut on Feb. 11. As noisy at that stat can be — it’s a small sample size that doesn’t give any insight into his role on the team and fails to account for the fact that Nance rarely plays without the most dominant player in the world — it’s a testament to how big of a need there was for his skill set. He’s not the offensive player Kevin Love is or the defensive player Tristan Thompson is when healthy, but Nance does enough on both ends of the court to make a positive impact at the center position, where he has logged practically all of his minutes with the Cavaliers.
On offense, Nance sticks to his strengths. Outside of the occasional midrange jumper, he focuses on setting hard screens, making himself as big of a target as possible on rolls to the basket and attacks the offensive glass for second chance opportunities. It makes him highly dependent on his teammates to create scoring opportunities for him — only 13 of his baskets have been unassisted in a Cavaliers uniform and most of those have come in the form of putbacks — but it makes the Cavaliers almost unstoppable offensively when he’s surrounded by the right players.