Larry Nance Jr.’s incredible basketball journey: While We’re Waiting

David Richard/USA TODAY Sports

It is March 2018. The Cleveland Cavaliers are three-time defending Eastern Conference Champions. LeBron James, at age 33, is looking to reach an incredible eighth consecutive NBA Finals. And … fellow Summit County native Larry Nance Jr. is set to play a pivotal role in the middle of it all.

If you had told anybody in Northeast Ohio that line back pre-The Decision, they would’ve thought you were crazy. Not just for the success of LeBron and the Cavs, reunited again. But because of Larry Nance Jr. The middle child of Larry Nance Sr., the newest Cavs sensation graduated from Revere High School in 2011. At the time, no one could have seen the NBA on the radar at all, let alone this kind of success.

The entire timeline of events for Larry Nance Jr. is worth revisiting just to illustrate how amazing it is that he’s reached this point in his basketball career. To do so, I’ll be linking out to some articles from different time periods, so you can dive into the details at your own leisure.

Casey Nance Flying High for NCAA Tournament-Bound Dayton [March 2010 | WaitingForNextYear]

My first direct introduction to the Nance family was through Larry Jr.’s older sister, Casey. As an underclassman, she earned All-Atlantic-10 honors on the court for the Dayton Flyers. She helped lead UD to an impressive run of NCAA Tournament appearances. At the same time, her middle brother was only just hitting his stride back at Revere.

Larry Nance Jr. happy to continue his long, winding basketball road to Wyoming: Terry Pluto [May 2011 | The Plain Dealer]

Almost out of the blue, Larry Jr. picked the University of Wyoming in Laramie. It was one of the few Division I schools with legitimate interest. He had started his high school basketball career under-sized and unimpressive. There wasn’t a ton of resemblance to his All-Star father, yet. But a big change only had just started to blossom.

Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr. grows beyond a disease’s constraints [January 2015 | USA Today]

This early 2015 article was the first I recall detailing Larry Jr.’s battle with Crohn’s disease. He only received the diagnosis during his sophomore year of high school. Thanks to the help of the steroid Remicade, he went through a massive, painful growth spurt. And that eventually bore his familiar athletic abilities. He continued to improve at Wyoming, especially during a big junior season (15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 assist, 1.4 steals and 2.1 blocks per game).

Larry Nance Jr.’s NBA draft stock has risen [June 2015 | USA Today]

Leading up to the 2015 NBA Draft, projections were mixed. Many felt he’d be selected somewhere, as a four-year college player with strong defensive skills. But ranges were all over the place. Most thought the second round seemed most fitting, a la Draymond Green at No. 35 in 2012. The lack of long-range shooting and long-term upside were fair concerns. Ultimately, the Los Angeles Lakers made the surprising move for him at No. 27.

Trust Me, Being An NBA Legacy Son Is A Lot Harder Than It Looks [December 2015 | The Cauldron]

In LA, Nance’s spotlight grew. He was arriving as his own persona. He wrote this first-person article for The Cauldron just a few months into his professional career. He started 22 games as a rookie, earning Byron Scott (!)’s trust (which is always a surprise for anyone). It set the stage for his continued growth and development.

Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. uses Crohn’s treatment to educate and inspire [August 2016 | ESPN]

There are relatively few professional athletes with Crohn’s disease. Former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard is likely the most well known, besides Nance. Both provide inspiration for the thousands of children battling the disease and its effects on their everyday lives. The fact that Nance could even play professional basketball, let alone as well as he was playing in LA, was an impressive feat.

Why Larry Nance is my Favorite Lakers Player [October 2016 | BBall Breakdown]

Despite his meager offensive statistics (only 5.5 points and 0.7 assists per game as a rookie), Nance made some quick fans in the basketball writing community. Coach Nick was certainly one of the most adamant. He cited all of the little things that Nance was doing on the basketball court to help the lowly Lakers. They were outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court as a rookie, but out-scored by 12.5 points without him.

The Real-Life Diet of Larry Nance Jr., the NBA Player with Crohn’s Disease [October 2017 | GQ]

The most light-hearted links of the bunch, this just highlights a day in the life of Nance as he battles with Crohn’s. It’s always fascinating to see a day-in-the-life for a professional athlete. Here, you can see the nuances that come into play here. No nuts, no seeds, little dairy, lots of specific timing requests for specific kinds of meals.

Larry Nance Jr. has been absolutely incredible on the Cavs. [March 2018 | Reddit]

Now, in his third NBA season – another full year away from a potential free agency – Nance Jr. is thriving. In nine games with the Cavs, he’s averaging 11.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks in 23.1 minutes per game. The on-off numbers are staggering. He easily set new career-highs in points and rebounds in his first Cleveland start on Monday. At only 25 years old, the future now looks incredibly promising back home.

The changing Tristan Thompson dynamic: While We’re Waiting [March 2018 | WaitingForNextYear]

The elephant in the room … is obviously Tristan Thompson, as Andrew wrote about on Tuesday. Thompson turns 27 next week and is owed $36 million over the next two seasons. He hasn’t been the same player this year, but the two frontcourt players obviously have relatively similar skillsets. There are 48 minutes of available playing time for two non-shooting defensively versatile big men. But not much more than that. That limits the ceiling on the two ever co-existing that seamlessly.

Thompson is a far better rebounder and can more comfortably guard elite big man. Nance is better in transition and at swiping into passing lanes (and a better free-throw shooter, for those crunch-time minutes). They’re similar, but not the exact same. And how that all plays out upon Thompson’s return and Nance’s eventual fall back to earth will be a fascinating thing to watch. The fact Larry Nance Jr. is even here is quite the story on its own.