BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Nance Jr. in Cavs starting five?
CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 3: Larry Nance Jr. #22 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks against the Denver Nuggets on March 3, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Cleveland Cavaliers are ____________ with Larry Nance Jr. starting at center instead of Tristan Thompson?
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Steve Aschburner: Bouncier. Cleveland needed a major facelift at the trade deadline and got it, and the Cavaliers and their fans were delighted. Then some harsh reality set in after the All-Star break (mostly defensively) and the new toys didn’t seem quite as shiny. As with most toys, though, the fun comes from imagination in using them, and that’s what coach Tyronn Lue had forced on him by Thompson’s ankle injury. LeBron James and Nance Jr. have some chemistry on the court, fueled by the new guy’s liveliness. Long-term, the Cavs’ need for sugar rushes might not serve them so well through a long, grueling postseason but for now, Nance Jr. starting at center is what they need.
Tas Melas: Better but worse. Thompson needs to eat minutes in the Cavs’ thin frontcourt rotation and despite Nance Jr.’s good play, those minutes are better served as a starter. He is a true center, pushing Kevin Love to his proper spot at the 4, he’s a vet who has started 54 straight playoff games with LeBron (LeBron loves his vets), and he achieves more with better players. Thompson wouldn’t be as good off the bench -- where Nance Jr. thrives -- and Nance Jr. can finish games if the matchup dictates.
Shaun Powell: More athletic and exciting. He's simply the hungrier player right now on multiple levels. He hasn't gotten paid yet and is still trying to establish himself in the league. Plus, he hasn't reached his full potential. He's a consistent jump shot away from being a very good player. Thompson seems to be missing something; his impact games are becoming more scarce. He also hasn't evolved as a player or erased any of his weaknesses. His head has touched his ceiling and there's only one way to go from here.
John Schuhmann: Better. Thompson's primary job is to be an impact defender, and he hasn't been that this season. The Cavs have ranked in the bottom five defensively all season, and Thompson's rim protection numbers (opponents have shot 70 percent at the rim when he's been there to protect it) have been much worse than they've been in previous seasons (60 percent in 2014-15, 58 percent in '15-16, and 55 percent last season). Nance was part of a top-12 defense in L.A. and over the nine games with their new players, the Cavs have almost 17 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Nance on the floor than they've been with him off the floor. That number might go down with him in the starting lineup, but it will be interesting to see how well the Cavs defend going forward and which one of these guys sees more playing time in the postseason with Kevin Love healthy.
Sekou Smith: Fun and clearly more active above the rim, but still flawed. It's not a knock on Nance Jr., who has done nothing but play his role to perfection since the trade deadline. The Cavaliers simply have issues bigger than any one man, particularly one who has played a grand total of nine games with Cleveland. I won't know what his impact could be, for sure, until Kevin Love returns. Then, and only then, will we have a clear understanding of what sort of impact Nance Jr. will have on the Cavaliers and their quest to return to The Finals for a fourth straight season. I won't go off the deep end pointing out the difference in the Thompson we see now compared to the energy big who was critical to the Cavaliers' cause in previous seasons. Plus, he's dealing with aches and pains right now that clearly have impacted his performance. Nance Jr. is just a better option, for now, on so many different levels.