Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson will miss at least the next couple of weeks recovering from a sprained right ankle. In his place, the Cavs will start spring-loaded slam-dunk bear Larry Nance Jr., whom they acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers back at the trade deadline. He got his first start as a Cavalier last night against the foundering Detroit Pistons, and my friends... it ruled.
Don’t get me wrong: Last night was not the first time—or even the first time in the past three days—that young Larry has done cool shit in a Cavs uniform. For example, this past Saturday, he unleashed hell on whichever Plumlee plays for the Denver Nuggets:
But last night, Nance played something like 25 minutes alongside LeBron James, and gave the Cavs’ starting group a kind of rangy, bouncy, loose-limbed, above-the-rim energy that I don’t think they’ve gotten from a true frontcourt player since... ever? Since ever! Moreover, he’s the first player of his extremely fun type—the springy, high-flying, all-over-the-court big—LeBron has had as a teammate. Prior to Nance, the closest LeBron came probably was young Anderson Varejão, in the 15 or so minutes of uninjured basketball Varejão could ever play per season: An agile, skilled, quick-footed dude, to be sure, but definitely not somebody who could run with LeBron in transition, or who could bail out a busted possession by jumping over two dudes to throw down a lob pass a more sanely constructed basketball player would watch sail into the stands. (Chris Bosh, the best all-around frontcourt player LeBron ever played with and one of the best of his generation, didn’t quite fit this bill: For all his splendid abilities, he didn’t have Nance’s speed, or his twitchy, lighter-than-air bounce.)
Against the Pistons, Nance popped for mid-range jumpshots; slipped into open space to catch and dunk dump-off passes; and leapt into the upper goddamn atmosphere to throw down lobs, including that gleefully irresponsible one from J.R. Smith around 1:30 in the above video. He switched around fluidly on defense, and warped to rebounds, and telescoped his hands into what felt like countless passing lanes. He was everywhere, all the time. By the second quarter, the broadcast gang sounded like they were witnessing the Transfiguration: “How many Larry Nance Juniors are out there?????”
The Cavs outscored the Pistons by 15 in Nance’s 32 total minutes of playing time, and thanks in large part to that, LeBron got to rest for the entire fourth quarter of a win, for once.
Now, look. LeBron has tended toward stoicism in these postgame Q-and-As in recent years, so you will just have to take my word for it as a True LeBron James Expert that this is effusive praise. LeBron is fuckin’ pumped about Larry Nance Jr., his favorite Cavalier of all. Actually he might despise Larry Nance Jr. for all I know. But he’s right about what makes him good! And there is not much he could say that is more thrilling than When our offense breaks down we’re just gonna lob the ball up near Larry Nance Jr. and see if he can dunk it on his way down from outer space.
Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson are fun lil’ tykes, and George Hill is a kinda dull but very good two-way guard when he is not wearing a Sacramento Kings uniform. All of them make the Cavaliers better and more fun than they were a few weeks ago. But if Cleveland’s deadline-day overhaul did not fill your brain with wonderful visions of LeBron James feeding violent dunks to Larry frickin’ Nance frickin’ Jr., frankly I hate your guts.