Why Larry Nance Jr. makes too much sense for the Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

Larry Nance Jr. may not have the scoring punch of an Aaron Gordon or Harrison Barnes, but he gives the Boston Celtics exactly what they need

When you type ‘Boston Celtics‘ into Google and then navigate over to the news section you will find “Aaron Gordon” popping up on the rumor mill. With a reported trade request from the Magic big after yet another frustrating season, the Cs and Orlando have been linked in heated discussions with trade packages flying around the internet.

While Celtics fans generally seem enthused about landing the 25-year-old high flying forward, I personally would want to pump the brakes on all things AG.

In fact, maybe while we are at it we should also consider pumping the brakes on all things Harrison Barnes as well.

Both players are very talented offensively, can create their own shot off the dribble, and both would fill the lack of offensive creation within the rotation. At the same time, however, both Barnes and Gordon are positionally and stylistically very redundant for this current Boston Celtics squad.

Redundant to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as Gordon and Barnes are higher usages forwards who should more so be considered possession enders rather than ball movers.

Maybe the Cs just need a flat-out specialist shooter; someone who can open up driving lanes for Tatum, Brown, and Kemba Walker to go work.

Now, let’s take another step back. With Boston currently ranked 25th in assists, 29th in hockey assists, 28th in potential assists, who will get this guy the ball.

We’ve seen Aaron Nesmith, Grant Williams, and Semi Ojeleye play the part as theoretical floor spacers. Still, the Celtics’ passing game, aside from Marcus Smart, is scarce as we’ve yet to see real flashes of bubble ”assist-centric” Tatum.

So maybe we need to take a step back and use a wider lens to find the best fit for this current squad. Maybe scoring isn’t the end-all-be-all. Rather, think an offensive playmaking hub, a ball mover, screen setter; someone who doesn’t need the ball to be effective.

So a playmaker? Yes.

A high usage scorer-first talent? I’d so no — one could disagree with this, but I’d still say no.

A versatile defender capable of guarding multiple possessions? Yes, please!

Someone who could close games for the Boston Celtics and potentially guard the center spot?

Yes, please.

Could we sprinkle in some dollops of floor spacing? I’d take some floor spacing, sure.

Celtics fans, can we talk about Larry Nance Jr. for a second?

Before you check google and come back to the comment section to say “he only averages 9.4 points a game and is an undersized big” let’s again take a step back.

Larry Nance Jr. is a jack of all trades. He excels at winning the little battles.

He defends, passes within the system, and spaces the floor enough to where he needs at least some attention, but most importantly, he doesn’t need the ball to be effective.

While they play different positions, I think there are several defensive and offensive parallels you could draw between Marcus Smart and Nance Jr.

So let’s talk about Nance Jr., and let’s first touch on defense.

The advanced impact metrics support his case, as he is a top 30 player in Defensive RAPTOR and D-RPM and ranks fifth in Bball Index’sIndex’s Defensive-LEBRON.

Still, these are the one-number metrics that fail to convey the entire story. They are helpful, but not the end-all-be-all.

For a while, when the Cavaliers were cooking at the start of the season, Larry Nance Jr. led the league in deflections. He now ranks fourth in the league but still first among non-guards.

He’s 10th in loose balls received as he can guard a wider array of positions than Daniel Theis and Robert Williams, from power wings to larger and taller centers.

On offense, let’s revisit this concept of low usage ”ball-mover”, and how the power forward could operate as a passing hub within the C’s system.

Currently, he ranks in the 93rd percentile in assist to usage rate, which means a lot of possessions that Nance Jr. uses end in an assist. While both Williams and Theis are above average in this metric, he does a great job of relocating after an initial screen, reorienting himself, and finding the open shot.

Again, it comes back to this idea of mobility as a modern big man, something that isn’t there for Theis and is in development with Timelord.

When it comes to shot making and floor spacing, Nance Jr. is in lockstep with Theis efficiency-wise and just a notch above him in the volume department as he takes around one more triple per game.

Now, about the center log-jam; the elephant in the room.

The Boston Celtics have phased out the three-center rotation as of late and revisiting that may not be a bridge worth crossing.

While Nance Jr. has dabbled with both the center and small forward position this season, the sample size isn’t large enough to reach any comprehensible conclusions. I don’t think Nance Jr. could spend a lot of minutes next to Williams or Theis together, but this move is all about the playoffs and closing games at the center spot.

Nance is an upgrade over both.

Again, in the playoffs, out of Williams, Theis, and Nance Jr., I’d feel most comfortable with the latter on the floor, especially when switching in the pick-and-roll setting.

Oh, and one more thing to consider — Larry Nance Jr.’s front-loaded, descending contract is a year longer than Aaron Gordon’s and much more affordable than Harrison Barnes’ (10 million dollar difference).

Important to consider the financials with Marcus Smart’s upcoming extension on the horizon.

In conclusion: Larry Nance Jr. isn’t the head-over-heels offensive dynamo that Boston Celtics fans have been obsessed with. That said, we need to take a step back and think like GMs.

Nance Jr. addresses the lower usage playmaking needs and would be huge when closing out close games playoff games. A high character, team-first player, the 28-year-old would be a great fit in Beantown and, in my opinion, the best player for the Celtics to target in a trade during deadline time.

Stats per Cleaningtheglass.com, NBA.com and Bbal-index.com

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