Analyzing Larry Nance Jr.’s Defensive Impact

Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense in the NBA is hard to quantify with actual stats. There are so many aspects to it, such as reading passing lanes, navigating screens, ability to stop 3-on-2 or even 2-on-1 fast breaks, and that’s only scratching the surface. Larry Nance Jr. has mastered this side of the game, and his presence on the Portland Trail Blazers will be a key to their success. Let’s dive into what makes him so special on the defensive end of the court.


Defensive Versatility

Nance’s defensive versatility is up with some of the best in the league. He can regularly guard 3-5 while being able to switch onto 1’s and 2’s for short periods. Below shows how much of his time he spent marking each position last season, via BBall Index; which exemplifies his versatility.

Position Defended % of Time Percentile for PF
Point Guard 12.4% 61st
Shooting Guard 14.7% 45th
Small Forward 16.1% 22nd
Power Forward 38.0% 70th 
Center 18.7% 61st


As you can see, Nance spends significant time guarding each position. He shifts his feet well to cut off drives when switched onto guards. That said, you don’t want to put him as the point of attack defender because he is not great getting around screens, and isn’t great for long stretches on quick point guards. BBall Index lists Nance in the 94.7 Percentile defensively, so the statistics and the eye test backs up Nance’s versatility. 


Passing Lane Activeness 

Nance is one of, if not outright, the best players in the league at being active in the passing lanes. He is super smart when reading passes, rarely overcommitting. He ranks seventh in the league in Deflections/75 Possessions, right behind fellow Blazer, Robert Covington. He also ranked 7th in the league in Steals/75 Possessions. So as you can tell, his passing lane defense is elite. 

Stat Value Percentile
Steals/75 2.1 99%
Deflections/75 4.1 98%
Passing Lane Defense 5.7 99%

Another thing that I feel is being overlooked with the Nance trade, is his ability to trap ball-handlers in an aggressive defensive scheme. His length and IQ allow him to deflect and steal passes out of the trap. That’ll be helpful come playoff time, where defensive switch-ability and activeness is more of a necessity, and teams’ need for players like Larry Nance Jr. are shown. 


Secondary Rim Protection

The Blazers already have a really good rim protector in Jusuf Nurkic, but with the Nance addition they get another secondary rim protector. This adds to their pre-existing collection in Robert Covington and Nassir Little. It’s always a plus knowing you will have someone to protect your backline if your main rim protector is switched out on the perimeter. He averaged 0.6 Blocks Per Game/75 Possessions and contested an average of 4.7 shots at the Rim/75 Possessions, so he has experience as the secondary rim protector. 


Overall, I think the Blazers had the biggest upgrade in the league at a single position, going from Carmelo Anthony’s poor defense to Larry Nance Jr.’s insanely good defense. Whether it’s the impact of him just being on the floor, where opposing offenses have to respect his awareness, or him providing elite help-defense, Larry Nance Jr. will provide everything you expect defensively, and more.