The NBA Draft decision that will help the Phoenix Suns contend

Phoenix Suns (Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns (Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports) /

After a season in which they established themselves as a championship contender, and had plenty of memorable moments, the Phoenix Suns enter the 2021 draft with a first-round pick, at No. 29. As a team that is now looking to contend, expecting a rookie to align with their current timeline would be unreasonable, especially with a pick as late as the 29th. Therefore a possibility the Suns can consider is trading the pick to a rebuilding team for a player who can help the suns’ rotation in the present.

For a roster filled with depth and quality, and one not likely to remain the same next season , an issue that the Suns faced especially after Dario Saric’s long-term injury was the lack of a playable big man other than Deandre Ayton. Other than bringing everyone back if there is something the Suns should target, it’s a playable big man. Ideally with a unique skill set as compared to the rest of the options on the roster (while also being playable).

Meet Larry Nance Jr., the move the Phoenix Suns should make with their 2021 draft pick

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been in an endless rebuilding process and made it clear at the 2021 trade deadline that they’re looking to move on from Larry Nance Jr. The Cavs were shopping the 28-year-old big man for multiple picks (including a first) and the Suns should pounce on this opportunity. Nance’s box score stats may look slightly ordinary but using that to assess his game would be a big mistake. So let’s break down his game.

Lob threat/Effectiveness as an inside scorer: If you know Larry Nance Jr., the first thing you know him by is probably his highlight dunks. But Larry is a lot more than just a flashy dunker. He is an extremely effective roll man. Nance brings value as a pick and roll roller as he ranks in the 78th percentile among all qualified players according to Shot Quality data. Furthermore, Nance is a great driver for his size as well as he ranks in the 79th percentile at driving to the basket. This combination of being a great lob threat, roll man and driver means that Larry Nance Jr ranks in the 88th percentile at attacking the rim (according to shot quality).

Shooting: While his lob threat is known to many, an aspect of Nance’s game which isn’t talked about enough is his shooting. Nance’s ability as a catch and shooter as well as a pick and popper are both aspects of his game which can be utilized very well in Monty Williams’ offense. Nance’s ability as a shooter can be backed up by the  Shot Quality data as he ranks in the 73rd percentile for his pick and pops and 67th for his catch and shoot 3s. The value of floor-spacing bigs is immense. If you have a respectable 3-point shot as a center, you can potentially help hinder the impact of the most impactful defender of the opposition (in a man to man scheme). If a center is a pure 3-point threat (such as Kristaps Porzingis), then it can be relatively easy to scheme against by putting a smaller, more mobile defender. However Nance’s ability as an inside scorer combined with his 3-point shooting makes him a menace to deal with.

Playmaking: Another aspect of Nance’s game that could seamlessly transition into the Monty Wiliiams’ offense is his passing. Nance’s Passer Rating of 6.8 puts him in the 86th percentile among all players. Nance is great at decision-making which is a trait that can be found in most of the Suns’ rotation players.  Off the ball, Nance Jr. is a willing and effective cutter, something that fits well with the screen-plays that the suns often run.

Defense: The most underrated aspect of Nance Jr.’s Game is probably his defense. At 6’7, 245 pounds, Nance is versatile enough to play the 4 as well as the 5. As required from a modern day power forward, Nance is able to rotate at an effective level and is extremely mobile and disciplined. Nance is also able to act as an effective rim-protecting 5 thanks to his 7’1 wingspan and great defensive instincts. His ability to stay with his man makes him extremely valuable in a postseason setting. What makes Nance Jr. unique defensively (especially at his position) are his hands. Among players with at least 1000 minutes in the 2020/21 season, Larry Nance Jr. ranked fifth in steals per 100 possessions and the highest among all power forwards.

His defensive disruptions aren’t a one season outlier either!

His impact on the Cavs defense speaks for itself as well.

The lack of a playable big-man outside of Ayton (especially after Saric’s injury) was one of the Suns’ biggest roster flaws. With Nance, the Suns bring in a great defensive big off the bench with great versatility who provides unique offensive skills as compared to the other options and should fit in seamlessly with his style of play. Injuries are something that you never hope for but are unfortunately a part of the game and therefore you need to have backup plans. In a scenario where one of the starting wings is injured, Nance Jr. will fit seamlessly at the 4 in the starting lineup.

Possible offer for Nance Jr: Pick #29, Saric/Carter, heavily protected first/multiple seconds