Defenders rarely offered a solution whenever Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. leaped toward the basket. It usually became inevitable Nance would throw down a thunderous dunk.
Defenders occasionally found ways to limit Julius Randle’s imposing power. Force him to his right hand. Double team him. Yet, Randle often overcame both tactics because of his brute strength and playmaking skills.
Despite those highlights currently capturing the value Nance and Randle bring, both players channeled their energy on something else this offseason. They spent plenty of time at the Lakers’ practice facility working on their mid-range jumper in hopes to add another coveted skill once training camp begins on Sept. 27.
Randle spent part of his two-a-day workout sessions with an unrevealed shooting coach to make subtle changes to his stroke. As Lakers coach Luke Walton said, “it’s been very impressive to see his commitment this offseason to become a better shooter.”
While Nance provided more examples of his energy and leadership in Summer League, he often worked on both his 3-point shot and mid-range jumper at the Lakers’ practice facility. As Walton said, “he’s definitely a capable 3-point shooter and his mid-range game has been pretty consistent.”
But how will those offseason workouts translate for Randle and Nance once the 2016-17 season starts? Will Randle initially start at power forward or will Nance take the nod? Will the 6-foot-9 230-pound Nance ever move to small forward to tap into his developed shot? Will the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Randle ever play at the center spot amid Walton’s plan to see him play occasionally at that position during training camp?
Walton said he has not outlined a tentative depth chart. Obviously, Walton will have more clarity once he experiments with different lineups in training camp and preseason play. Yet, he offered different perspectives on how Randle and Nance can use an emerging jumper to their respective games.
With Randle leading his sophomore class last season in double doubles (34), Walton wondered aloud how Randle will rely on his jump shot without diluting his skills as a bruising playmaker. Instead, Walton hoped Randle can effectively use his refined skill to make his playmaking abilities even more unstoppable.
“He’s put a ton of time into his jump shot and making a lot more of them, but it’s a fine line obviously,” Walton said. “He’s so good at getting to the rim and pushing the ball in transition. He has such strength and quickness. But you still want to use that to your advantage in being able to rely on the fact you can knock down jump shots.”
Walton predicted Nance will make his jump shots with considerable accuracy, though he sounded uncertain how many 3-pointers he will actually take in a game. But with Nance averaging 5.5 points and 5.0 rebounds last season thanks to endless energy plays, Walton hardly sounded concerned about Nance’s outside shot potentially compromising his other skills. That’s because Walton views Nance as “a very intelligent basketball player,” who is “unselfish” and a “team guy” that can adapt through various circumstances.
“He’s a great passer. He has phenomenal hands on the defensive end. And he always seems to be in the right place,” Walton said of Nance. “He’s looking to make the right play before he’s looking to score 20 [points]. That’s something you need on your team. He’s a guy that makes those little plays that don’t end up on stat sheets all day long that make you end up winning the game.”
For the Lakers’ sake, though, Walton expressed optimism that both Nance and Randle will make enough jumpers both to fill the stat sheets and win games. The Lakers will soon find out how much that happens.