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Blazers Get Thumbs Up On Nance Jr. Trade

The league reacts to the Blazers dealing for the Cavaliers big man.

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Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have received positive reactions after working themselves into a three-team trade to secure Cleveland Cavaliers big man Larry Nance Jr.

The deal also involved the Chicago Bulls signing and trading Lauri Markkanen to the Cavaliers, while themselves snaring Blazer Derrick Jones Jr., a protected Portland first round pick, and a future Cleveland second rounder.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor who reacted live to the trade as he recorded the Mismatch podcast — 10 minutes in — with Chris Vernon, swooned over the addition of Nance Jr.

“I’m a Blazers fan now. Larry Nance Jr., this could be a great great acquisition for Portland, Nance is a very good defender and is now the guy who could screen for Dame and if they switch or if they trap or they pressure Dame, he’s the outlet. Because he can make plays off the bounce, he can finish a lot at the rim, with lobs. Larry Nance Jr. is a perfect, a perfect fit for Damian Lillard. Is he a guy that’s going to make Dame want to stay well that remains to be seen but this helps. This is a good trade for Portland.”

“Larry Nance Jr. is a more important acquisition than I think people realize on the surface because he was so underrated and overlooked in Cleveland.”

Fellow Ringer writer Dan Devine emphasizes Nance Jr.’s ability to balance the Blazers roster, plugging what were glaring holes in their rotation.

He’s a smart, disruptive defender who ranked sixth in the NBA in deflections per game last season, and who’s tied for the second-highest steal rate among frontcourt players since entering the league in 2015, according to Basketball-Reference. He’s versatile, too: The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Nance spent most of his floor time guarding opposing power forwards, but he also dealt with point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, and centers on at least 10 percent of his defensive possessions, according to The BBall Index’s charting data.

Nance should prove a snug fit on the other end, too, as a low-usage engine-room type. He can work as a screen-and-dive big man with the hops to rise up above the defense and finish at the rim. He’s become a more viable shooting threat, hitting 35 percent of his 3s on about three attempts per 36 minutes of floor time over the past three seasons. Most importantly, though, Nance is a canny passer, dishing assists on just over 15 percent of his teammates’ baskets in that three-season span; only a dozen bigs have boasted a higher assist rate in that stretch. He’s a ball mover with good touch and vision, capable of finding shooters in transition, making high-low feeds to the paint, feeding the post, operating as a dribble-handoff hub from the elbows, and acting as a release-valve option on the short roll in the screen.

Zach Harper at The Athletic gave the Blazers an A- for the deal because it still allows for flexibility regardless of Lillard’s future with the team. (subscription required).

For what Portland is giving up here, the Blazers are getting great value with Nance joining the roster. Forward position is a big hole for the Blazers. Their big men consist of Jusuf Nurkic, Cody Zeller, Robert Covington and maybe second-round pick Greg Brown. That’s it. As much as you can like what Derrick Jones Jr. tries to bring to the table as a wing, Nance gives you more in pretty much every area. He’ll help defensively one of the worst defenses in league history. He’ll allow them to play big or small at times. He can be a great roll man for Lillard or CJ McCollum. Nance sets good screens, which can help that backcourt or Norman Powell get free to light up the opposing defense.

Nance has this season and next season left on his deal at roughly $20 million total, then he becomes a free agent in 2023. That means they get plenty of time to make an assessment on his future. Or if things start to fall apart in Portland, the Blazers can always move him to just about any team and get some decent return. Giving up a protected first-rounder isn’t ideal, but at least it’s lottery-protected for now. So the Blazers can make the playoffs with peace of mind, and somehow missing them wouldn’t destroy them from this trade.

Harper’s colleague at The Athletic John Hollinger also gave Portland a thumbs up, pegging Nance Jr. as one of the league’s most underrated players (subscription required).

Not only is Nance about the best player Portland could have hoped to receive in a transaction of this ilk, but he’s also the exact type of player the Blazers need. The power forward spot has bedeviled Portland the last three seasons, with Zach Collins never being healthy, Carmelo Anthony an entertaining but low-nutrition stopgap and Jones falling out of the rotation after the Blazers inked him to a full midlevel exception deal a year ago.

Nance may not start games at power forward — that’s likely Robert Covington — but he’ll finish plenty of them and play large chunks of the time in between. He makes a great offensive partner with Lillard in particular, as Nance is a top-notch passer who excels making plays out of traps and “short rolls” — something that happens often with bigs playing with Lillard. He’s also an enthusiastic screen-setter and enough of a vertical threat on his rim run to suck in defenses.

More urgently, Nance also represents a health question; he’s never played more than 67 games in a season and only played 35 last season. One of the benefits of this trade is that the Blazers get a “sixth” starter so they can survive an injury absence much better than a year ago, but that’s contingent on Nance actually being available.

Nonetheless, this is a fantastic pickup for the Blazers to turn a negative contract into a valuable player. The question only Lillard can answer is whether it’s enough.

Jasmyn Wimbish at CBS Sports also gave the Blazers an A-, highlighting Nance Jr’s ability to help Portland on the defensive end.

The biggest move the Blazers made prior to this trade was re-signing Norman Powell and adding Cody Zeller to the roster in free agency. Those aren’t exactly the type of moves that are going to convince franchise centerpiece Damian Lillard to stay. Trading for Nance may not either, but it’s still a really great move for Portland. For a team that ranked 29th in the league last season in defensive rating (115.3), adding a defensive-minded player in Nance will certainly help boost this team on that end of the floor.

Defense has been the Trail Blazers’ biggest glaring weakness for several years, and adding a 6-7 forward in Nance who is going to grab you rebounds, is a versatile defender and can get you some buckets from several areas on the floor is a huge positive. Nance can also help take some of the pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum by being a lob threat off screens, knock down jumpers when the defense is pressuring Lillard and he’s also known to be a great passer. He may not be the All-Star level player that Lillard was hoping the Blazers would get, but he excels at a lot of the little things that Portland has struggled with over the years, and that matters.