This is NBA Rookie Diaries, a series where rookies take you inside their first year in the league. From adjusting to the professional game to navigating locker room culture, these rookies tell it like it is. For his opening installment, Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. took us inside the first three cities of a season-long eight-game road trip. Now, he breaks down the trip’s final stops, and a triumphant return to Los Angeles.
December 6th: 111-91 loss to the Pistons
My whole family had come up from Cleveland, which is only a two hour drive. This was the first time my older sister Casey and my little brother Pete had a chance to see me play live in the NBA. Casey is the most obnoxious person in the entire world – I’m her brother, I can say it – so whenever I got a rebound, or shot a free throw, or did anything, she was yelling.
I mean, I appreciated her support, but it was a little like nails on a chalkboard. She’s loud, had her “Nance 7” jersey on, and is 6’5”. Not subtle. So you had Casey, my dad (6’10”) and mom (6’2”), and Pete (who’s 6’9” at 15 years old, and can play 1 through 5 … you’ll be hearing his name soon) all sitting together.
I wonder whose family that is, right?
December 7, 102-93 loss to the Raptors
We were in a team meeting the morning of the game when Coach said we needed to make a change in the lineup, because we’d been falling behind quickly the last few games. He wanted to try something new, just to mix it up for a while. Then he explained what was happening …
Lou Williams and I were now in the starting lineup, replacing D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.
I didn’t want to freak out, so I’m sitting there, arms crossed, like, Cool. No big deal. But deep down, there were a lot of butterflies. I got back to my hotel room and immediately called home. I call before every game anyway, but that day was a little bit different. My parents were extremely happy for me.
It was a pretty cool feeling to have my name called in the starting lineup for an NBA game. That first time it took me a second to run out because I was used to waiting and listening for everyone else. The announcer says, “Out of Wyoming …”
I’m like, Who went to Wyoming?
Oh, right … me!
I was happy to see I could impact the game as a starter in the same way I did coming off the bench. Tapouts. Offensive rebounds. Getting to 50/50 balls. Being a pest on defense. I try to always bring energy, whether I’m starting or coming in as a reserve. In that sense, my job doesn’t change.
December 9: 123-122 overtime loss to the Timberwolves
I honestly didn’t realize Karl-Anthony Towns was that big. He uses his body really well. He’s great at shielding you off when he’s shooting his hook shot, or getting position on offensive rebounds. That was the biggest thing that stuck out to me. He just turned 20 and he knows how to use his body that well? How to throw his weight around, to get proper positioning, and things like that? It’s going to be a scary sight when he really figures it all out. I always expected for him to be taken #1 overall, but after guarding him that game, I completely understood why he was the top pick.
I was expecting to guard KG, but Roy Hibbert got him for the most part. Still, there were a couple moments where I picked Garnett up, or we were switched on to each other. I’ve always looked up to him so playing against him was really cool. In high school, I wore a pair of Kevin Garnett’s every single game. Roy told me the first time he played against KG, Garnett was so fierce and talked so much trash that it made Roy want to beat him every time. But KG didn’t do that to me. I didn’t get “the treatment.” I think it’s a little like Kobe right now, where he’s enjoying everything. Just playing.
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t talking, though.
I knew coming in that KG’s communication on defense is legendary, so I listened to him talk to the other guys on the court, telling them where to move and cut. It was cool. He’s guarding his man while telling the other four players where to be. Right now, I’m having a hard enough time just checking my own guy. I can’t imagine getting to the point where I can guard mine, then tell Lou where his man’s at and how to cover him… and direct Kobe… and Jordan Clarkson, and so on. It takes a long time to be able to see all the nuances of an opponent’s offense so you can talk guys through it.
This game was very competitive, with the young guys leading the way. I was on the bench, watching D’Angelo take over late in the fourth, with Julius gathering up rebounds and getting his putbacks. For Minnesota, Andrew Wiggins was hitting jumpers, Karl was grabbing boards. You see those guys, with JC and Zach LaVine, all going back and forth, and you’re thinking He’s 19, he’s 20, he’s 20, he’s 21, he’s 19 …
I think you had six future All-Stars right there, sometime down the line, all in one game. It was pretty cool.
December 11th: 109-87 loss to the Spurs
It really hit me that I was starting when I got to walk out to the tip circle and I was staring at Tim Duncan. To be on the same floor as a starter with Kobe and Duncan? You’re just thinking about how much combined success was on the court right then. I had to high-five Duncan before tip. I just had to. He didn’t say anything, but I’m sure he was like, “Who’s this kid?”
Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge are like Twin Towers, man. I didn’t realize how big they were until I was standing next to them. I was mostly matched up against Aldridge. He’s so effective, never giving you time to set your defense when you’re running down the court. You’re backpedaling while he’s coming forward, and he pins you right underneath the rim. You’ve got to fight around or he’ll have an easy lay up. He’s a beast and I had issues guarding him — but so does the rest of the league.
Every player has different ways of breaking you down. A guy like Blake Griffin is always in an athletic stance, ready to move around you, or sometimes through you. But Duncan and Aldridge are both very upright players, trying to hit you with their shoulders, looking for a jump shot (with the glass) and using their size to get that over you. I think Tim is teaching LaMarcus a little bit of what he knows, which is terrifying. They’re going to be a scary tandem.
Every once in a while, Roy and I would get switched, and I wound up on Duncan. I tried not to think about it, but it’s absolutely impossible not to be aware.
I am guarding Tim Duncan.
It’s like when young guys guard Kobe. They’re trying to put their game face on, like it’s no big deal. But c’mon. After the game, I was kind of hoping somebody got a picture of me and Duncan matched up, but couldn’t find one.
He’s one guy I picked out early to try to emulate. I love his game. He plays the right way and is a class guy. A true professional.
December 12: Flight home after a 126-87 loss to the Rockets
We really fought against Houston, but I learned how a road trip can impact your energy. It’s frustrating. After 13 days in eight different cities, your mind says, “Go get that loose ball,” but your body doesn’t respond in the same way. Any other game you get it, but on a night like this you don’t come up with the ball. It’s the same effort, but a different result. If I’m this exhausted as a rookie, I can’t imagine what the older guys feel like. When veterans say there are certain things a rookie has to experience, this is what they mean. Now I’ve done it, though, so it’s something that I’ll learn to prepare for and fight through.
Coming into the league, I thought road NBA road trips weren’t a big deal. “You stay in the nicest hotels! You get meals! You get free time! I’d love to be on the road!” It’s not like that at all. You lose track of time, and sometimes even what city you’re in. At the hotel in Toronto, I was in room 1907. In San Antonio, it was 1107. But there I was, up at 1907, trying to get my key card to work.
Somebody came to the door. “Can I help you? Are you trying to get in?”
I had to go back down to the concierge and ask what room I was in. It was embarrassing.
By the end, I felt beat down mentally and physically. We all were. It was a brutal road trip. We were on the East Coast, flying, changing time zones. Not to mention not faring so well in the games. It took a toll on us, and we were ready to come home.
December 15th: 113-95 win over the Bucks at Staples Center
Twenty-six assists. That is the stat that jumps out in my mind. We had the extra pass mentality. A few times, Kobe had open shots but dropped the ball off to D’Angelo. Lou could have pulled up but dropped it off to me. When a team gets into the mindset of, Alright, I’ve got a good shot… he’s got a better one, they’re going to be tough to beat.
Plus, any time you have that many assists, it’s just fun basketball. Fun to watch, fun to play, fun all around. That brings up team morale like crazy, and we desperately needed it. For example, people don’t realize this, but Nick Young takes losses very hard. Seeing Nick, usually fun-loving and goofy, feeling down was tough. It was a clear sign about how much we had to pick it up as a team. But against the Bucks, he was rolling. Literally, barrel rolling on the floor.
To see us get back to that spirit was really cool.
Kobe came into the huddle before the game in San Antonio and said, “Look, we’re five games out of the playoffs right now. Just think about that. We’re five games out of the playoffs. There’s three-fourths of the season left. This book is not written. We’ve still got time to do what we need to do, and sneak into one of these spots.”
Some people might think that sounds delusional, but they don’t understand. They haven’t been in our shoes. If you don’t think that way, you’ve got the wrong mentality. You have to believe in yourself and your team, even when people around you don’t. If Draymond Green would have said when he got drafted, “By my fourth year, I’m going to be one of the most important players on a championship team,” people might have laughed. A four-year guy? You’re not athletic enough. You’re not big enough.
In the NBA, you’re supposed to be an ultra-competitor. If you’re not, you shouldn’t be here. And even if it might actually be “delusional” at times, sometimes delusional thinking is exactly what you need to reach your goals.