Sleeper Deep Dives: Pete Nance
Northwestern big man Pete Nance capped off his college career with an excellent season; with his long-range shooting and defensive potential, he will be an intriguing second-round sleeper candidate.
After establishing himself as a key cog for the Northwestern Wildcats during his junior season, Pete Nance really established himself as an NBA prospect with his stellar senior season in Chicago. Nance led Northwestern in scoring at 14.6 PPG after being their third-leading scorer the year before; he also led the team in rebounding with 6.5 RPG, and he was second in assists with 2.7 APG last season.
Nance has developed dramatically since playing a bit part during his first season at Northwestern when he averaged 13.9 MPG, shot 34.7% from the floor and 26.3% from three-point range, and went just 5-of-12 from the free-throw line in those limited minutes. His development on his jump shot has been the easiest to see—he shot 45.2% from beyond the arc in his senior season on 3.1 3PA per game. That growth shooting-wise for Nance happened across the board; he shot 76.8% from the line this season and has boosted his two-point field goal percentage from 43.2% his first season in college to 51.5% inside the arc this year.
Like his brother Larry Nance Jr., Pete Nance is an excellent passer, making solid passing reads from the post and from the top of the key. He is a monster in transition, and he has intriguing defensive potential at a 6’10” power forward-type with decent lateral mobility.
Larry Nance Jr. surprised some draft prognosticators when the Los Angeles Lakers selected him with the 27th overall pick in 2015, but he carved out a role for himself pretty quickly at the NBA level and has proven that he has staying power in the Association. Pete Nance will probably not go in the first round like his older brother did, but he could play a similar role at the NBA level; while Larry Jr. might have inherited more of their father’s athleticism, Pete’s shooting touch from deep adds another dimension to his game.
Pete Nance didn’t ultimately secure an invite to the NBA Draft Combine after a solid performance at the G League Elite Camp, but his offensive versatility and defensive potential make him an interesting prospect for any teams in the second round who might be in need of a stretch-4 who can play rotation minutes sooner rather than later. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Shooting Touch and Transition Flair
The most intriguing aspect of Pete Nance’s game is his shooting touch and the floor-spacing that he can provide as a big man, but he is far more than just a stretch option on the offensive end. He sets solid screens and does well in both pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations, and his passing and playmaking overall, especially out of the post and short-roll situations, is really enticing. He can grab rebounds and kickstart his team’s transition attacks, and he is adept at finishing in transition—particularly as a trailer.
Nance’s growth as a shooting threat over the course of his college career was astounding. He climbed from 26.3% his first year to 29.7% as a sophomore, then up to 36.4% as a junior, and finally 45.2% from deep in his senior year. While the shot is a bit flat, and while he is still only mediocre at shooting off the dribble (ranking in the 45th percentile on his 35 off-the-dribble looks, per Synergy), it is hard to argue with the shot’s effectiveness.
Nance is lethal from long-range, ranking in the 96th percentile on three-point jump shots this past season, per Synergy. He ranked in the 82nd percentile on spot-up jumpers and in the 71st percentile on guarded catch-and-shoot attempts. He might not wow you with a vicious step-back jumper, but he can knock down wide-open looks and also get a shot off quickly when tightly guarded:
Most of Nance’s three-point looks were either spot-ups or pick-and-pop looks, but he can do damage in dribble hand-off situations as well. His solid screen setting helps to give him the space he needs, and he takes advantage of those openings when he sees them:
Nance provides excellent floor spacing in halfcourt settings, and he is also a dangerous shooting threat on the break. He ranked in the 93rd percentile in transition overall and the 99th percentile as a trailer. While those numbers as a trailer admittedly came on a pretty small sample size, Nance was a proven transition threat even when his shot was still a work in progress—he ranked in the 82nd percentile in transition during his junior year as well.
A large part of Nance’s brilliance in transition comes down to his exceptional vision on the break. Nance ranked in the 93rd percentile in transition possessions plus assists, averaging a ridiculous 1.605 points per possession on those plays and sporting an astounding 3.5 AST/TO ratio. His prowess as a trailer combines exceptionally well with his ability to kickstart his team’s transition attack:
Beyond his passing and transition play, Nance was also incredibly effective as a pick-and-roll big man, ranking in the 93rd percentile overall and in the 88th percentile in pick-and-pop situations. He also has a decent enough post-up game to theoretically punish opposing wings, but most of his damage in the post would be as a passer. Still, his post-up passing does show another complementary element to his game that fits in with the rest of his well-rounded offensive skill set.
Defense: Lateral Mobility and Upside
Pete Nance has a versatile offensive game that would fit well in a variety of different situations; however, his defensive projection is a bit murkier. He will almost certainly be a power forward primarily to start his career due to his defensive profile. Although he is a decent defender, his relative lack of vertical pop does somewhat restrict him in terms of positional versatility. He can have some great moments when switching on the perimeter, but he also makes his fair share of mistakes.
The defensive metrics seem to be equally conflicted about Nance’s profile on the defensive end. He graded out as a 49th percentile defender overall, with some real pluses and some real minuses. He did a solid job on defending post-ups, which were his primary defensive responsibility—he ranked in the 58th percentile on those plays, per Synergy, and those plays represented 50.9% of his defensive possessions. However, he did have a tendency to get burned, especially in isolation, and he was up-and-down in terms of defending the pick-and-roll.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to be intrigued going forward. Nance’s lateral mobility indicates that he does still have room to develop on the defensive end. He does have the size at 6’10” and 225 pounds to potentially play small-ball center for a few minutes in certain situations. While he isn’t quite a good enough rim protector at this point in his career to be able to fulfill that role defensively for more than spot minutes, there is reason to believe that his defense can be good enough at some point to allow him to unlock offensive potential as a small-ball 5.
Nance has shown some capabilities as someone who can help out a team from the power forward position, and he could possibly turn into a positive defender further down the line. When he reads the play correctly and doesn’t hesitate, he can seriously slow down opposing offenses. On this play in transition, Nance manages to shut down the initial pass to the paint as the lone man back and then quickly close out to the perimeter, forcing the ball-handler to the baseline and into the help defender, which ultimately forces an errant pass:
Although the good moments on defense look intriguing, some of his defensive lapses can be very disappointing. He occasionally tries to do too much on the defensive end, attempting to guard two players at once and leaving one of them wide-open:
Granted, even NBA defenders would struggle to guard a pick-and-roll play between E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham. However, Nance tries to split the difference between the two of them and ends up not really guarding either of them.
Unfortunately, Nance does not really make up for those lapses with highlight plays on defense. His STL% was a microscopic 0.9% this past season, and steal rates tend to translate to turnover generation at the NBA level. Nance’s block numbers are slightly better; he did boost his BLK% to 5.2% this year, and he might be able to develop more as a rim-protecting threat if he can cut down on his defensive errors.
Pete Nance was ultimately pretty close to being an average defender in college, and more of his mistakes stemmed from trying to do too much rather than not putting in the effort. The defensive decision-making can be concerning at times, but some of his errors are likely to be excised from his game when playing in a smaller role at the NBA level. He has already shown encouraging signs on that end, and he has a chance to turn into a real positive asset defensively if he can cut down on some of those mistakes.
Pete Nance was invited to the G-League Elite Camp earlier this week, but he didn’t move on from the Camp to the NBA Draft Combine. He played well in his start on Day One, knocking down three triples and finishing with 11 points, five rebounds, and two assists. His Day Two effort off the bench was less impressive; Nance scored just nine points on 11 shots, including 1-of-5 from deep, but did at least dish out four dimes.
Although the Elite Camp could have gone better for Nance, he did still showcase the most important parts of his skill set across the two scrimmages. He knocked down some triples in the first game and kept the ball moving in both contests, proving his offensive versatility overall despite a difficult Day Two.
Pete Nance might not have the first-round ceiling of his brother on Draft Night or the All-Star ceiling of his father. However, he has developed into a versatile power forward who can be plugged into almost any offensive rotation right away as a shooter and pick-and-roll threat. Furthermore, he is a decent defender already who has the potential to be something more on that end if everything breaks right. Teams that are looking for frontcourt depth late in the second round would be unwise to overlook Pete Nance.