From the moment the Heat nation laid their eyes on Kendrick Nunn in the 2019 NBA Summer League, there was a growing sense that Pat Riley found something special again. And after he surprisingly started over Goran Dragic to begin the 2019-20 NBA season and would never relinquish that role for the remainder of the season until it was suspended in March of 2020 spoke a lot about the confidence the team has in the young guard.
Last year, Kendrick Nunn finished as a runner-up to Ja Morant in the Rookie of the Year voting, finishing ahead of Zion Williamson. Nunn averaged over 15 PPG for the Miami Heat. But the bubble changed everything.
Nunn battled COVID-19 before entering the Orlando bubble and then saw his starting spot go to Goran Dragic who excelled in Orlando. Then he saw his minutes deplete to only situational moments throughout the playoffs.
Fast forward to this season, and although he got off to a shaky start, he has bounced back and is averaging 13.2 PPG and has scored in double figures in the last nine games he has played in.
Nunn is getting back on track. His style isn’t always going to be pleasing to everyone. He’s a score-first guard who isn’t shy about shooting the ball. He will turn it over his fair share of times and has trouble guarding the ball. But, he’s a valuable part of what Miami is doing.
And despite the noise from outside that was ready to trade Nunn for a bag of potato chips, he is important to the Heat. And I’ve got three great reasons why...
#1 — Kendrick Nunn can score on his own
That sounds ridiculous to read as we are talking about professional NBA basketball players. But we are looking at a roster that is not filled with that. It’s like the Heat have conditioned Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk to run this hand-off offense and everyone plays like that. Duncan Robinson for as good as he is, you can’t just give him the ball and ask him to score.
Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo are the only players on the team that you trust to just get you a bucket if the clock is ticking down (Dragic at his age needs some screens or help). And Kendrick Nunn should be on that list as well. He may be at the bottom of that list, but Nunn is a straight scorer, and he can score without someone helping him.
He’s not always the most efficient, but for a team that sometimes struggles to do the points thing, Nunn is an important piece that can score on his own. You have already seen that be a valuable piece for Miami as Spo likes to go with these Jimmy and Bam-less lineups from time to time.
#2 — Kendrick Nunn brings back the mid-range game
That’s where he lost his mojo for a bit, but one of the most effective part of his game is getting to that 15-foot spot for a pull-up. That’s a lost art in this day of the NBA where we like layups or threes.
Nunn fills the space in between. And when he is a threat to that area, it actually opens up the perimeter for his friends Duncan, Tyler, and even Goran. Defenses are beginning to adjust and learning how potent Bam Adebayo is as a screen and roll player heading to the rim. Bam still gets his fair share of alley-oops from great playmaking from Tyler and Goran and Nunn. But Nunn filling up the mid-range actually makes the team even better because defenses have to choose.
There was a time when Nunn was not effective there, but last year he was and he is beginning to bring that back. Having that versatility in the roster is a great tool for Spoelstra.
#3 — Kendrick Nunn is becoming efficient
As good as Nunn was for Miami last year, he is actually becoming better in smaller samples this year. Last year, although averaging 15 PPG, he shot 43% from the field, which isn’t anything to be proud of. Basically, he got his shots up.
This season, Nunn is having two fewer FGAs per game and is shooting 48.5% from the field, which is a nice clip for a small guard. For example, Stephen Curry is a 47.6% career field goal percentage shooter. I’m not comparing them, but you get the idea.
Nunn, who is rarely ever the first option on a play, is becoming efficient with the ball. That’s a part of his growth and that is valuable to Miami.
Honorable mention — Nunn playing like this is always good for the trade market...although I personally enjoy having him on the team, he feels like one of our own.
What are your thoughts on Kendrick Nunn’s play so far and do you like him a part of the team or would you like to see the Heat move him?