Just a week ago, the casual NBA fan likely would have had no idea who Kendrick Nunn was. However, after Jimmy Butler was forced to miss Miami’s first three games due to the birth of his daughter, it appears the Heat may have found a diamond in the rough. Let’s take a closer look into Nunn’s hot start, and what his future in the NBA may hold.
How we got here
Nunn played his first three collegiate seasons with Illinois before transferring to Oakland University for his senior year. Despite putting up 25.9 during his senior season, Nunn went undrafted in 2018 and spent all of last season in the G League.
After his season in the G League, Nunn signed an NBA contract with the Miami Heat in the offseason. After a solid performance in the Summer League, it began looking like Nunn would be able to crack a spot on the Miami roster. Nunn had his moments during the preseason, but through the first four games, it appeared he didn’t do enough to earn himself a regular rotational spot behind Jimmy Butler. That is, until he shined during Miami’s final preseason game. With Jimmy Butler resting, Nunn went off, putting up 40 points on 15 of 27 shooting and six of 10 from beyond the arc against the Houston Rockets.
Not only did that performance secure him a spot in the rotation, it also enabled coach Eric Spoelstra to give him the start on opening night with Jimmy Butler out.
Opening Night: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Miami Heat
Just a few months removed from being an irrelevant G-league player, Nunn took advantage of his opportunity to start on opening night. After an underwhelming start to the game for him, Nunn provided the Heat a spark in the second half as Miami pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the Grizzlies 120-101. Nunn ended the game with 24 points on 10 of 18 shooting, and he also added two steals on the defensive end. After the match, he ensured the media that he wouldn’t go forgotten.
“This is just the beginning,” Nunn said after the win.
Game 2: Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Before this matchup, it was announced that Jimmy Butler would be out for the next two Heat games to be with his family, so the Bucks were the considerable favorite.
However, once again, Nunn stepped up in Butler’s absence, and put up 19 points, five assists, and four rebounds, going 8-for-17 shooting before he fouled out in the fourth quarter. Despite a game-tying buzzer-beater by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Heat won the game 131-126 in overtime.
Game 3: Miami Heat vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Nunn came out hot in this game and had a career-high 18 points at halftime. When Adrian Wojnarowski himself tweets about you, then you must be doing something right.
Tonight for Nunn: 18 points (4-5 on 3’s) at halftime. Another scouting find for Miami. https://t.co/xu23fJwFGT
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 28, 2019
Despite losing this game to the Timberwolves, Nunn played very well, putting up 25 points while going 9-for-17 shooting and swiping away two steals in 40 minutes played.
Nunn’s performance in his first three NBA games were both unexpected and certainly attention-grabbing. In fact, Nunn’s 67 points scored set a Miami Heat franchise record for most points scored through a rookie’s first three games.
After an impressive start to his NBA career, it will be hard for Eric Spoelstra to take him out of the rotation, even with Jimmy Butler coming back. Nunn will likely shift his role to the bench, but that doesn’t mean he won’t contribute to this team. His increase in minutes will probably come at the expense of Duncan Robinson, but that makes sense for a Miami team in need of shooters.
Nunn’s best strength is his shooting; he is 8-for-19 (42%) from three through his first three games. However, Nunn also defends the perimeter well as he has two steals per game. Spoelstra likes to experiment with different rotations and giving his players different looks, so it will be interesting to see how Nunn’s role changes going forward. While I’m not here to say Nunn will be an All-Star, he can play a key role on this team with aspirations of making the playoffs.