Kendrick Nunn: Miami’s Next Hidden Gem

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The Miami HEAT are no strangers to finding undrafted gems.

Udonis Haslem is arguably one of the best players in HEAT franchise history, having played a major role with all three of Miami’s championship teams. He was, of course, undrafted.

Several other players went through the same process, having played their first NBA minutes in a HEAT uniform after not hearing their name called on draft night. Keith Askins carved out a role as lockdown defender off the bench. Anthony Carter had some solid years a backup point guard. Tyler Johnson was able to parlay his talent into a pretty nice contract. Prior to his injury, Rodney McGruder looked like he, too, was on his way to emerging as a solid rotation player.

And now, the HEAT are hoping that Kendrick Nunn can be the next.

Between pouring in 24 points in his official NBA debut Wednesday night and dropping 40 points on the Houston Rockets in a preseason game last Friday, the question becomes: What might the HEAT be able to expect from him this season?

He originally went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft after a pretty solid college and high school career. He was a teammate of Jabari Parker at Simeon High School in Chicago and was a pretty highly touted recruit who ended up at Illinois. In his first season with the Fighting Illini, he was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. He had consistently been a solid shooter in Champaign, but really broke out during his last year with the school, knocking down 39.1 percent from the three-point line.

Nunn ended up finishing his college career at Oakland University, but not before establishing himself as one of the nation’s top scorers and three-point shooters. In his final year of college, he was second in the country in scoring with 25.9 points per game, and he led the country in three-pointers made. His feats saw him win the Horizon Player of the Year award.

That wasn’t enough, however, to get him drafted. He would get the opportunity to play summer league ball with the Golden State Warriors, and they signed him for training camp, but he was ultimately cut before the start of the 2018-19 season.

It was when he signed with the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s G League affiliate, that NBA teams began to turn their heads. Nunn came off the bench for Santa Cruz, with only one start. But he still managed to average 19.3 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals. He displayed that same scoring and shooting knack that he had in college.

Nunn didn’t receive any NBA looks though while the G League season was ongoing. It wasn’t until close to the end of the NBA season, in mid-April, that Miami signed Nunn to a partially guaranteed contract.

It was already too late for Nunn to showcase himself on an NBA floor, and he’d have to wait until the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League to show what he could do. Nunn ended up being one of the best players in Vegas to the tune of 22 points per game, 5.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest. He ended up being named to the Summer League First Team, and that has led to the present.

Throughout the preseason, Nunn did his best to show that he is worthy of being an NBA rotation player. He put up 13.8 points per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from the three-point line.

At this point in time, Justise Winslow appears to be the starting point guard for the HEAT. Miami has experimented with him at the point and appear to be encouraged by his production. That would leave Goran Dragic as the backup, with Nunn acting as the third string.

Nunn certainly has a penchant for scoring, but he can play a little bit of a facilitator role as well; he averaged 3.6 assists in five preseason games. He’s definitely able to play a combo guard for the HEAT off the bench, with a little defensive impact too. If they need him to be a scorer, he can give the second unit a boost in that department. If they need someone to run the offense, he can help stabilize the bench and be a playmaker.

With Miami’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler, it’s quite clear that playoffs are the goal for this season. Nunn showed out in summer league and preseason, but we’ve only gotten a taste of what he can show and do during the regular season.

Perhaps he doesn’t get many minutes this season. With Winslow and Dragic pretty much locked in at the point guard rotation, Nunn is essentially a situational player whose minutes will likely be determined by injuries or matchups.

But one thing is for sure, if he does end up receiving some regular rotation minutes this season, he has a good chance at becoming the next of Miami’s undrafted diamonds in the rough.