Kendrick Nunn’s situation this off-season regarding the Heat is a bit different from other players on the roster that I’ve discussed. Guys like Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala have team options, meaning Miami dictates how they want to deal with them.
Somebody like Duncan Robinson is in a similar spot with Nunn, but obviously seems much more likely to be back on the roster next season with the Heat. After Nunn’s sophomore season bounce-back, following a tough run in the bubble and start to the season, he will now test the market to see what is out there.
To that point, it’s clear that many expect Nunn to take a much bigger deal from a team willing to give it to him. But the only way I can see him returning, would be if Miami pulled off a huge deal through trade. If they send out a bunch of guys through sign and trade, while there’s enough money to retain Nunn, then I would see them doing it.
Other than that, it’s just hard to say at the moment.
Anyways, this piece isn’t about projecting forward, it’s about taking a look back. Nunn made a bunch of strides this season to get to a point where a good sized deal could be coming his way, so let’s take a look at those primary areas…
An Interchanging Shooting Ability
Sometimes shooting numbers relate to the role you’re in, and Kendrick Nunn is the perfect example of that. Even though Miami is a position-less team, while Butler and Adebayo are the primary play-makers, Nunn is essentially the 1. To that point, he runs a lot of the Heat’s sets when he’s on the floor, which began to decrease a bit as the season went on.
And that’s a good thing.
Once he jumped into the starting lineup, his shooting from deep really progressed. The issue was that his pull-up threes weren’t falling. By that I don’t just mean transition pull-ups, but also the stop-and-pops out of the high pick and roll. That was his best three-point ability last season, shooting 37% on pull-up triples, which then plummeted to 27% this year.
If those numbers decreased so drastically, how did he become such a better shooter from the outside?
Well, insert the catch and shoot three. When I mentioned his role being so important before, that proved to be true within these numbers. He began to run a bunch of actions off the ball, even running some of Robinson’s sets when he exited the floor, which I called Robinson-lite.
Roaming baseline off pin-downs or basic off-ball screens into a wing three became his specialty. The usual kick-outs became huge for him as well, which increased the chemistry of Butler and him offensively. That spot-up three allowed him to stay on the floor for increased minutes, and honestly, that will keep him on the floor wherever he lands in free agency.
Finding the Elbow
If you asked me what Nunn’s go-to shot was in his rookie year, it’s pretty obvious it was the elbow jumper. The question this season, once he regained his usual role, was if that shot would be sustainable along with the other attributes.
And yet, it was. 45% on mid-range pull-ups last season to 48% this year may not seem major, but it answered one of the main questions that we had.
Not to focus on the past post-season too much, but that’s why many people labeled him as a major X-factor for Miami to win the series. As I’ve called him in the past, he’s a drop coverage killer, but when that shot isn’t dropping, it allows a defense to completely dictate his shot chart.
Aside from that, the main reason this shot held such high important had nothing to do with the numbers. It was more self inflicted stuff, which is exactly what I will dive into here…
PnR Decision Making
The stats don’t tell the full story, since the true tell for mid-range excellence had to do with his decision making. One of his biggest downfalls in his rookie year was that he didn’t seem to know when to shoot and when to pass. It made his time in the PnR quite unexpected, since there wasn’t a high trust level with him in those spots.
But as soon as he filled into that starting spot early this season, things seemed to change. He knew when to pull-up at the free throw line. He knew when to throw a floater. He knew when to explode to the rack. And he knew when to throw the lob.
That was the element that would allow him to take that next step. And essentially, that’s the element that would get him that nice sized contract.
This whole discussion ties back to an overarching point that’s been harped on forever with Nunn: confidence. When he is confident in his scoring ability, he’s hard to stop. It’s why his end of the season struggles in his rookie season seemed to be dictated by the first shot of the game. If the ball wasn’t falling early, he wasn’t going to be effective.
Flipping that switch this season into a competent reader in the pick and roll elevated his value, and of course, elevated his play.
A Free Throw Line Dip
The one negative aspect from his sophomore season that I expected to make a jump, but didn’t, occurred at the free throw line. Not about knocking them down at the charity stripe, but actually getting there.
He attempted 1.5 free throws a game in his first season with the Heat, and for a player who continued to flow downhill, it was going to be big for him to draw contact continuously. That was a theme for many of Miami’s guards, since a lot of them avoid contact at the rim instead of embracing it, which is odd due to the bull-dozing role model they have at the top of the roster.
Not only did the free throw attempts not increase this past season, but they dropped to 1.1 per game. Some of that may have something to do with that shifting role that I discussed previously, but still, the frequency at the rim didn’t translate to that number.
Maybe a bigger role with another team would lead to an increase in that stat column, but that should be a focus as he heads into his third year in the NBA.
Finding His Spots Instinctively
To finish it off, the decision making wasn’t the only area of major growth, since his on-court instincts jumped off the screen. In a motion offense, you must be instinctive at times instead of continually being predictable with your movements.
We saw Nunn learn that over time, and the off-ball role really brought that alive. If you’re wondering what I mean by that, just take a look at the clip above. He looks at his defender, Trae Young, totally ignoring him on the wing as he’s focused on Adebayo with the ball.
As soon as he notices this, he darts to a dead spot on the floor in front of the basket, catches it, and scores at the rim. This may not look like a key play from the season or a big deal from an individual perspective, but it was a big deal for Kendrick Nunn.
These small elements add up, and we saw a much more complete player by the end of the season.
As stated earlier, the future of Nunn is unclear at the moment, but it is clear how he will treat it. Plenty of teams with money will be willing to give a skilled offensive player a good sized contract to possibly make that leap, and Nunn deserves that chance.
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