Kendrick Nunn’s NBA career thus far has been a constant cycle of ups and downs. NBA starter to bench warmer then back to NBA starter has happened over and over and over, and yet, he’s still competing with the best of them whenever he gets an opportunity out on that floor.
It’s always the “now” when discussing Kendrick Nunn. Can he step up tonight? How much of a boost can he give this team at the current stage? But although he’s 25 years old, he is only in his second NBA season, and he’s still growing as a player.
Growing a lot.
It’s not easy to stay mentally or physically ready when you’re constantly being interchanged between roles, but not only has he stayed parallel to his old self, he has made necessary improvements that make him more than just a “spark.”
The Heat organization had many expectations placed onto players that were a bit unrealistic in hindsight. But they didn’t seem to put any expectation on the future of Nunn, and that’s worked out very well.
So, after yet another scoring explosion against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, let’s take a look at what truly stood out on the offensive side of the ball.
– Punishing bigger defenders
Miami’s offense has obviously been inconsistent so far this season, but one area they’ve been highly effective with is transition offense. When a team relies on their defense on a nightly basis, that must translate to fast-break opportunities, and Nunn has been at the forefront of that.
As seen here, Bam Adebayo gets a steal and pushes the ball down the court as Nunn trails. He was forced to slightly reset after he caught the pass, and this is where an interesting growth in his game is apparent. He has the ability to take advantage of bigger defenders, not just through his speed, but through angles and body separation.
Although a quick crossover gets him this open look on the reverse, his ability to keep defenders on his hip as he rises up is something he wasn’t as comfortable with last year. An underrated element to some of the changes from last year to this year is headlined by his body language, since he’s playing at a completely different speed with a defined role.
– Tighter handles leads to more separation
When seeing Nunn’s confidence level rising in an empty corner in isolation, it just shows the type of rhythm he is in. The exact reasoning for this confidence rising has a lot to do with his improved attributes.
He is much more comfortable putting the ball on the floor since his handle seems a lot tighter. On this play, he keeps the dribble alive as he’s scanning toward the opposite side, before he realizes it’s time to just go. And when he’s moving left toward the baseline, you can almost guarantee he’s going to utilize the pull-back dribble into a jumper.
When talking about the lack of separation created between Miami’s guards, the evolving ball handle from Nunn can really change some things for him in the big picture.
– Reading each and every defender
As Nunn catches the ball on the wing with a short shot clock, his initial move is to read the first defender. Most player basically just flow into their comfort move, but not K-Nunn.
Seeing his defender running at him full speed, he flows into a slow pump-fake to truly sell it, and it eliminates him from the play. Now, it looks like he has his favorite mid-range jumper with nobody in sight, but he immediately reads the next defender.
Keldon Johnson is forced to split the difference between him and Jimmy Butler, and you can see there’s a slight hesitance from him to fully lock on Nunn. So, he rises up for a smooth finger roll at the rim, just further showcasing the most crucial attribute of all: reading a defense in fast motion.
– A mixture of the past three things discussed
After touching on his success against bigger defenders, an increased handle, and reading his defender, here’s one play that shows all three of those elements.
Jimmy Butler begins the possession in the high post, which is where he finds himself frequently lately, as Nunn circles around to find an opportunity with the Trevor Ariza off-ball screen. Now, as he receives the ball on the wing, he patiently reads the defender, gives a slight jab left knowing that he can take the bigger defender off the dribble, and uses his body to create separation for the open layup.
The reason this play is important to show is to prove the fact that these moments aren’t one time instances, and actually are things he’s incorporated into his game every night.
– Diversified scoring, drop coverage killer
Before last night’s game, I mentioned that it could set up for a big time Nunn performance due to the Spurs drop coverage that he always loves to exploit from the mid-range area.
Since last year, he’s always been a good mid-range scorer, but he’s actually controlled that area of the floor a lot more than usual. Instead of awaiting an open jumper to present itself, he searches for it and finds his favorite spots in any of Miami’s normal sets.
On this possession, he gets to his spot and rises up for the bank-shot, which just shows his soft touch and diversified scoring abilities as time goes by. And the most important thing to observe here is his eye level. An issue lats season was his hesitance in a pick and roll, not knowing whether to make the pass or take the shot. Now, he seems to know exactly what he’s going to do every possession.
– Some catch and shoot excellence
There’s nothing to over-analyze on this play specifically, but it’s important to note the big picture improvements with catch and shoot opportunities. He shot a little under 35% on catch and shoot threes last season, which has shot up close to 42% this season on the same amount of attempts.
But the numbers aren’t the only thing that has shown this, since the eye test has pointed toward the different ways he’s being utilized, even as a Duncan Robinson type off-ball runner at times, which is interesting to say the least. An unexpected story line this season is that he’s been their best three-point shooter among the other small guards, and frankly, he’s been the best player overall.
– The Goran Dragic-Kendrick Nunn minutes are……effective?
Something that has stood out to me lately has been the amount of minutes Goran Dragic and Nunn have played together, and better yet, how good that they’ve been. When I asked Erik Spoelstra about their minutes together lately, he said, “Until about two weeks ago, I started to notice more and more that combination was actually being pretty effective, so it’s something we’ll continue to explore.”
Now, it’s necessary to evaluate why it has been so effective all of a sudden, and the reason for that is no surprise, Kendrick Nunn. As mentioned previously, Nunn has been involved in a lot more off-ball sets due to his increased catch and shoot abilities, meaning Dragic can direct traffic, or even vice versa.
This play was an example, as Dragic turns the corner for a hard attack, then floats it over the top to Nunn on the wing for the three.
These not so minor improvements from Nunn should not be swept under the rug, since he’s basically been that one steady rock to give them offense on any given night, which is why we’re approaching him being a closer from here on out.