The NBA season isn’t over yet, though it appears to be trending that way. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume the plug has been pulled. We have a large enough sample to evaluate what went down, and what we should expect moving forward. For the next [insert time frame here], I’ll be reviewing every relevant player on the Heat.
We kicked things off with Goran Dragic, a wily veteran with a couple of new tricks. Next up is Kendrick Nunn, the where-did-he-come-from rookie that made an immediate impact in Miami’s guard rotation.
Relevant stats: 15.6 points, 51.2 percent from two, 36.2 percent from three (5.8 attempts), 83.7 percent from the line (1.5 attempts), 3.4 assists
Three-level shot creators are the most valuable player archetype out there. The reasoning is simple: those type of players are pretty much scheme-proof. In a league that primarily employs “drop” coverage in pick-and-rolls, being able to attack gaps with reliable pull-up shots can break a defense.
It forces defenses to defend higher, which increases the amount of space that can be created with drives. Productive drives lead to high percentage shots at the rim, or force rotations that generate catch-and-shoot opportunities from the perimeter. A guy that can effectively score from anywhere can open up the floor for everyone.
If Kendrick Nunn showed nothing else, he proved he has those kind of scoring chops.
Nunn generated 0.956 points per pick-and-roll possession as a scorer, via Synergy. That put him in range with James Harden (0.967) and Kawhi Leonard (0.968), and slightly ahead of Paul George (0.952), Donovan Mitchell (0.944), and CJ McCollum (0.937).
Nunn’s value starts with his pull-up jumper. He generated nearly 1.1 points per possession on off-the-dribble shots, placing him in the 85th percentile via Syngery. Nunn was able to get to it on a whim, thanks to superb footwork and a keen understanding of deceleration. What he lacks in top-end burst, he makes up for it in craft.
The threat of his pull-up puts more strain on perimeter defenders to fight over screens. If they fail to stay attached, he can kill them with triples or middies. If the big creeps up, Nunn has the touch necessary to finish with floaters (52nd percentile) or contested looks at the rim (63.2 percent inside of three feet).
In short, there isn’t a method of scoring that Nunn can’t pull out of his bag.
Nunn can get his. What’s lacking, at least in comparison to his scoring chops, is the ability to read the floor for others. Not only is he wired to score, he relies on his pull-up to open up the rest of his game. Those are already tougher shots on balance. There were a handful of possessions per game where Nunn would settle for an early (read: bad) shot when there was a passing window available, or enough time on the clock to hunt for a better shot.
To his credit, Nunn did get better at finding teams when creases opened. Timing was still a bit of an issues — his passes went from late or missed, to a tad early. That still represents progress, and something for him to build off of next season.
Relevant stats: 0.8 steals, 1.4 steal rate, one charge drawn
“Opportunistic” is probably the best way to describe Nunn on defense.
When defending on-ball, Nunn tries to “jump” the screen. If he feels a screen coming, he attempts to jump into the ball-handler’s body to stay attached on the drive. When done correctly, like it was during the first month of the season, Nunn proved he could be an irritant at the point of attack.
The same principles apply on his off-ball reps. Outside of Jimmy Butler, Nunn is the Heat’s most aggressive digger. A large portion of his steals came via swipes on middle drives or post-ups.
There is, however, a thin line between opportunistic and undisciplined. If the 0.8 steals per game is any indication, he falls on the wrong side of that line too often. Much like the offensive end, Nunn’s lack of top-end burst limits his effectiveness.
Because he can’t fly around (nor does he have the length) like, say, Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle, positioning matters more for Nunn. An aggressive dig into the post has to result in chaos, because he doesn’t have the speed or length to make shooters uncomfortable if the ball is kicked back out.
Those issues are even more pronounced when he defends on-ball. He jumps so many screens because he does a not-great job of fighting over them and staying connected to drivers.
Synergy’s defensive logging isn’t great, but it mostly matches the eye test here. Nunn ranks in the 39th percentile when defending dribble handoffs (0.98 points per possession), 37th percentile when defending pick-and-rolls (0.921 PPP), 29th percentile when defending off-screen actions (1.087 PPP), and the 20th percentile when defending spot-ups (1.138 PPP).
While Goran Dragic is likely Miami’s worst perimeter defender, Nunn isn’t too far off. Considering the gap in age and athleticism, that’s quite the indictment against Nunn. It’s why point-of-attack defense was such a question mark heading into the postseason — and a big reason why the Justise Winslow trade was such a gamble.
Nunn’s positives outweigh his negatives. Legitimate three-level scorers don’t grow on trees, and the Heat found one — using “found” loosely here — for basically the vet’s minimum. Nunn is older than your average rookie, which contributes to his relatively high floor. He’s also in a great situation; decision-making isn’t as big of a deal when he’s playing off of Butler and Bam Adebayo.
With that said, the defensive questions are real. Screen avoidance and risk management should improve with more experience, but there’s only so much he can do physically.
[Insert “I am not the “sources” guy in the network” disclaimer here]
I would imagine those questions contribute to Nunn being on the wrong side of the “untouchable” line among Miami’s young guys. Adebayo isn’t going anywhere. Tyler Herro isn’t going anywhere. Duncan Robinson, arguably the most important offensive weapon the world doesn’t really know about, isn’t going anywhere. Nunn would probably be in OKC right now if the Heat could’ve agreed to a contract extension with Danilo Gallinari.
If they were willing to part with Nunn for, essentially, a veteran on a 1+1 deal, it’s hard to argue that his status is completely safe. However, it does speak to Nunn’s value that he could net a guy like Gallinari despite being a virtual unknown a few months ago.