Kendrick Nunn staying ready has paid off for Heat

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Khobi Price, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read
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At first for Kendrick Nunn, it was about staying ready for when his number was called.

But recently, it’s been about building off of — and even improving on — his rookie season from last year before his production and minutes tailed off during the Miami Heat’s run to the NBA Finals.

Thanks to his strong play as of late, which included a 27-point, five-rebound performance in the Heat’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night, Nunn’s production this season mirrors what he did during the 2019-20 season when he finished as the Rookie of the Year runner-up.

He’s averaged 14.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and over a steal in the 22 games (29 minutes per) he’s played this season compared to the 15.3 points, 3.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds he averaged last year through his 67 regular-season appearances (29.3 minutes per game).

Nunn’s been particularly effective in February in lieu of the injury absences of Avery Bradley and Goran Dragic that forced both of them to not join the Heat (13-17) for their seven-game road trip that ends with a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder (11-18) on Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

He’s averaged 17.7 points on 51.3 percent shooting from the field and 44.6 percent shooting on 3-pointers (7.2 attempts per game) in the nine games he’s played this month, with the Heat going 6-3 during that stretch.

“I’m just in rhythm,” Nunn said of his shooting from beyond the arc, with the sophomore guard going 5 of 6 on 3-pointers during the Heat’s win over the Lakers in a rematch from last year’s NBA Finals. “I’m just in the flow of the game. Just being in the right position at the right time and just being hard to guard.”

Nunn is averaging 33.8 minutes in February — which so far is slightly eclipsing his minutes average career-high for a month (December 2019 at 32.3 minutes in 15 games).

His re-inclusion in the starting lineup — a role he had in every game he played last regular season — has brought the best out of him.

He’s averaged 16.1 points, three rebounds and 1.4 steals on 47.7 percent shooting and 42.3 shooting on 3-pointers in 10 starts (34.4 minutes average) this season compared to averages of 12.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals on 49.2 percent shooting and 32.7 shooting on 3-pointers in the 12 games (24.5 minutes per) he’s played coming off the bench.

“He’s developing some chemistry and confidence with that group,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Nunn, who’s started in the Heat’s past eight games.

Nunn’s been more efficient as a cutter, finisher around the rim and spot-up shooter during his second season in the league compared to his first while maintaining similar efficiency in other areas, which has helped him see an overall boost in scoring efficiency.

“Just burning calories,” said Nunn, who’s shooting higher percentages on 2-pointers (50.5 last season to 58 percent this season) and 3-pointers (35 to 38.2 percent) than he did last year. “Constantly moving. Make a cut and cut back out to get to the 3, quickly.

“If you stand still and do things in slow motion, that’s pretty easy to guard.”

And to see him take the steps he has, even after a slow start to the season when his playing time wasn’t as consistent, hasn’t come as a surprise to any of his teammates.

“We know what he’s capable of, especially on the offensive end,” Jimmy Butler said of Nunn. “He’s been playing great defense too. He’s always ready and I give him props for that.”