The NBA Finals just got underway and the Miami Heat are already decimated by injuries. All-Star big man Bam Adebayo (shoulder) and floor general Goran Dragic (foot) weren’t able to finish Game 1 and are both doubtful for Game 2. Jimmy Butler, meanwhile, the team’s other All-Star, sprained his ankle, and while he’s on track to play, he might not be 100% moving forward.
It’s unfortunate, but no one’s going to feel sorry for them. They are in the championship – durability is part of the challenge, so it’s “next man up.” This is also a good chance to prove how deep the roster is.
One of the guys that are next in line is rookie Kendrick Nunn, who came out of nowhere in the regular season and immediately made a name for himself. He’s had an interesting up-and-down journey too.
Path before the NBA
Nunn hailed out of Chicago and attended Simeon High School, where he had a successful stint alongside another future NBA pro, Jabari Parker. The two are among the five players that had their jersey numbers retired by the school – former NBA MVP Derrick Rose is in that list.
Despite a strong senior year at Oakland University (25.9 PPG), Nunn went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft and could only find a spot in a G-League team: the Santa Cruz Warriors. He did fairly well (19.3 PPG in 49 games), but was eventually released in early 2019. He then landed with the Heat.
Though still looking like a journeyman rookie, Nunn picked up where he left off made a historic start. He scored 112 points in his first five games, the most by any undrafted rookie in NBA history. For a wider perspective, Michael Jordan and LeBron James had 116 and 102 points in their first five games, respectively, and that was them as heralded talents.
As the season rolled along, Nunn continued to gain rhythm and added more accolades to his name. He won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors three-straight times (October/November, December, and January), also the first undrafted rookie to do so.
Nunn his concluded his rookie campaign averaging 15.3 points, fourth behind Butler, Adebayo, and Dragic. In 67 regular season games, he scored 20 or more points 19 times and led the team in scoring in 14 games.
The inevitable rookie wall gets everyone – scrubs, role players, All-Stars, superstars, etc. – and Nunn got his during the bubble. He was late to the restart due to an injury and other personal matters, and that pushed him back in the depth chart. He unintentionally became part of the coaching staff’s rotation cut down for the playoffs.
Nunn sat out three seeding games and it carried on into the playoffs. He was not inserted in six postseason games (three each against the Pacers and Celtics) and prior to Game 1 of the finals, he has only averaged 3.2 points in 11.5 minutes per game in the playoffs.
Popping up in Game 1
Dragic’s unfortunate injury opened up minutes for Nunn, and though it was a one-sided affair, it may have allowed him to regain confidence. Nunn scored 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting in only 20 minutes of play. He is sure to take over the spot if needed, and he’ll have an excellent chance to show out again, especially since the Lakers have had a problem containing scoring guards all season long.