The Miami Heat kind of owe Kendrick Nunn an honorary boat slip in Key Biscayne. The way the team has shuffled him in and out of the starting five due to injuries, plus all those trade rumors involving the Rookie of the Year runner-up.
Nunn has been their utility knife and a very good one. He’s averaged 14.0 points, 2.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds in 29.0 minutes per game this season while shooting a career-best 38.3% from deep. That didn’t stop Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report from putting Nunn on his list of the “Weakest Link in Every Projected NBA Playoff Team’s Starting 5.” He cited Nunn’s poor “on-off differential” as a concern and called out his lack of playoff experience.
Kendrick Nunn, 25, has been the most used starter at the point this season, though, so he’s getting the weak-link treatment over Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, Trevor Ariza and Bam Adebayo.
The Heat’s defensive rating dips by an even larger number this year than last with Nunn on the floor. With Dragic looking unlikely to repeat last year’s surprising postseason revival, and Herro’s defense representing an even bigger concern, it will be hard to pick favorable matchups for the young guard. Considering the Heat barely used Nunn (who tested positive for COVID-19 last July) at all in the 2020 playoffs, we should add inexperience to the collection of concerns.
— NBA (@NBA) April 24, 2021
Nunn probably doesn’t care about the criticism, though. He’s as confident as they come and even went on record earlier this year saying he plans to end up in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s an All-Star player that should have won Rookie of the Year in 2020, according to Nunn.
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Most Competitive Character on Court
Nunn’s contributions to a roller-coaster year in Miami haven’t gone unnoticed. The 25-year-old has made 35 starts, never complaining once about moving back to the bench when Goran Dragic got healthy.
“It just shows you his competitive character, not everybody can do that,” Spoelstra said of Nunn earlier this month. “Look, this league isn’t easy, and sometimes you’re put in situations where you just have to show some resilience, or you go the other way. And Kendrick is a tough kid, tough-minded, and he really wants to be there for his team so he’s handled it the right way, really put in a lot of time behind the scenes, and then when he was given this opportunity again he was ready for it.”
Kendrick Nunn dropped a season-high 30 PTS to go with 8 AST & 7 REB against the Rockets 😤 pic.twitter.com/dMkJskjRij
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 20, 2021
Nunn ranks fifth on the Heat in minutes per game (29.0), fourth in points (14.0), plus he’s second in three-point shooting (38.3%, behind Duncan Robinson) among qualified shooters. Impressive.
Heat Playoff Rotation Coming Into Focus
The Heat’s playoff rotation appears to be coming into focus with 11 games left on the schedule. Trevor Ariza has instantly become a reliable front court mate for Jimmy Butler, specifically on the defensive end. He’s been seeing starter’s minutes and should continue to do so in the postseason.
Meanwhile, head coach Erik Spoelstra appears settled on the following group to carry the load: Butler, Ariza, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson — the fifth spot will come down to whether Goran Dragic or Victor Oladipo are healthy. If not, Nunn should continue his draw the start at point guard.
Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote the following when analyzing the playoff rotation:
But if Oladipo is a no-go or a slow-go, there also could be something to be said for starting Nunn and then coming off the bench with Dragic and Herro in tandem, with the two having worked well together, an alignment that eases playmaking responsibilities for Herro.
Factor in Andre Iguodala, 37, who also was impressive in playing the back-to-back set against the Nets and Rockets, and the Heat would appear to be set with a playoff eight deep of Butler, Adebayo, Robinson, Ariza, Dragic, Iguodala, Herro and Dedmon. From there, Oladipo would take it to nine, with Nunn available as the stand in should Oladipo come up lame or Herro continue to struggle.
Then again, it might not be that simple for a Pat Riley-driven franchise, considering the Heat president’s playoff-rotation maxim of, “You play seven, you use six and you trust five.”
ASK IRA: Will it come down to Victor Oladipo needing to beat out Kendrick Nunn for Heat minutes? https://t.co/PkSIDOrTdi
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) April 25, 2021
Dedmon could be the wild card as the veteran big man wows in limited minutes. He could be the key to the whole puzzle while playing himself into a contract extension in 2022.