When the Lakers signed Kendrick Nunn this offseason, it was fair to question if the former Miami Heat guard could replicate the defensive void that Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope left. And while the answer to whether or not Nunn can do that is probably “no,” that doesn’t mean the 26-year-old can’t lift the ceiling of this current Lakers roster with what he brings to the table.
Nunn is a dynamic offensive guard, who was often the second best offensive player when he was on the floor in Miami. In the 47 games he started for the Heat, the high-level scorer averaged 14.6 points, 2.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game while shooting 48.5% from the field and 38% from the 3-point line.
Besides his ability to score efficiently, Nunn also will boost the Lakers’ transition game, which will surely put a smile on Frank Vogel’s face. He’s a left handed finisher who converts 75% of his shots when he goes to the rim — and what’s even better is that he frequently does this in multiple creative ways (english roll, up and under, finger roll, etc).
Another upside to adding Nunn is that he won’t be out of place in Vogel’s offensive sets, thanks to his experience with the Heat. Vogel can put him in double-wide pin-down actions, second-side roll actions, pick and roll plays and horn sets when the team needs a bucket. And given that Rob Pelinka was after more shooters and offense this season, suffice to say that Nunn was a huge signing, especially for $10.25 million over two years
“I’m a point guard, combo guard, whatever you want to call it in today’s game,” Nunn said, when asked about how he views himself with this current roster at his introductory press conference. “This game is (mostly) positionless.”
To that point, Nunn is also well equipped to play off the ball, which potentially is a huge asset alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. Nunn converted 42.1% of his catch-and-shoots 3-point attempts and 44.2% on wide-open 3-point attempts. Imagine having to guard three all-stars while keeping in mind that Nunn and another scorer could be lurking off the ball in lineups like the one below? Good luck.
But for as impressive as Nunn is on offense, his defense remains his biggest question mark. Our own Christian Rivas pointed out that Nunn had the lowest defensive RAPTOR on last season’s Heat team, at least among players who logged 1,000 minutes. When Nunn was on the floor, the Heat were 2.9 points worse per 100 possessions.
Still, Nunn thinks he can benefit the Lakers more than his numbers might suggest on that end of the floor.
“I just bring my strength to the game, whether at the 1 or the 2, on or off the ball. Playing both sides of the floor and bringing my strengths which are playmaking, getting my teammates involved and getting after it defensively.”
And despite his limitations, Nunn can still contribute on that side of the ball with his speed and ability to chase closeouts, as well as while guarding pick and rolls. He will lose some physical battles or even struggle when the Lakers decide to switch on defense, but if Nunn can pick up Vogel’s defensive playbook quickly and hang on that end with his effort (making the right reads and rotations), IQ and commitment, then Vogel will find minutes for him in the team’s crowded backcourt.
I love this defensive possession from Nunn.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 13, 2021
On-ball against an elite scoring wing he mirrors footwork, isn't pushed around, and forces a pass out without a foul.
On the next drive he then rotates to sink and get into the legs of Thompson when Dedmon traps the box.
Textbook D. pic.twitter.com/JDN4ZIFF3G
The good news is that the Chicago native also seems to be motivated to show what he can bring on defense this season.
“I’m real tenacious on the defensive end. I take pride in playing defense, so that’s something I pride myself on and do very well,” Nunn said.
Moreover, Nunn’s former Heat teammate, current Lakers teammate and one-time champion Trevor Ariza also described Nunn as the Lakers’ “Silent Assassin.” We don’t know what Trevor’s reasoning for that is, but if it means someone who can go unnoticed but still find a way to be deadly on the floor, then that’s certainly what Nunn can embody for this veteran squad.
“He said it perfectly: The Silent Assassin. A lot of people sleep on me, but I get it done,” Nunn said in his introductory interview with Spectrum SportsNet. “I’m just coming in and looking to contribute as much as I can, bring my strengths to the game and go out there and win.”
It’s hard to imagine how opponents can stop the Lakers if Nunn has a career year with the purple and gold, hence why he’s their x-factor. If he can play just enough defense (by Vogel’s standards) while still keeping up the dynamic scoring that he is best known for, then he’ll live up to Ariza’s nickname while significantly helping the Lakers try to bring home their 18th championship trophy.