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Lakers officially sign Kendrick Nunn, who can be their X-Factor

Going into his third season in the NBA, Kendrick Nunn has the opportunity to make a meaningful leap and raise the veteran-heavy Lakers’ ceiling.

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Graphic via Zain Fahimullah / Silver Screen and Roll

It’s official: Kendrick Nunn has signed his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, and while the team didn’t disclose the details of his contract, it was previously reported that he signed a two-year, $10 million contract that includes a player option in the second year. Not only is that significantly less than anyone expected him to sign for, but it’s notably less than he was offered by other teams, according to multiple reports.

The team announced that the deal was done on Friday:

From a pure value standpoint, Nunn’s a home-run signing. However, in order for Nunn to be truly valuable for the Lakers, he’ll have to make a leap in what will be his third NBA season.

Nunn, 26, went undrafted in 2018 in large part because he was dismissed by the University of Illinois in 2016 for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge that stemmed from a domestic-violence arrest. Both counts of domestic battery were dropped as part of a plea deal.

Nunn didn’t make his NBA debut until 2019, but he managed to make up for the time he cost himself with a breakout rookie season. In 67 games for the Miami Heat, all of which were starts, Nunn averaged 15.3 points, 3.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.9% from the field and 35% from behind the arc.

Initially, Nunn’s insertion into the starting lineup for the Heat was a product of the number of injuries the team had to start to the 2019-20 campaign, but his first few games were convincing enough for him to remain a starter. Through his first give games with the Heat, Nunn averaged 22.4 points, 2.6 assists. 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 51.8% from the field and a blistering 48.4% from deep.

Unfortunately for Nunn, the end of his rookie campaign wasn’t as inspiring as the start of it.

2020 NBA Finals - Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In June of 2020, when the NBA was on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Nunn tested positive for COVID-19. Nunn was cleared to join the Heat in Orlando, but he left early into the restart due to personal reasons not related to COVID-19.

When Nunn returned, he was healthy, but he was rusty, which resulted in him getting three consecutive DNP-CDs to start the postseason. He also got three consecutive DNP-CDs in the Heat’s series against the Boston Celtics.

Nunn looked more like himself in the Finals against the Lakers — particularly in Game 1, where he scored 18 points on 8-11 shooting from the field — but his shot still wasn’t where it needed to be, and outside of scoring, he didn’t do much else.

The issue with Nunn’s impact outside of scoring, or lack thereof, persisted to start the 2020-21 season, to the point where he lost his spot in the starting lineup and, briefly, in the rotation. Those struggles may have been a blessing in disguise for Nunn, though, because as the season progressed, he looked like a more complete player, and by the end of season, there was an argument to be made that he was the Heat’s best guard.

Additionally, his scoring efficiency improved across the board. Most notably, he made 42.1% of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, and 44.2% of his wide-open 3-point attempts. It’s no wonder the Lakers had interest in him.

But the Lakers are probably hoping Nunn’s development continues to trend upward in Los Angeles, because there are few areas of his game that still leave a lot to be desired, like his passing and defending.

Milwaukee Bucks v Miami Heat - Game Four Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Although Nunn was certainly a more willing defender last season, his metrics were actually worse. Among players that logged at least 1,000 minutes for the Heat last season, Nunn had the lowest defensive RAPTOR on the team at -1.3. The Heat were also 2.9 points worse on defense per 100 possessions when Nunn was on the floor last season.

If Nunn doesn’t look better on defense under Frank Vogel, he’ll still be passable, but it will be a stark difference from what Alex Caruso provided. Time will tell if that matters.

In terms of playmaking, Nunn has shown that he’s a capable passer out of the pick-and-roll, but he’s not always looking to make the pass, nor does he always see it when he’s not setting the play up himself. That won’t be a huge detriment to the Lakers if he’s going to be the secondary playmaker in lineups with LeBron James and/or Russell Westbrook, but if he’s ever the primary ball-handler without those two on the floor, it has the potential to be a problem.

Overall, though, the Lakers’ interest in Nunn makes sense: He brings a level of shot-making that they haven’t had at the backup point guard position since Jordan Clarkson left, and he’s one of the younger players on the team. There were safer options, but Nunn has the potential to be huge for the Lakers off of the bench this season as part of their offensive overhaul.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.

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