Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every weekday, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Kendrick Nunn.
It has been 11 months since Kendrick Nunn was diagnosed with a bone bruise injury and until today, there is still uncertainty about his return.
Nunn, who the Lakers signed with most of their taxpayer midlevel exception last summer, was severely missed last season as he spent all 82 games on the bench wearing street clothes. The 27-year-old went from being a promising role player to the receiving end of jokes, particularly for Lakers fans (me included), who were frustrated due to his absence. And for as much as I want to talk about how Nunn can help the Lakers this season, the biggest question for him heading into this year is whether he will be in uniform.
Because as of writing, there haven’t been many signs of optimism for Nunn’s return except for the fact that Darvin Ham stated last week that he looked great in individual workouts. There hasn’t been clarity about whether he’s participated in 5-on-5 workouts or if he’ll be ready to go by training camp, so Nunn’s status this season is still very much up in the air.
Lake Show I promise I want to be out there helping my team. Stay patient with me. This process has been just as frustrating for me. I’ll return as soon as I’m healthy! It’ll be worth the wait— Kendrick Nunn (@nunnbetter_) January 21, 2022
I hear the noise. Just keep that same energy— Kendrick Nunn (@nunnbetter_) July 17, 2022
But if we would like to take Nunn’s sacred word, he said in July that he feels 100% and is back to playing at a high level. If the former Miami Heat guard has indeed recovered from what seems to be the worst bone bruise in NBA history, then that’s a significant advantage for the Lakers this season. Nunn’s skillset fits perfectly alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook and is what this current Lakers roster desperately needs.
What is his best-case scenario?
The best-case scenario for Nunn this season is if he shows up on the court and looks 100% healthy (low expectations, I know). Given how serious his injury was last year, it’s fair to question whether Nunn will be in top form or not.
Aside from his status, Nunn has the potential to be the best role player on this current roster. According to bball-index.com, the guard’s top talents are finishing at the rim (where he ranks A+), perimeter shooting (A+), floaters and midrange pull-ups (A-) and playmaking (B+). He’s an energetic three-level scorer who provides instant offense, off-ball movement, 3-point shooting, and some creation chops. As we’ve learned from last season’s mistakes, Nunn’s skillset is exactly what James and Westbrook must be surrounded by to maximize their own playmaking abilities.
Putting last season aside, Nunn’s first and second years in the league with the Miami Heat were very productive. In his rookie year (when he finished top three in Rookie of the Year votes) he started 67 games and averaged 15.3 points, 3.3 assists, and 2.7 rebounds while shooting 43.9% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. He was an integral role player under Erik Spoelstra and if he repeats his success in Los Angeles, there’s a good chance that his comeback turns out to be the Lakers’ biggest addition this summer.
What is his worst-case outcome?
The worst-case outcome for Nunn is if he remains sidelined with the same injury next season. If Nunn doesn’t show up on the court, then he’ll be considered one of the worst signings in franchise history. He’ll be a waste of a total of about $10 million of cap space (over two seasons) and will probably have a horrible reputation amongst the Lakers fanbase.
However, if Nunn does indeed suit up this season, another unfortunate outcome is if he doesn’t get back to 100% or meet the expectations set for him. As the best career 3-point shooter in this current Lakers team, Nunn is an automatic lock for a rotation spot (quite possibly even for a starting role) but if his shooting doesn’t live up to the hype and his defense doesn’t hold up, he’ll likely be benched — which is also unfortunate for him because he’s playing for a contract next season.
Another unfavorable outcome for Nunn is if his flawed defense outweighs his offense, which could be a scenario in the playoffs when coaches tend to trust defensive-minded guards more. Two seasons ago, the combo guard had the worst defensive RAPTOR (-1.3) among Heat players who logged at least 1,000 minutes; the team was 2.9 points per 100 possessions worse on defense when he was on the floor. If Nunn’s defense doesn’t improve, there’s a potential scenario where Austin Reaves, Patrick Beverley, or Lonnie Walker IV take his minutes.
What is his most likely role?
The most likely role for Nunn is to provide offensive versatility and spacing to the team. His offensive bag is unique because he does more than just catch and shoot. According to Synergy, the 6’2 guard’s most common play type two seasons ago was pick-and-roll, and he ranked 88th percentile in efficiency. He’ll likely be tasked to run pick-and-rolls with the Lakers bigs and wings as well as station on the perimeter under Ham’s 4-out, 1-in offense.
Speaking of the 3-point line, Nunn converted 42.1% of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts and 44.2% of his wide-open ones two seasons ago, so he’s one guy opposing defense cannot dare to leave wide open. According to Cleaning the Glass, Nunn’s 3-point percentage ranked in the 65th percentile among guards while his mid-range jumper ranked 67th. He currently has bragging rights as the Lakers’ best perimeter shooter and it won’t be a shocker if he’s part of the starting lineup on opening night.
Aside from his prolific shooting, Nunn will be depended on to get out in transition and create his own shot in the perimeter and midrange. He also has the speed and ability to get to the rim in the half court, where he converted 69% of his attempts and ranked 89th percentile amongst combo guards two seasons ago.
In retrospect, the idea of Kendrick Nunn in this Lakers roster is certainly promising, but all of this remains moot until he’s 100% ready to go.