The last time we saw Kendrick Nunn in a meaningful, 30-plus minutes a night role for the Miami Heat, he was pouring in 47 points against Western Conference contenders Portland and Phoenix, while shooting 8 for 14 on threes, and dishing out six assists without a turnover.
That’s the Nunn the Heat hopes it gets for the foreseeable future, with Victor Oladipo out indefinitely with a right knee injury.
After that strong two-game stretch, Nunn was injured after 16 minutes of court time in Charlotte, missed the subsequent two games and has been a DNP-CD (did not play/ coach’s decision) in four games since, a fate atypical for a team’s fourth-leading scorer.
For Nunn, it has been something of a feast or famine role with the Heat; since Jan. 27, he has started 26 games, come off the bench in one, missed two with an injury and was a healthy scratch in seven others.
Last season, he started all 67 games in which he appeared during the regular season - finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Ja Morant - but was a healthy scratch in six playoff games and came off the bench in 15 others.
In an interview earlier this year, with CBS-4’s Jim Berry, he admitted that morphing from significant rotation piece to not playing at all has been “tough. You have doubts about yourself. Your mind just starts racing. You have so many thoughts on why you’re not playing.”
Oladipo, of course, has been to places that Nunn hasn’t: an All NBA defender, an All NBA third team player (in 2017-18) and a 20-point per game scorer (once).
Oladipo offers more volume scoring, rebounding and assists than Nunn using any statistical measure.
But in some ways, Nunn has been the more efficient player offensively this season.
Comparing how they stack up this season:
▪ Per 36 minutes, Nunn is averaging 17.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 turnovers and 1.3 steals.
Oladipo, per 36 minutes, is averaging 21.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.8 turnovers and 1.5 steals.
But the scoring difference is partly attributed to Oladipo taking a lot more shots (19.2 field goal attempts per 36 minutes), compared with 14.3 for Nunn.
▪ Nunn has been the more efficient shooter this season, shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 37.2 percent on three-pointers.
Oladipo is shooting 40.8 percent from the field and 32.6 percent on threes in his 33 games, including three with the Heat.
Nunn’ shooting percentage, if he had enough games to qualify, would be tied for 13th among qualifying NBA point guards and his three-point percentage would be 20th of 35.
Oladipo’s three-point percentage is tied for 49th among 53 shooting guards. His overall field goal percentage is tied for 25th of 28 qualifiers.
And Nunn has been more efficient than Oladipo in the turnover category.
▪ Oladipo is allowing the player he’s defending to shoot 44 percent; those players shoot 45.6 percent overall.
The player defended by Nunn is shooting 45.9 percent; those players shoot 45.3 percent overall.
So with restricted free agency now four months away, Nunn gets another chance to prove his value.
“He does keep himself ready,” Erik Spoelstra said. “He does have the mental toughness to be ready for the next opportunity.”
Gabe Vincent also could play more in Oladipo’s absence.
The Heat and Oladipo have declined to offer a specific diagnosis or timetable for Oladipo, whose return isn’t considered imminent. Spoelstra was scheduled to speak with reporters Saturday evening after the team’s scheduled practice in Oregon.
Oladipo did not accompany the team on the four-game road trip. Every other player accompanied the team, including KZ Okpala, who had missed the past eight games because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Nunn, who missed the start of Heat training camp at the Disney complex last summer because of a bout with COVID-19, announced on social media that he received his second Pfizer COVID vaccine shot on Friday.
THIS AND THAT
▪ This difficult road trip - beginning at 10 p.m. Sunday in Portland with stops in Phoenix, Denver and Minnesota - was supposed to be something of a measuring stick for this revamped roster. Instead, it will simply be a gauge of whether this team has improved with Trevor Ariza and Nemanja Bjelica essentially replacing Kelly Olynyk.
“We just got to win, try to get them all,” Jimmy Butler said. “It really shows who we are if we can get these games on the road. We’re capable of it. But we’re going to have to play damn near perfect basketball against these teams that we’re going up against. We’ve been up and down all year long. Hopefully we hit a stride where we’re playing the right way and we’re stringing together wins.”
The Heat (27-25 and sixth in the East entering Saturday) is 12-12 on the road this season but has won 8 of its last 10 away from home.
▪ The two wins against the Lakers this season marked only the fourth time in franchise history that Miami swept a season series against the defending NBA champions. It’s the first time Miami has done it since winning both games against the Dallas Mavericks in 2011-12.
Coincidentally, both of those season sweeps came against teams that had beaten the Heat in the NBA Finals.
▪ Since the trade deadline, Tyler Herro is averaging 17.6 points and shooting 44.5 percent on threes (22 for 49).... Bam Adebayo, 6-9, has joined the 6-9 LeBron James as the tallest players in franchise history to produce 900 assists; 15 Heat players overall have done that.
▪ Duncan Robinson is giving away free Hugo Boss suits on his Long Shot podcast. See the show’s Twitter feed, @TheLongShotPod, for more details. Robinson said those interested must explain why they want the suit.