A Former Rookie of the Year Finalist Could Be an Underrated Weapon for the Los Angeles Lakers

Just under one year after the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA championship, they entered training camp with a vastly different roster. Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and DeAndre Jordan are just a few of the new faces joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Purple and Gold. In addition, role players like Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore, and Trevor Ariza will earn minutes and fight for a spot in the starting lineup.

Kendrick Nunn is one of 11 new players on the Lakers’ active roster. The Chicago native was the only free agent LA signed to a multi-year deal, making him the fifth-highest paid player on the roster. But Nunn is the type of overlooked player who could make a championship-caliber Lakers squad even better.

Kendrick Nunn had an up-and-down tenure with the Miami Heat

Nunn’s rookie season could not have been scripted any better. The talented guard began his NBA career with 24 points against the Memphis Grizzlies. Nunn wound up scoring 112 points in his first five games, a league record among undrafted players. By his 31st game, he became the fastest player in Miami Heat history to record 500 career points. By the end of the regular season, Nunn averaged 15.3 points in just over 29 minutes, making the All-Rookie First Team and finishing as a finalist for the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.

When the Heat resumed play in the Disney bubble, things changed for Nunn. The former Oakland University standout started all 67 regular-season games, but suddenly was on the bench for the playoffs. More bizarrely, he was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers and the last three games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. Nunn was limited on the court as well, earning more than 16 minutes of playing time once through Miami’s first three rounds.

Last season, Nunn was back in a more prominent role. The former rookie sensation started 44 out of his 56 games, averaging 14.6 points in 29.5 minutes. His field-goal and three-point percentages also saw drastic increases by 3.6 and 3.1 percent, respectively. But once again, Nunn’s playoffs minutes were sporadic as the Heat were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks. On August 3, Miami withdrew a $4.74 million qualifying offer, making Nunn an unrestricted free agent.

Nunn has impressed LeBron James and others at Los Angeles Lakers camp

Three days after the Heat parted ways with Nunn, the 26-year-old signed a two-year, $10.25 million deal with the Lakers. He joined a roster with two starting spots open and an opportunity to claim one of them. So far, the high-scoring guard has made a good impression on his new team, particularly with the King.

“They’ve picked up some things,” James said to The Athletic regarding LA’s most impressive new faces. “Obviously [Rajon] Rondo and Dwight [Howard] kind of, they already know our system so that goes without saying. But I think Baze [Kent Bazemore], K-Nunn, and DJ [DeAndre Jordan] have been playing really good ball for us.”

Reports also suggested head coach Frank Vogel tinkering with possible starting lineups involving Nunn. In one instance, the former G-Leaguer would join Jordan as the two starters alongside James, Davis, and Westbrook. But even if Nunn doesn’t start on a deep Lakers team, you can expect to see him get plenty of action at both guard spots throughout the season.

A more consistent Kendrick Nunn would mean big things for the Los Angeles Lakers

Nunn has proven he can score in the NBA. He has dropped 30 or more points four times, while being an above average playmaker and ball-handler. But if there’s a reason the 26-year-old is on his second NBA team already, it’s consistency.

Take the NBA Finals, for example. In six games, Nunn recorded the following field-goal percentages: 72.7, 42.9, 66.7, 18.2, 54.5, and 37.5. While he showed he can recover from a bad game, he couldn’t string together two efficient games in a row. Nunn did better on a game-to-game basis last season, but would often go through stretches where he’s either a 60% shooter or a 20% shooter.

If Nunn can be a solid, steady presence in LA’s rotation, he will be trusted in big-time situations with big-name players, rather than languishing on the bench like he did at times in Miami. Best of all, the third-year guard is excited about being a Laker and willing to improve whatever he can.

“Just that chance to go out there and win a ring,” Nunn said after signing with LA. “A good chance, a great chance to win a ring. I wanted to be in that position again and also just to help my teammates and learn from them. I look at the roster around and I’m one of the younger guys, so I’m going to be a sponge to a lot of these guys in the locker room and just continue to grow and develop my game as well.”

The basketball world may be sleeping on Nunn, but now he has a great chance to make some noise.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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