Although Kendrick Nunn’s journey to the NBA hasn’t been easy, he’s always had one person in his life to push him to greater heights.
His father, Melvin, who played professionally overseas in New Zealand, was Kendrick’s first coach. And while a lot of time has passed since then, Melvin is just as impactful now as he was all those years ago.
“[My dad has] been the hero in my life, a role model as well,” Nunn said. “He’s been there every step of the way for me, and he still is.”
Those steps began on the south side of Chicago, where Nunn was molded into the person and player he is today.
“Just growing up on the south side of Chicago, playing outside the park every day, back yard every day, even going to school at Simeon, it was tough,” Nunn said. “You know, you learn things and you just build that [toughness]…it’s just something you have to be in Chicago to experience.”
While at Simeon, Nunn continued the program’s rich basketball tradition and won four state titles alongside Jabari Parker. The duo still keeps in contact to this day, as Nunn and Parker speak weekly and hang out whenever they’re in the same town.
Once the two went their separate ways after high school, Nunn made his way to the University of Illinois before transferring to Oakland University in Michigan, where he won the 2017-18 Horizon Player of the Year Award and led the NCAA with 11 30-point games during his senior season. Despite that success, however, the dynamic guard went undrafted and played for the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G-League prior to signing with the HEAT on April 10.
In Summer League play this past July, Nunn averaged a team-high 22.0 points, a team-high 5.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals on a 62.4 true shooting percentage and a 25.9 usage rate in six games across Sacramento and Las Vegas. For his role in Vegas, specifically, he was named to the All-MGM Resorts NBA Summer League First Team.
“That was my second Summer League, so I was pretty familiar with how it would go,” Nunn said. “The advantage I had was working out with the HEAT all summer up until Summer League, so that helped a lot.”
What also helped was his improved playmaking ability.
Nunn has always been able to put the ball in the basket, but his commitment to becoming a better facilitator and more of a combo guard really showed during the summer gauntlet. In particular, Nunn worked with close friend and former Detroit Piston point guard Will Bynum back in Chicago.
“He’s like a big brother to me,” Nunn explained. “He’s been giving me tips and just little things to work on.”
So, what exactly did he work on to become a better playmaker?
“Just seeing the floor better, knowing when to get guys shots, things like that. It’s not hard for me because, as a wing, I know where I want the ball and stuff like that,” Nunn said. “So, it’s kind of an easy translation to be a point guard. I know when the guys want it and how they want it and stuff like that, so it’s an easy transition for me.”
Sioux Falls Skyforce Head Coach, Eric Glass, who saw that transition up close and personal throughout Summer League, discussed Nunn’s ability to play both guard spots back in July.
“I think especially the way the NBA is going now, if you’re skilled, you can find time on the court,” Glass said. “So, he can play one or two, and he’s good enough defensively. He can guard either spot. He can score, he can pass, so he’ll be fine.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Erik Spoelstra took it a bit further on Media Day and really lauded K9’s work ethic. Of course, Nunn being from Chicago certainly helps matters.
“There’s a long lineage of non-drafted Miami HEAT players that have come through our player development program, and he is the next notable one,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a talent, and he has a great work ethic. There’s not many Chicago players, for whatever reason, that have come through here that I didn’t like…a lot of them are some of my favorites…I just like these Chicago kids…he’s not stunned by the expectations or the lights of this organization.”
While we’ve yet to see how Nunn fits with this group in particular, he certainly has the tools and mental makeup to thrive with the HEAT. Whether that means he’ll make his NBA debut sooner rather than later remains to be seen, but he’s ready for that moment, whenever that may be.
“Everything that I’ve been through, I’ve pretty much envisioned it,” he said. “I think that helps when you envision something and you bring it to life.”