In his second NBA season, Arizona product Zeke Nnaji continued to show promise as a sharpshooting power forward for the Denver Nuggets. However, he also missed significant time with a lingering knee injury in the latter half of the year.
The former 22nd overall pick in the NBA Draft has -- in small doses -- proven himself to be worthy of where he was selected. For his career, he's shooting above 50% from the field and above 40% from three, which is by itself a hugely valuable skill in today's NBA.
In 2021-22, Nnaji took steps forward across the board, becoming an even more efficient shooter and scorer while continuing to develop on the defensive end. Had it not been for his injury, there's no telling how big of a role he could have played by the time the postseason came around.
Now, he'll have the summer to double down on his improvements from this season. Hopefully, he can return stronger, and be ready to step into a larger role for the Nuggets.
Nnaji's Season Timeline
With the Nuggets having solid wing depth to begin the 2021-22 campaign, Nnaji was expected to spend another season learning behind Michael Porter Jr., PJ Dozier, and Aaron Gordon. But injuries to the former two thrust Nnaji into an unexpected role.
Nnaji played in just five of the team's first 17 games, scoring 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting in one of those five outings. But when Dozier went down in late November, Nnaji quickly became an every day player.
Over the next 16 games, Nnaji would play in all but one, averaging 16.5 minutes a night during that time. This stretch saw him play his best game of the season, when he dropped 21 points and eight rebounds 7-for-13 from the field in a 14-point win over the New York Knicks.
After missing three games at the beginning of January, Nnaji came back a full-fledged rotation player. He played each of the Nuggets' next 19 games, even making his lone start of the season. He played 18.6 minutes per contest, shooting an insane 62.8% from the field and 52.9% from three. He reached double-figure scoring in five of these games.
Nnaji suffered a knee injury -- luckily not season-ending -- against the Boston Celtics just before the All-Star Break. And while he was fortunate to not need knee surgery, bilateral knee soreness limited him to just two appearances the rest of the regular season.
By the time he returned, he was unable to find a rhythm in time to earn himself a spot in the playoff rotation, meaning it would be a frustrating end to a hugely positive season for Nnaji.
Facts and Figures
Nnaji finished the 2021-22 season with 41 games played -- one start -- on 17.0 minutes per night, signaling a 7.5-minute increase from his rookie year.
In that time, he averages 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game on shooting splits of 51.6% from the field, 46.3% from three, and 63.1% from the free throw line. Outside of free throw percentage, Nnaji improved in every major statistical category from 2020-21.
Among players with at least 20 games played, Nnaji had the team's highest three-point percentage and fourth-highest field goal percentage. Nnaji was second only to Nikola Jokić in win shares per 48 minutes.