Kendrick Nunn has been a vital piece for the Miami Heat ever since Victor Oladipo went to the locker room with a knee injury in their win against the Los Angeles Lakers three weeks ago. Since then, Nunn has scored 10-plus points in seven of the last 10 games.
Before the Oladipo injury, Nunn was limited to either a starting or bust role. Six games of Nunn out and Oladipo in the lineup came with good results as Miami went 5-1 during that stretch. But an injury that has knocked out the Heat’s new shiny toy in Oladipo has put a damper on those efforts.
Miami has gone 6-5 over the last 11 games, while Nunn missed one of those games with an injury. Any possibility of another run at the NBA Finals certainly revolves around whether Oladipo returns at an efficient level. However, what will happen with Kendrick Nunn’s role if this does happen?
Would Miami consider leaving Kendrick Nunn in the starting lineup?
This could be a surprise to many, but Kendrick Nunn remaining in the starting lineup while Victor Oladipo comes back as a super sixth-man is certainly within the realm of possibility. Many factors play into this decision, which plays into Miami’s favor.
Nunn has played in a total of 48 games in 2021 with 36 of those games coming from a starting position. Nunn has averaged 14.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting 46.4% from the field as a starter. These are decent numbers from a player who didn’t play a single minute alongside Oladipo.
The idea of bringing Oladipo off of the bench seems to center around the play of Nunn. He has been a spark to the Heat’s starting and closing lineup at times and has shown improvement on the defensive end of the floor. While he certainly isn’t Oladipo, he has shown more resilience compared to last season.
The good thing about this idea is the fact that Oladipo is still managing to acclimate himself into a team that is under 10 games from the start of the NBA Playoffs. Continuity is something the Heat need to find and messing with the starting lineup could hurt those efforts. Oladipo could still get a solid 30 minutes a night and if he starts feeling good about his game. Miami could then throw him into the starting lineup.
Kendrick Nunn coming off the bench could provide the scoring it needs
The other option for the Miami Heat is to bring Kendrick Nunn off of the bench. This idea is one that many could find alluring to a team that is ranked 22nd in the league in bench scoring. Since Victor Oladipo’s injury on April 8th, they have been slightly worse as the 24th-ranked team in the NBA off of the bench.
Nunn himself has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting an efficient 49.2% from the floor as a bench player. Compared to other bench players, Nunn would rank second behind teammate Tyler Herro who is scoring 13.9 points off of the bench this season.
Moving the 25-year-old guard to the bench could be a smart move for the Heat if Oladipo comes back. Nunn can provide a consistent spark off of the bench that the Heat have been lacking outside of Herro. Plus, Goran Dragic hasn’t been near himself lately and has hurt the bench production.
There’s nothing saying that Oladipo couldn’t provide this for the Heat’s bench, but does leaving Oladipo out of the starting lineup truly gives them the best shot at taking down the Eastern Conference powerhouses? That is debatable, but it’s also an important question in deciding whether they believe in Kendrick Nunn or not.
What should the Heat end up doing with Kendrick Nunn?
Both ideas, Kendrick Nunn staying in the starting lineup and coming off of the bench, seem to be good on the surface. But for the Heat to reach their full potential in the 2021 season, inserting Nunn in a bench role could help them reach their goals.
The only consistency for the Heat this season has been their own inconsistency. Jimmy Butler can’t do everything by himself and certainly shouldn’t need to put his all into a game against the Timberwolves, only to see his team fold in crunch time.
One of the ways to keep that from happening again is to take the “Jimmy Butler on the bench” minutes and maintain the pace against the other team. Goran Dragic has been incapable of doing that and Tyler Herro’s liability of defense has been a thorn in Miami’s side.
If they take Oladipo and insert him into the starting lineup, that gives the Heat a player of Nunn’s caliber the opportunity to lead the bench unit. If Nunn isn’t having a good game, then you can allow whoever has the hot hand out of three guards of Dragic, Herro and Nunn to lead the way.
Too many times the Heat have been forced to rely on players such as Gabe Vincent and Precious Achiuwa to help hold down the bench. Now, with Dewayne Dedmon showing he can provide very solid minutes, one of those problems are solved.
Now, the time could be nearing to make difficult choices on what to do with the rotation. The way Nunn has been playing creates the narrative that Miami can not make him a coach’s decision every night. Can Miami run a 10-man rotation with a bench of Nunn, Herro, Dragic, Dedmon and Iguodala in the playoffs?
Kendrick Nunn’s place in the rotation will be an important decision coming down the stretch for the Miami Heat, especially with Oladipo making progress in his possible return. It’s a decision that could have significant ramifications on whether they can reach the NBA Finals for a second-straight year.