Kendrick Nunn of the Miami Heat has already declared himself the Rookie of the Year.
Quite a brash statement from a young man who is leading a resurgent Miami Heat team that knocked off the Nets 109-106 Sunday in Brooklyn.
MIAMI, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 16: Kendrick Nunn #25 of the Miami Heat looks on against the New Orleans … [+]
But what Nunn does not yet realize at the tender age of 24 is that voters will consider his low assist total when casting their ballots, and 3.2 assists per game for a starting point guard is a relatively low number.
Here’s why his dimes are less than a nickel:
“I get caught up in these discussions, and it’s an antiquated positional discussion. Is he our starting 1? Is he our starting 2? I don’t know,” coach Erick Spoelstra said at Barclays Center.
MIAMI, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 29: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Golden State … [+]
“You could probably look at Jimmy (Butler) as our starting 1. If you have to take me back to those antiquated positions, the labels of them, Jimmy handles the ball quite a bit, and we want Kendrick to do what he does. He’s getting a lot better at making different reads and plays, and he is what he is … he puts the ball in the basket.”
Four players on the Heat …. Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic and Justice Winslow, average more assists per game than Nunn. But Nunn is second on the team in scoring with an average of 16.4 points per game, and he is a huge reason why the Heat came out of Sunday’s game with a 14-5 record — tied with Boston for third place in the East.
It is safe to say that Miami is the biggest Eastern Conference surprise success story of the first quarter of the season, and a big factor in that start has been the play of the rookie guard who played three seasons at Illinois, sat out a year after transferring to Oakland (Mich.), then spent last season with Golden State’s G-League affiliate.
MIAMI, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 29: Kendrick Nunn #25 of the Miami Heat looks on after the game against … [+]
After Miami’s final preseason game in which Nunn scored 40 points against Houston (the highest scoring preseason game by a Heat player in the last 20 years), Spoelstra told him he would be the starter.
“Spo told he about an hour or two before the opening game and told me to be ready, and I was ready,” Nunn said. “It was no surprise to me. I put in the hard work. I was ready for that position, and I was just happy he trusted me to put me in the starting lineup.”
Nunn made news recently by declaring “I am the Rookie of the Year,” and his chances of winning the award were bolstered with the news that Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies is now listed as week-to-week with back spasms.
With Zion Williamson yet to play a game for the New Orleans Pelicans, Nunn and R.J. Barrett of the New York Knicks are the two rookies who are getting the most playing time. And given the difference between Miami’s record and New York’s, Nunn has a clear advantage at the quarterpole of the season.
In the legalized U.S. sports gambling markets, Nunn is 14-1 at DraftKingsSportsBook — the same odds as Eric Paschall, and trailing only Morant, Williamson and Barrett.
MIAMI, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 20: Kendrick Nunn #25 of the Miami Heat in action against the Cleveland … [+]
“Just confidence,” Nunn told Forbes.com exclusively. “But I’ll let whoever make those rankings decide that. I’ll just keep playing and being aggressive and having confidence, and it should lead to some wins.”
Nunn shot just 5-for-15 against Brooklyn, and 1-for-7 from 3-point range. But the Heat scored the final 10 points of the game to slow down a Brooklyn team that had been riding a wave of momentum.
Three quarters of the season remains to be played, but Rookie of the Year opinions are often formulated early.
Nunn’s statement was brash, and it remains to be seen whether he can make the types of improvements in his game that will make those 14-1 December odds pay off in June.