Riley: “I can give him some help on it because I have a background in coaching.”
The most memorable development for the Heat during an otherwise inconsequential final day of the 2018-19 season was the warm Brooklyn embrace for Dwyane Wade in his final NBA game and the special moments that followed.
But a seemingly unremarkable transaction made several hours earlier has shaped up to be a second significant occurrence that day.
After admiring the diverse offensive game and tenacious defense of guard Kendrick Nunn while scouting the G-League last season, the Heat moved quickly to sign him on the final day of the season, locking up his rights for the next two seasons, at $3.1 million, on a non-guaranteed deal, with Miami owning his rights for 2021-22 as well.
That signing preempted Nunn from potentially returning to Golden State’s summer program or joining another team. The Warriors liked his work for their G-League team in Santa Cruz, Cal., last season - where he averaged 19.7 points per game after going undrafted - but didn’t have an open roster spot after signing veteran center Andrew Bogut for their playoff run.
Fast forward three months. With consistently impressive performances in the Sacramento and Las Vegas summer leagues, Nunn, 23, not only has essentially assured the Heat of exercising the next guarantee in his contract ($150,000 on Aug. 1) but also has made a strong case to be a rotation player next season.
Asked if he’s clearly an NBA player, Heat summer league coach Eric Glass said he would defer to the front office but added: “He’s done everything he could do to put himself in position for some team to make that decision.”
The summer league scoring numbers - 22 points per game on sterling 50.5 percent shooting - aren’t surprising considering he finished second in the nation in scoring, behind then-Oklahoma guard Trae Young in 2017-18, averaging 25.9 for Oakland University.
But the rest of his game has thoroughly impressed, too - the playmaking (5.2 assists average), the rebounding (4.3 per game) and the defensive tenacity. Nunn had the signature defensive player of summer league when he stole the ball late in Wednesday’s game against Minnesota and dunked at the other end to tie the game.
“Offensively, defensively, he rises to occasions; he’s been dogging point guards all summer league,” Glass said before resting Nunn and Tyler Herro in the Heat’s 101-100 overtime loss to New Orleans on Saturday, which ended Miami’s summer league season.
Of his ability to make an imprint on the game at both ends, Nunn said: “It’s important to this franchise and to me as well. That’s the type of player I am, a two-way player. That was the goal, to put together a complete summer league.”
The Heat also likes his playmaking. He had eight assists in a Heat win against Orlando on Tuesday and Glass said he could have had 12 if his teammates had hit more makeable shots.
“Usually a [player with a] scorer’s-first mentality is if they’re not getting enough looks or not scoring, they start to force stuff,” Glass said. “He’s just playing the game and letting the game come to him. It’s been really nice. He is a tough-nosed kid.”
And his three-point accuracy has improved, from 33.5 percent in the G-League to 38.5 percent this summer.
Though he’s slightly undersized than the prototypical shooting guard at 6-3, Glass believes he’s well-equipped to play either backcourt position.
“Especially the way the NBA is going now, if you’re skilled, you can find time on the court,” Glass said. “He can play [point guard or shooting guard] and he’s good enough defensively he can guard either spot. He can score, he can pass. He’ll be fine.”
Even after the Warriors cut him during training camp, Nunn said he knew last fall that he’s an NBA player.
“That’s what I’ve been showing,” he said. “I’ve been getting more comfortable running the one [point guard] and getting guys shots. I’ve been doing a great job. Every time I step on the court, I feel like I have something to prove.”
Others have taken notice.
Jonathan Wasserman, the NBA draft analyst for Bleacher Report, said Nunn has been the second-most impressive player in summer league, behind only San Antonio and former UM guard Lonnie Walker.
“He seems like a Miami Heat culture guy,” former Heat forward and NBA TV analyst Caron Butler said. “Just gritty, gets after it; he’s going to play hard. I like a guy like that.”