Miami Heat undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn has taken the NBA by storm.
After entering the league as an undrafted free agent last season and spending his first season of professional basketball exclusively in the G League, Nunn has become a crucial part of the Heat’s early season success.
So far this season, Nunn is averaging 15.7 points, 3.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. He’s third among rookies in points per game and third in assists per game. The only player higher than him in both categories is Memphis’ Ja Morant.
While Morant is currently leading, Nunn is close on his heels. But what are Nunn’s chances of taking home the prestigious prize by the end of the year?
Here are the major contributing factors.
When Nunn burst onto the NBA scene during Summer League this summer, some took note, but few expected that kind of production to continue into the regular season. Nunn averaged 22.0 points, 5.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game in six contests. He was named to the 2019 NBA Summer League First Team for his efforts.
His numbers have not dropped off so far since he began playing nightly in the NBA. Right now, he’s averaging 15.7 points, 3.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting an efficient 44.8 percent from the field and a solid 35.3 percent from deep.
As long as raw numbers are being considered, Morant should be brought into the conversation. Right now, his averages of 18.6 points, 6.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds are clearly better than Nunn’s. However, one final number should be considered as well, which is the number of wins each player has enjoyed so far this season.
Nunn and the Heat sit at 15-5 and currently seem to be a shoe-in for the Eastern Conference playoffs. As for Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies, they’ve stumbled to in unimpressive 6-14 start and seem well on their way to selecting yet another lottery pick this spring.
While win-loss records are not typically a major deciding factor when it comes to Rookie of the Year recipients, a difference as stark as this one could ultimately factor into the voters’ decision-making process.
This is an interesting factor to consider. While Nunn is a rookie and is fully eligible for the award, he is also 24 years old. By the time Morant, 20, turns 24, he’ll have a handful of NBA seasons under his belt and could even boast a couple All-Star Game appearances.
All that is to say, is it really possible that the voters opt to go with a 24-year-old man compared to a 20-year-old kid despite their shared rookie status?
If history is any indication, age might not play too big of a role. There are a number of NBA players who won the Rookie of the Year award will into their 20s.
Hall of Fame big man David Robinson won it while on the Spurs at the ripe old age of 24. So too did NBA legend Elgin Baylor. Derrick Coleman won the award at 23 years of age.
Sure, the NBA has changed quite a bit since those three were on the court, and there is a clear focus on youth and potential these days.
Still, these past winners indicate that voters are able to forget about age if there is a player who is clearly worthy of the award.
This is an unfortunate aspect of the NBA, but considering how the first few months have gone for Morant, it should be mentioned.
Entering the 2019-20 season, New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson was considered a sure thing for the award. Then, an offseason knee injury derailed those plans and the star forward has yet to take a meaningful shot this season.
While Morant has not missed much time this season, only missing one game for the Grizzlies, there have already been a couple of scares in which he looked to be seriously injured. Morant is a freak athlete who loves to play above the rim. That tendency to aggressively attack the basket without worrying about his own safety has led to a couple of scary falls.
Ja Morant was helped off the court after a scary fall. 🙏
— theScore (@theScore) November 26, 2019
Hopefully, Morant is able to stay healthy all season long and beyond. Nonetheless, he has shown a clear tendency to play a style of basketball that has led to injuries to some of the league’s most talented guards such as Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook.
If Morant were to miss a large swath of time due to injury, there is no doubt that Nunn would slide right in as the assumed winner of the award.
Just as the NBA loves a good youngster to fawn over, so too does it love a good story.
Perhaps the Cinderella-like nature of Nunn’s rise to stardom is his greatest asset in his pursuit of the Rookie of the Year title.
Entering the league as an undrafted free agent last season, no one could have expected that he would have enjoyed with meteoric rise to success. From laying claim to a spot on one of the more successful starting lineups in the NBA this season, to breaking NBA records just a handful of games into the NBA, Nunn has been an incredible surprise to fans all over the league.
With a lot of season left to be played, there is no doubt that Nunn, Morant and many other rookies still have loads of time to separate themselves from the pack.
Win or lose, there is no doubt that Nunn will be playing NBA ball for quite some time. The only question is how many career accolades he will earn along the way.