When Kendrick Nunn came to Europe, he declared he’s going to end the season here and then move back to the NBA. In a few months, the American has won the hearts of Panathinaikos’ fans who hope he won’t ever go back. Source: Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
When Kendrick Nunn came to Europe, he declared he’s going to end the season here and then move back to the NBA. In a few months, the American has won the hearts of Panathinaikos’ fans who hope he won’t ever go back. Source: Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

The Nunn effect: EuroLeague’s scoring sensation

Basketball OlyBet 09.05.2024

Kendrick Nunn resisted EuroLeague clubs until it became clear that he didn’t have a roster spot in the NBA. Tough news for both him and 17 EuroLeague teams, as the American guard might just be one of the best offensive players in Europe’s top-flight competition.

Rumors of Nunn coming to Europe started swirling around last summer, and it was reported many times that the Greek powerhouse Olympiacos had signed him, although all those reports turned out to be fake news.

Nunn waited until the last day of October to finally give up on his NBA dream, at least for a season, and go overseas. The start of his European adventure was announced on Instagram, but not by the player himself nor the club he was going to represent.

The announcement was made by Dimitris Giannakopoulos, Panathinaikos Athens president. “When the president puts his mind to something, he always does it. He will give us strength. It was a great transfer success. The president turned the needle to Nunn with a big move,” remarked Panathinaikos’ head coach Ergin Ataman, who was elevated by the American’s signing.

The Turkish coach said that Panathinaikos, who went through a huge roster overhaul in the summer, needed a scorer and a playmaker, and that the club felt Nunn was exactly the player they needed. As we know now, these words were prophetic, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

An injury derailed Nunn’s career

Nunn announced himself to the basketball world in the 2019/20 season when he played 67 games for the Miami Heat in the NBA, averaging 29.3 minutes, 15.3 points, and 3.3 assists in the regular season. For someone who went undrafted in 2018, his rise was remarkable, and the now 28-year-old guard thoroughly deserved being named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

His rookie season was so good that Nunn set some NBA records. By scoring 112 points in his first five games, he set the benchmark for an undrafted player. He was the first undrafted player to be voted as the conference rookie of the month. And to top things off: he became the Heat’s fastest rookie to 500 career points.

Nunn’s second season in the NBA was as good as the first one, if not even slightly better, which earned him a two-year $10 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. In October 2021, the guard was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his right knee which ultimately led him to miss the entire season.

Unfortunately for Nunn, he couldn’t reach the level of his Heat days and ultimately couldn’t secure an NBA contract last pre-season. Nunn’s loss was Panathinaikos’ gain, as the 195 cm tall talented scorer needed some time to get used to European basketball but has now become a dominant force.

Made his way to the 90+ club

Panathinaikos’s record with Nunn is 24 wins and nine losses in the EuroLeague. It’s not fair to attribute their uptick in form solely to him – Ataman’s men started the season with four losses in six games – because he built a completely new team and it was only reasonable to presume that it would take time for the players to get used to the coach’s demands and for the coach to understand his players fully.

However, what is fair to say is that Nunn has been an integral part of Panathinaikos. In the first few rounds, the American was a ball hog, didn’t pass much, and wasn’t effective on offense. For EuroLeague fans, Nunn’s game brought back painful memories of Dwayne Bacon and his way of playing basketball, which was anything but team-oriented.

Slowly but surely, Nunn grew accustomed to the European game and showed glimpses of his abilities. In round 13 of the regular season, Nunn scored 24 points on good shooting percentages against the dominant force of the start of the season, Real Madrid. He ended the regular season with 15 straight double-digit scoring games, including six performances with 21+ points.

Although he was in great shape, the quarterfinal series against Maccabi started out tough for Nunn. The former U17 world champion with the USA was limited to just eight and ten points in the first two games, and the start of the third game indicated that nothing had changed when the fierce battle moved to Belgrade.

Nunn missed his first three shots from the field and committed two turnovers in the first quarter, but made nine of 19 from the field afterwards, scoring 25 points, and then the floodgates opened, because in the last two games, Nunn shined with 27 and 26 points respectively. In the deciding game of the series, Nunn made three shots from beyond the arc on his way to 13 points in the fourth quarter, clinching Panathinaikos’ first Final Four appearance since 2012.

Overall, Nunn scored 96 points in the series, making him the fifth player to surpass the 90-point mark in a EuroLeague playoff series. He’s behind Alexey Shved (97), Shane Larkin (98), Wade Baldwin (99), and Terrell McIntyre (99).

One thing that is usually overlooked about Nunn is his defense. It’s easy to focus on his scoring ability because when he’s hot, he’s super hot. Yet, the series against Maccabi was a prime example of how he can actually be a really good defender if he decides to put the effort in.

What do the numbers say?

Considering statistics, Nunn’s EuroLeague season has actually been so-so. 15.9 points per game on 41% shooting from downtown is excellent, but he commits more turnovers than gives assists – 3.1 against 3.0 – and is shooting 46.5% from two-point range.

Advanced metrics actually put Nunn in a worse shape. His individual offensive rating (ORTG) – how many points Panathinaikos scores per 100 possessions when Nunn is on the court – is 109.6, which is significantly below the team’s ORTG of 116.8.

Nunn’s individual defensive rating (DRTG) – how many points Panathinaikos allows per 100 possessions when Nunn is on the court – of 114.4 is also worse than the team’s DRTG of 110.7. And as the net rating (ORTG-DRTG) shows, Panathinaikos, on average, is outscored when the American plays.

So one might say, purely looking at the numbers, that while Nunn is a really good scorer, he harms Panathinaikos more than he does good. But dear readers, fortunately basketball isn’t a game where the outcome is decided by statistics. So one might say, looking at the numbers and seeing him on court, that Nunn is a player who can’t be solely judged by statistics.

When Nunn signed for Panathinaikos, he only thought of the EuroLeague as a gateway back to the NBA. Now he’s signed a new two-year deal with the Greek powerhouse that has an NBA out this summer, but should the American stay, he’s going to be one of the best-paid players in the league, earning 2.5 million euros according to the Greek media.

Do his abilities correlate with the price? For Ataman, Giannakopoulos and the fans, a star guard like Nunn is worth every penny!


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