The Miami Heat have a proclivity for finding valuable rotation players other teams have missed. Kendrick Nunn is just the latest example.
What one thing does the following list of players all have in common? Udonis Haslem. Joel Anthony. Rasual Butler. Mario Chalmers. James Ennis. Tyler Johnson. Hassan Whiteside. Josh Richardson. Rodney McGruder. Derrick Jones.
They all played for the Miami Heat, of course. But more than that, they were all the type of guys the Heat could be considered to have “unearthed,” whether as undrafted free-agents or second-round picks or flameouts from other teams or bouncing around the G-League or after getting waived by the Suns.
Haslem was signed as an undrafted free-agent back in 2003, the same year the team drafted Dwyane Wade. He’s turned into the longest-tenured player in Heat history and was an integral player on multiple title teams. Anthony was an undrafted free-agent as well, and he, too, contributed to a couple of titles.
Butler was the No. 53 overall pick in the draft, and went on to have a 13-year career. Chalmers went No. 34 and was the starter at point guard for almost the entirety of the Heat’s Big Three run. Ennis was selected at No. 50 and has become a valued rotation player in the NBA.
Tyler Johnson was an undrafted free-agent and turned himself into a $50 million man. Whiteside spectacularly flamed out of the league after a short stint in Sacramento and was widely considered damaged good before the Heat got their hands on him. His utility has waned since signing a big deal but he’s still a fantastic rebounder and shot-blocker and has become a long-term starter.
Richardson was taken at pick No. 40, blossomed into the Heat’s best two-way player over the next several years, and was the key piece in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade. McGruder went undrafted and bounced around the G-League for multiple years before the Heat turned him into a rotation player. Jones was undrafted as well, and the Suns couldn’t figure out how to use him and so he landed in Miami, where he became a real NBA player and particularly valuable defender.
All of this is to say that the Heat have an extensive track record of finding guys that seemingly come out of nowhere, and turning them into Real Things in the NBA. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that undrafted free-agent Kendrick Nunn began his NBA career as a full-time starter, nor that undrafted free-agent and two-way signing Duncan Robinson is now suddenly a valued reserve and it appears that undrafted free-agent and two-way signing Chris Silva may be on the way to becoming the same.
Nunn is perhaps the least shy player in the entire league when it comes to getting up his shot. Four games into his career he is averaging 17.5 shot attempts per game, 6.3 of which are coming from beyond the arc. (Nunn’s 20.2 attempts per 36 minutes nearly match Dwyane Wade’s career-high of 20.5, set in 2008-09.) Even in Jimmy Butler’s first game back after the birth of his daughter, Nunn still got up 18 attempts. Nunn’s 74 field goal attempts through the first four games of his career are 20th-most all-time. His 25 attempted threes in those four games are tied for fifth-most in a player’s first four games.
All of this would seem like a bad thing if Nunn weren’t actually hitting these shots at a very solid rate. He’s 34 of 70 from the field, a 48.6 percent clip. And he’s 11-of-25 from deep, a 44 percent connection rate. Shoot like that and any team in the league will let you hoist as many shots as you damn well please. It doesn’t seem like this is that fluky, either, considering Nunn connected on 38.6 percent of his 3-point tries in college, including 39.4 percent on more than 11 attempts per game last season.
Robinson was a similarly strong outside shooter during his three years at Michigan (41.9 percent on nearly five attempts per game); and while he has not been nearly as prolific in his launching through the Heat’s first four games as Nunn, he has also found success beyond the arc, connecting on 8-of-17 attempts.
Silva has gotten work as the team’s fourth big man, working behind Bam Adebayo, Meyers Leonard, and Kelly Olynyk. He’s only seen the floor for 37 minutes, but he has packed 12 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 5 blocks into that time. He’s also committed an utterly absurd 11 fouls, but hey, he’s a rookie and he’s not going to play enough to foul out anyway.
Almost all of the other talented out-of-nowhere finds the Heat have come up with over the past 15 years have moved on. Haslem is still around, but has yet to step on the floor this season. Jones is in town as well, working as a rotational defender off the bench. But Anthony and Butler and Chalmers and Ennis moved on long ago. Johnson was used as a salary dump. Richardson was packaged up to acquire Butler, McGruder was waived last season, and Whiteside was shipped off to Portland for Leonard as part of the Butler deal.
Luckily for the Heat, the next group is not just waiting in the wings, but already making an impact.