Miami — To appreciate the rise of Kendrick Nunn is to appreciate where he stood in the NBA’s 2018 draft class and where he stands today.
When Nunn went against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton last week at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, it was the first time he ever had met the guard who was taken out of Alabama with the No. 8 pick in 2018.
Not at a draft combine. Not during a pre-draft workout. Nowhere.
Wednesday night, when the Cavaliers face the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena in the rematch of last week’s 106-97 Heat victory, it will be the second meeting between Nunn and Sexton.
But this is about more than Nunn outscoring Sexton 23-15 last week, while also finishing with five more assists and one more rebound.
This is about Nunn going undrafted in 2018, being bypassed for the Chicago combine where Sexton was invited, and having to instead participate in the second-tier Portsmouth Invitational combine.
It is about every guard selected in 2018, as Nunn sat and waited and went undrafted.
Yes, there was a domestic incident at Illinois before Nunn transferred to Oakland University. And, yes, that factored into his draft interest and this circuitous path to the NBA.
But when it comes to basketball, it is those 60 players who were drafted in 2018 who stand as motivation for the player who didn’t.
“I couldn’t name you every player,” Nunn said, “but to make it simpler on my end, I just put everyone in one box.”
Several of the guards drafted in 2018 certainly have staked their own claim as belonging, including Trae Young, Sexton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Huerter and Landry Shamet. But there also are others, two seasons into their careers, who have not accomplished what Nunn has achieved less than two months into his own.
“And I recognize those guys when I see them on the floor,” Nunn said. “I don’t let ‘em know verbally. But a mental note in my head, I definitely make that note.”
As he did with Sexton.
“That was my first time meeting him and matching up with him, my first time,” he said.
There is an appreciation of the decisions made on draft night by others, but also a goal of moving forward in a positive fashion. Teammates and coaches have praised Nunn’s comportment, spirit, selflessness.
Not that draft night still doesn’t resonate.
“I was shocked by that,” Nunn said of going undrafted after finishing second in the NCAA in scoring to Young in 2017-18. “But things happened. But I put that in the past.”
While he did not participate at the elite tryout level for the 2018 draft, there still are enough familiar faces when he strides for center court for opening tips. That, in itself, he said, is rewarding.
“I’m seeing guys I played against for years,” he said, his career detoured by last season in the G League, with the Golden State Warriors’ affiliate. “But they know me now, and the scouting report gives them a little heads up, I guess.”
As does the 17.8 scoring average, the .472 field-goal percentage and the .384 3-point percentage.
“I’m just gaining that knowledge,” he said, “and trying to take my game to that next level.”