Even on an off shooting night, Kendrick Nunn remains amazing. Nobody has ever come to Euroleague Basketball in his situation and thrived the way he has with Panathinaikos
Kendrick Nunn was a big name signing when Panathinaikos secured his services on Halloween. We’re used to those in Euroleague Basketball but we’re not used to anyone making this kind of transition this well in such short order.
This just doesn’t happen
To the best of my knowledge, prior to this autumn the last time Kendrick Nunn played basketball outside of the Americas was in 2012. That year, he won the World U17 title with the USA in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Nunn played his college ball, obviously, in the US, and then fought his way into the NBA through the G-League. Stints with the Heat, Lakers, and Wizards all went different ways but, as is life, he didn’t stick. So he went to Panathinaikos, a side with high expectations. He did so in-season, having never played regularly in Europe before.
Since then, he’s been great. Nunn is a brilliant player in Euroleague Basketball. He’s a difference maker. Many come from the NBA, some succeed but almost all of those have enjoyed a taste of Europe before. That’s especially true in-season. The culture shock is enormous.
During Wednesday’s win for Panathinaikos over Olimpia Milano, I messaged a learned friend. Could he recall anyone that ever made the transition this well?
“Not a soul to this level.”
Kendrick Nunn gets the job
Give this man a lunch pail and a hard hat because Kendrick Nunn goes to work every night. In the game against Milano, his worst shooting night in a while with Panathinaikos, Nunn proved his worth again.
The line of 10 points of 2 of 13 shooting isn’t pretty but the grind was there all night. In addition to this came 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals as the Panathinaikos D embarrassed the visitors.
Nunn took a little bit of time to adapt as a scorer, if 3 games counts as a little bit of time. Since joining Panathinaikos in the 7th round of the season, he has evolved into a reliable option as a shooter.
More importantly, when his shot is off, Nunn finds ways to contribute. He makes Ergin Ataman keep him on the floor in other ways. That’s vital to succeed at this level. Talent and reputation mean nothing. This is a results league.
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The struggle helps
The biggest asset Nunn had coming to Euroleague was that he hasn’t been feted since the start of his college days. Since moving to Oakland University following his dismissal from Illinois, Nunn has been made to work for absolutely everything in his career.
The Horizon League isn’t the Big Ten, in facilities, transport, or anything. That helps when making the move to Europe. Far more often than not, the players that do well in Europe didn’t go to big schools. Getting used to not having the same comforts and pampering is part of the deal.
Throw in going undrafted and working his way into the NBA through a stint with the Santa Cruz Warriors, and you’ve got a guy who gets that work matters. Without spending a relevant minute of his basketball life in over a decade, he’d developed into a guy ready for the jump.
The coach and situation certainly help
Ergin Ataman, the head coach of Panathinaikos is many things. He’s a winner, with two Euroleague Basketball titles to his name. Ataman’s a fiery dude, just watch him lose it during a timeout. He can also be the picture of stoicism when he settles down. Above all else, he’s a guy that demands buy-in.
If you buy into Ataman’s vision for his team, he will find a way to let you be you. Nunn was built to do that from all of his previous stops but there’s help there too. In Juancho Hernangomez, there’s someone who has logged real NBA minutes to remove the risk of Nunn feeling above the room. Then there’s Mathias Lessort, a great player who brings ridiculous chemistry with whoever he works with.
Add all that together and Nunn has the framework he needs to be his best self for Panathinaikos.
This can help him make the jump back
Kendrick Nunn is only 28 years old. His NBA dream is far from over. By not treating this excursion as, well, an excursion, he’s building up valuable capital for any potential move back.
Nunn has already made a transition that nobody in living memory has managed this well before. Just look at Kemba Walker, he had a whole pre-season with Monaco after being a 4 time All Star. Walker has struggled to be relevant this season. Nunn came into a team that was already in a groove and fit in seamlessly.
Coaches and front offices at all levels love adaptability. This is an historic level of adaptability on full display for the world to see. That’s what Nunn is doing. It should help him with whatever he does next.