IP Offseason Outlook: Kendrick Nunn

Kendrick Nunn played his way into the starting lineup as a freshman last season. Where does the guard from Chi City go from here?

There's something about Kendrick Nunn three-pointers — the ones that go in seem to always swish and rip through the net really hard.

That's one aspect that stood out to me during Nunn's freshman campaign, a season that saw him go from essentially playing none to hardly ever checking out.

That and how tough the kid played and carried himself separated Nunn from his peers. A big three near the end of the game? Nunn wasn't afraid to rise up and let it fly. And Nunn didn't go out of his way to throw himself into altercations, but he showed during dust-ups with Penn State's DJ Newbill and Michigan State's Branden Dawson, two physically impressive and older players, that he wasn't backing down.

I think Illinois needed that kind of attitude in the lineup. I never thought Nunn's demeanor was a liability or a potential pitfall. I viewed it as useful, notice served that if problems were started they could get finished.

Nunn's quiet confidence and tough traits were evident from the beginning. It was opportunity and playing time that wasn't readily available. He logged less than 10 minutes of action in four of Illinois' first six games. While I thought he displayed good, quick hands on defense — an indication to me that he could grow into a better-than-most perimeter defender — he was relegated to the bench by the usual first-year player problems.

It's not easy to supplant a senior starter, and it took time for Nunn to both be ready to do that and for the move to make sense (in terms of chemistry and rotations). Of the issues holding Nunn back early on, consistency was perhaps the glaring problem. That's a boring line because every young player struggles in that department, Nunn being no different.

It didn't stay that way forever though.

Everything changed when Coach John Groce made a lineup change to create a spark during a stretch of struggling play during the Big Ten schedule.

Nunn and Illinois immediately prospered.

It was classic Kendrick, too. He'd never taken more than seven shots or scored eight points in a game up until that trip to Penn State in early February. In a then career-high 31 minutes against the Nittany Lions, Nunn scored 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting as the Illini won for the first time in eight games. The rest of the season didn't play out like the and-he-never-looked-back storybook finish. Of course there were ups-and-downs for Nunn and his teammates, but Nunn posted double digits in seven of the season's final 12, averaging 10.3 points in the game he started.

He finished the season 38.8 percent from 3 — the highest of any Illini player in the John Groce Era.

So now what?

Well, we're talking about a tough-minded good athlete that posted 45%(FG)/38%(3-point)/80%(FT) impressive shooting percentages in his first season on campus. Still, you couldn't list all the things Groce wants Nunn to improve. The easier explanation is everything. A full season in the weight room and working with the coaching staff (a few hours a week per NCAA rules) during the summer will benefit Nunn immensely. The jump made from freshman to sophomore is usually immense, physically and mentally, so expect Nunn to be bigger, stronger, faster, sharper and better.

A real debate should rage on regarding whether Nunn will stick in the starting lineup. Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby join the battle for playing time, both billed as good shooters that should boost the team's offensive potential.

I see the benefits of Cosby and Starks. Both are older. Cosby might be more complete, Starks a better shooter and playmaker.

I'm not betting against Nunn though. While I don't think he'll get a consistent amount of shots next season — Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams aren't going to stop shooting — I still see Nunn stripping the nets at opportune times with the authority he had for a freshman that didn't know he was supposed to be at least a little bit afraid.


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