Lakers’ Kendrick Nunn re-establishes himself after missing year with injury

LAS VEGAS — In the rush to get to Anthony Davis, for a second, the Sacramento Kings’ defense forgot Kendrick Nunn was there.

Sitting in the corner alone, Nunn had plenty of time to spot up and fire his first 3-point shot on an NBA court in a year before Harrison Barnes could recover.

For much of the past year, Nunn felt forgotten, sinking into that purgatory of slow, steady rehabilitation for an injury that he – and most others in the Lakers’ organization – thought would require a lot less time than it did. But now that he’s back on the court after a year away with a bone bruise in his right knee, being under the radar could be a good thing for the 27-year-old guard.

“No pressure – you just have to know your role with the guys you’re out there with,” Nunn said Monday. “And for me, I’ll be a spacer, you know what I’m saying? With guys getting downhill, like Bron and Russ, give them some space to open that floor up and that’s what I got to do.”

Compared to rehab, playing around LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook is a much more straightforward path. A year ago, the Lakers figured Nunn would be a key piece of the backcourt before discovering his injury during the preseason. Bone bruises require rest, and Nunn spent a lot of last season off of his feet, waiting for progress in a timetable that gradually stretched longer and longer.

Those around him say his impatience to get back on the court has translated to a diligent work ethic coming into the season. Nunn was a daily fixture at the facility as Coach Darvin Ham was getting settled in his new office, and the Lakers coach said the two had many conversations about Nunn’s role coming into the season.

Nunn’s adherence to Ham’s words has helped him work his way into the starting lineup so far.

“Kendrick has been one of the many bright spots in camp: His offense, he’s shot the ball extremely well,” Ham said. “I’ve challenged him defensively, and he’s made strides. We were watching some stuff in film this morning, just from our scrimmages, and again, we’ve identified our principles and what our identity will be, and he’s been awesome. He’s earned it.”

Nunn shot 4 for 7 against the Kings for nine points, a relatively humble debut, and his five turnovers mark room for improvement. But as a complementary piece around the Lakers’ Big Three, he shined – something the coaching staff will be monitoring to see if he can continue throughout the preseason, because he has competition in the backcourt.

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While the Lakers will be challenged at times with Nunn potentially matched up with taller shooting guards, he said his chemistry with Westbrook helps give him an edge. In scrimmages, the two have blistered down the court setting screens for one another on offense, creating some tricky decision-making for opposing defenses.

“If I screen for Russ, he’s coming downhill on a guard, and they might mess it up,” he said. “They might go with a shooter and leave Russ getting downhill to get to that basket. So, it’s a great combination and we have different options out of it.”

For the few returning players on the roster, they’re proud to see Nunn back in action after a difficult year that disappointed everyone. Davis, who knows Nunn dating to their high school days in Chicago, said he’s shown resilience so far.

“I think we’re all proud,” he said. “He came a long ways. And to play with that rhythm and to make your first shot kind of takes away the butterflies, especially here at Staples and everybody anticipating, ‘We wanna see K-Nunn.’”