Kris Dunn is Bouncing Back with the Chicago Bulls

— November 30th 2017

The young defense-minded point guard is showing some signs of life.

By Noah Shatzer

From the very moment the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Kris Dunn with the fifth pick of the 2016 NBA draft, the point guard was destined to fail.

Before the 2016-17 season had even started, fellow rookies and general managers around the league had pinned Dunn as one of the “steals” of the draft and expected him to be an instant-impact player because of his four years spent at Providence College. More so, Dunn was drafted by a team that already had a talented young point guard in Ricky Rubio and was expected to eventually take the reins from the Spaniard and allow the Wolves to trade Rubio.

This didn’t end up being the case in Dunn’s rookie season, as the young, yet experienced point guard struggled to adapt to the NBA game and ended up stuck behind Rubio, splitting time off the bench with former Blue Devil Tyus Jones. Dunn’s athleticism and physical attributes allowed him to play well on the defensive end as a rookie, but the point guard struggled mightily on the offensive end. Even after receiving a small boost in minutes when the Wolves’ starting shooting guard Zach Lavine tore his ACL, Dunn still couldn’t turn around his rookie campaign. The 22-year-old rook finished with averages of 3.8 points, 2.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game while shooting a paltry 37 percent from the floor and an even worse percentage from three (28 percent). Compared to the success of other players in his draft class, such as 2016 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, Dunn looked like a complete whiff and a surefire bust.

The Chicago Bulls Turnaround

Luckily for Dunn, the trade sending him and Zach Lavine to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler has allowed him to hit the reset button on his NBA career.

In his fifteen games with the Bulls, Dunn has averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.1 steals with much-improved shooting percentages of 41.5 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three. Just recently, Dunn won the Bulls’ starting point guard spot over Jerian Grant and posted a career-high game against the Phoenix Suns, ending with 24 points, 8 assists, and 4 steals on 10-of-15 shooting from the floor. His advanced stats aren’t exactly anything special to look at, but keep in mind that Dunn is playing for a Chicago Bulls team that looks destined for the lottery.

Dunn’s ball handling and decision making have improved tremendously in his sophomore season, and it appears that the game has begun slowing down for him. In his rookie season, the guard would often struggle with indecisiveness when handling the ball, not knowing whether to take the shot, attempt to drive to the rim, or pass it off to a teammate. His out-of-sync play would often lead result in Dunn taking bad shots or finding himself flustered in no-mans land. But recently, he’s shown more poise. Consider this play from Chicago’s recent loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, where Dunn quickly makes the decision as soon as he gets the ball and finds Antonio Blakeney wide-open in the corner for the three.

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg has said Dunn is at his best when he is in “attack mode” and has been praising the point guard for his mentality going into games. Because of his athleticism and finishing ability, Dunn excels when he is playing downhill and towards the basket, either creating a shot at the rim for himself or collapsing the defense and finding one of his teammates with the pass. After grabbing the rebound, Dunn pushes the ball in transition and drives into the paint at Mike James and Josh Jackson. When James and Jackson move to block his drive to the rim, he drops a shifty wrap-around dime to a cutting Bobby Portis for the and-one layup.

When not creating for teammates, Dunn can get the job done himself with his aerial attacks at the rim. After leaving Tyler Ulis in the dust with a slick right-to-left crossover, the former Friar immediately attacks the rim and avoids T.J. Warren in the air with a two-handed reach-around slam.

Another improvement that Dunn has made in his sophomore season has been his jump shot. The guard’s jumper looks much more fluid than in his rookie season and his improved shot selection combined with more confidence has resulted in a reliable jump shot that defenses must respect. According to NBA.com’s shot tracking, Dunn has shot 37.3 percent on jump shots this season, five percent better than he did last in his rookie season (32.3 percent). Instead of panicking when he finds himself open for the midrange shot, Dunn now looks confident taking whatever the defense gives him.

On the defensive end, Dunn was already a solid on-ball defender as a rookie and has only looked better with the Bulls. His aggressiveness on defense has translated to 2.07 steals per game, third in the league behind Ben Simmons (2.11) and Paul George (2.84). Among players that have appeared in at least 10 games this season and are averaging at least 10 minutes in those games, Dunn only trails New York Knicks’ rookie Frank Ntilikina (49 percent) in steal percentage, recording 43.1 percent of the Bull’s steals when he’s on the floor. Here Dunn plays some suffocating on-ball defense on Lance Stevenson, almost forcing Stevenson to pick up his dribble and then reaching around the Pacer guard for the clean strip (Dunn goofs up pretty badly on the ensuing fast break though).

A Brighter Future for Dunn

The Chicago Bulls are not in any facet a good team this year, but the future is starting to look a little bit brighter for the Windy City. Dunn is finally starting to blossom into the point guard that the Wolves expected when they drafted him, and their 2017 first round draft pick Lauri Markkanen looks like a Nowitzki-esque stud. Zach Lavine seems to have recovered just fine from his ACL tear and should be back to destroying rims in the near future and the Bull’s current trajectory is bound to earn them a lottery pick in this year’s draft. Nevertheless, through the first quarter of his sophomore season, Kris Dunn appears to be having a much-needed bounce-back year with Chicago, and he’s not Dunn yet.

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