By: Luke Stanczyk
Last season in Minnesota, Kris Dunn was not a very good NBA player.
The 2016 fifth overall selection in the NBA served as Tom Thibodeau’s main option at backup point guard to Ricky Rubio and did not do much with the chance, shooting just under 38% from the floor, 29% from three point range, and 61% from the foul line. As a distributor, he ranked second to last in turnover over ratio (14.4), trailing only Jose Calderon, one of the league’s oldest players. His other advanced metrics (such as PER of 8.16 and a -1.9 estimated wins added) all suggest his highly-touted defense wasn’t up to par as well.
All of the above is why many scoffed at the Jimmy Butler trade for the Bulls this past June. Why would the Bulls settle for a packaged centered on an explosive, but incomplete and currently sidelined Zach LaVine and Dunn, an older draftee last year (who took the now rare path of playing all four years in college) who had a massively disappointing rookie season? The answer to that is the Bulls loved Dunn coming out of Providence due to his athleticism and bulldog defensive mentality. This was most apparent in the first half of Wednesday’s game at Miami, when some eye-popping athletic plays (such as this dunk over poor Kelly Olynyk) sparked a second unit that had been one of the league’s worst heading into the evening.
The unit appeared to feed off some of Dunn’s energy on the defensive end as well, as the activity level was a welcome sight for a team that has played mostly stale basketball over the first handful of games aside from Lauri Markkanen’s offensive prowess and the occasional David Nwaba highlight. The numbers in a small sample size won’t show improvement. He’s turned the ball over (nine times) more than he’s assisted (eight times), has yet to make a three-pointer (0-of-3), and is shooting just 38% (9-of-24) over the first two games.With that said, Kris Dunn needs to be starting at point guard for the Bulls.
Fred Hoiberg has spoken a lot this season about wanting the Bulls “to play downhill,” adopting more of an aggressive mentality on both ends of the floor. While the Bulls probably don’t have the personnel to play to Hoiberg’s wish with any kind of sustained success this season, Dunn is one of the guys who does possess that skill set.
So, while his numbers in the small sample size still show some of the flaws in his game that plagued him last season, Hoiberg would be practicing what he preaches in a sense if he inserts Dunn. If anything is apparent over Dunn’s two games, he’s heeded Hoiberg’s message of downhill play and should be rewarded for this.
All of that, however, is secondary to the overall point. If the Bulls’ rebuild is going to accelerate anywhere, Kris Dunn, a healthy Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen are going to have to mesh. Kris Dunn is going to have to become a starting point guard with an all-defensive team appearance or two on his resume. Regardless of what the Chicago Bulls may say, they know Jerian Grant does not have the ceiling of Kris Dunn. Dunn was acquired to be this team’s starting point guard for now and the foreseeable future, and earning his time due to a freak finger injury keeping him sideline shouldn’t lose sight of that.
I understand the culture Hoiberg and the Bulls want to build in terms of competition and working for your minutes. However, the development not only of Dunn, but as anyone who has a future with this team as a collective group, needs to be the priority. Plus, as mentioned above, it’s not like Dunn doesn’t have a case for having earned it already. Grant’s AST/TO ratio is much nicer, but his shooting thus far has been just as putrid and he’s not a stylistic fit for what Hoiberg has preached he wants.
The cases are all there, so at this point, waiting to make the move just seems like a delay of the inevitable. Dunn has the higher ceiling and fits the bill. Will his aggression and recklessness cost the Bulls first unit at times? Of course, but the 2017-18 season for this team is about those exact growing pains. It makes much more sense to start those pains now rather than later.