Kris Dunn was the most highly-regarded prospect that could have entered the 2015 NBA Draft and opted to return to school.
A potential lottery pick then, Dunn made the decision to return to Providence for what was technically his redshirt junior season — but which was, in actuality, his second full season of college basketball — in order to get his degree. That degree mattered to Dunn for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that he wanted to set an example for his brothers and sisters given his background.
To a point, he did that. But there was also plenty of reason to believe that some of those red flags are still red flags. How should you judge Dunn as a prospect?
Height: 6′ 4.25″
Wingspan: 6′ 9.5″
2015-16 Stats: 16.4 points,, 6.2 assists, 5.3 boards, 2.5 steals, 3.5 turnovers, 37.2% 3PT
STRENGTHS: What Dunn does well he does at an elite, borderline all-star level. Let’s start with the defensive end of the floor, where I think Dunn has a chance to make an all-defensive team before his career comes to an end. Physically, he has all the tools you want to see in a defensive terror. He’s 6-foot-4 with a better-than 6-foot-9 wingspan. He’s got quick hands and quicker feet. He’s strong, he’s athletic, he can move laterally, he can jump a passing lane.
The knock on him is that he’s undisciplined on that end, gambling too much and getting himself out of position off the ball and against screens. That will come with coaching, and with a roster where he isn’t forced to do everything himself.
And there were times the last two seasons where he quite literally did do everything himself. He had 32 points, eight steals, six boards, five assists and two blocks in a win against Harvard. He had 15 points and seven assists in the second half at Butler when Providence erased a 13-point deficit on New Year’s Eve. He had 13 points and 14 assists in a win at Villanova, and 29 points in 26 minutes in the NCAA tournament against North Carolina. No one took over a game quite the way that Kris Dunn took over a game.
He’s at his best when he has the ball in his hands. His speed, handle and athleticism combined with his ability on the defensive glass allows him to be a one-man fast break. More than a quarter of his offense this season came in transition, and while his efficiency in this era is somewhat limited — we’re going to get to that — he’s very aggressive on the break and understands how to utilize his physical gifts to his advantage.
In half court setting, Dunn is at his best when he’s put into ball-screen actions. He understands how to change speeds, he can weave his way through defenders and, being that he favors his right hand a little too much when he penetrates, this allowed him to play to his strength. But what makes Dunn so dangerous is his court vision. He’s an unbelievable passer, particularly when he’s able to get into the paint and draw defenders. He finds shooters, he finds bigs rolling to the rim, he finds cutters from the weak side. He tries to do too much at times, but part of the reason for it is that there really isn’t a pass that he can’t make. His assist rate — the percentage of his teammate’s baskets he assisted on when he was on the floor — “dipped” to 41.8% last season after posting a ridiculous 50% in 2014-15.
He’s a better shooter from distance than he was a year ago, and his improvement from shooting less than 47 percent on shots around the rim to better than 58 percent is a really good sign; his ability to get into the lane means he’ll have plenty of opportunities at the rim. Ed Cooley took advantage of this, as he consistently utilized Dunn in low- and mid-post isolations.
Dunn has some notable warts, but the combination of those physical tools and that passing ability is really tantalizing.
WEAKNESSES: There are really two weaknesses in Dunn’s game, and they’re fairly glaring.
Let’s start with his shooting. On paper, his numbers not only look good but they are improved from where they were last season. As a sophomore, Dunn shot 35.1 percent from three and attempted just 2.3 per game. As a junior, he made 37.2 percent of his triples while shooting 3.4 per game. A higher percentage on more attempts is progress, but the issue with Dunn is that the consistency isn’t there yet.
The issue isn’t just on a game-by-game basis. It’s on a shot-to-shot basis. He lacks consistency in his stroke, which is why there are times where he’ll fire up a picture-perfect step-back jumper over a defender and other times where he’s firing up lasers that make you feel bad for the pounding the backboard takes. He’s also a better three-point shooter than he is mid-range shooter. He shot just 28.1 percent on jumpers inside the three-point line and 33 percent on pull-ups jumpers in general.
This is a fixable problem, one that Dunn has already put in a significant amount of time to improve, but it’s still an issue, percentages aside.
Dunn’s other issue is his decision-making. Before we get into this, it is important to note that, while Dunn did spend four years in college, he saw his first two seasons end due to shoulder injuries. He’s a senior in terms of age, but he’s more of a sophomore in terms of experience. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s alarming to see a 22-year old point guard making some of the mistakes that Dunn has made the last two years.
He averaged 3.5 turnovers last season, which is an incredibly high number for anyone, let alone a point guard, regardless of their usage rate or the fact that it was an improvement from the season before, when he coughed the ball up 4.2 times-a-night. Those turnover numbers would be higher if bad shots were counted as well. Dunn really has the full-range of turnovers in his arsenal: He tries to make the highlight reel play instead of the simple play. He forces the action against a set defense with wild drives into the lane. He throws lazy passes and he’s sloppy with the ball in his hands.
And that’s to say nothing of his affinity for gambling for steals that he doesn’t really have a chance to get. There were a number of times this season where Dunn was forced to the bench because a dumb foul put him in foul trouble. He also liked gambling for steals, which left him out of position defensively too often. There’s legitimate reason to believe that the Providence roster forced him into this — more on that in a bit — which is why, like the shooting issues, this may be fixable.
But regardless of what his supporting cast consisted of, these are very real concerns for Dunn.
In a league that is increasingly reliant on efficiency numbers to determine a player’s value, Dunn finishing with an offensive rating on KenPom.com of 103.6 (which is pretty bad) while notching 0.877 points-per-possession, according to Synergy’s logs (which is worse).
NBA COMPARISON: John Wall is the comparison that everyone loves to make with Dunn, and I guess it makes sense. They have the same physical profile and basic skill sets — operate well in pick-and-rolls, struggle with consistent three-point shooting, turnover prone. And while Dunn is a tremendous defender, he doesn’t have the same kind of speed or burst that Wall has. That limits what Dunn’s ceiling is.
The name that I think may actually hold more water as a comparison is with Rajon Rondo, minus the baggage. While Dunn is taller than Rondo, the two actually have the same wingspan. Both are elite defenders and playmakers with issues shooting from the perimeter. Both can grab a defensive rebound and lead a break. Dunn is probably more well-rounded as a scorer and I’m not quite sure that he’ll be the same caliber of playmaker — Rondo has averaged at least 9.8 assists in six of his ten seasons in the league and better than 11 assists in four of those years — but I think that in terms of ceiling and impact, Rondo may be a better comp than Wall.
OUTLOOK: Here’s my biggest question when it comes to Dunn as an NBA player: How much of the inefficiency and decision-making issues that we saw over the course of the last two seasons at Providence were a result of who he had around him?
This past year, the Friars had one of the best 1-2 punches in college basketball … and not much else. Some of the guys on the roster were capable of putting together a big game here or there, but it was fairly obvious by the end of non-conference play how defenses were going to be guarding the Friars — essentially putting three people in the lane in front of Dunn and daring anyone else to try and beat them — and that Dunn had lost faith in the idea that his teammates would consistently help him win.
Did he force things offensively because he knew that was the only chance the Friars had to win? Did he gamble defensively because he got frustrated trying to score against a set defense?
And here’s the other question: Just how healthy is he? We seem to gloss over the fact that Dunn essentially missed his first two seasons in college due to shoulder injuries.
Assuming his shoulder is durable enough to hold up for 82 games year-in and year-out, I think Dunn has a relatively high floor as a prospect. He’s going to be an all-NBA caliber defender and he’s going to have an impact as a playmaker. Whether that’s as a starter on a playoff or as an impact member of someone’s second unit is up to him.