DETROIT – For the first time in his life, Kris Dunn lost his confidence.
Dunn expected to hit the ground running in the NBA. The Timberwolves drafted him No. 5 in 2016. After four years at Providence, he looked like one of the most polished rookies in his class.
But Dunn struggled last season. He didn’t play as much as he wanted. When he did, he wasn’t always at his natural position of point guard, spending time at shooting guard and even small forward. He was tentative and, despite being more selective in shooting, inefficient. His combination of usage percentage (14.2) and true shooting percentage (43.2) was ghastly and rare.
“My whole life, that’s all I did, attack and be aggressive,” Dunn said. “I play off of instincts, and last year, I really couldn’t do that.
“That’s the first time. I always play with that swagger, always play with confidence. Everywhere else I’ve been, because I go hard and I work hard, people liked it.”
The Bulls still did. They acquired Dunn in the Jimmy Butler trade, a deal Dunn called a “restart” for him. Dunn, whom Chicago shut down late, improved across the board this season.
In the last two years, Derrick Rose, Jerian Grant, Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams, Cameron Payne and now Dunn have been the Bulls’ point guard du jour. Can Dunn seize the starting role long-term?
“If I keep working hard and keep improving, I definitely think I can be that player,” Dunn said. “It’s not going to be easy. Just got to keep improving.”
The 24-year-old Dunn is still a low-end starting point guard – better than some even younger than him and stop-gaps, but few others. But his age and attitude give him a chance to stick.
His approach starts defensively. Dunn is tied for fourth in the NBA with 2.0 steals per game:
Dunn gets those steals without gambling too often or losing track of his man. They’re a product of dogged defense and a 6-foot-9 wingspan on his 6-foot-4 frame.
Even in Minnesota, after a rough start on both ends and continued offensive struggles, Dunn settled in as a solid defender.
“Defense, you can control,” Dunn said. “It’s just about energy and effort. That ain’t never going to leave me. No matter what happened in Minnesota, I know I was always going to go out there and bring that. That’s one thing I was proud about.”
Dunn should also be proud of his strides as a scorer. His shooting has improved in all three phases:
- 2-pointers: 40% to 46%
- 3-pointers: 29% to 32%
- Free throws: 61% to 73%
Yet, those marks all still fall below league average – 51% on 2-pointers, 36% on 3-pointers, 77% on free throws – let alone good rates for a starting point guard.
Chicago scored a dreadful 101.0 points per 100 possessions with Dunn on the floor. It’s hard on everyone when the lead ball-handler is such a limited scoring threat.
But he can continue to improve. The Bulls are only one season into rebuilding, and though they can always get impatient, there probably won’t be a worthwhile quick fix available. Dunn should get opportunities to grow.
He rediscovered his confidence this season and found a coach in Fred Hoiberg who believes in him.
“I love everything about Kris,” Hoiberg said. “And, again, I hope we’re around for a long time together.”