Rajon Rondo

Kris Dunn
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Kris Dunn, under cascade of bust talk and Bulls demotion, mounting strong defense

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Kris Dunn‘s rookie year with the Timberwolves was glum.

Losing. Shaken confidence. Minutes on the wing rather than his preferred position of point guard.

But when I first talked to Dunn about that season, he spoke almost with a pride about the experience.

He persevered. He advanced. And he was getting his opportunity.

It was late in the 2017-18 season. The Bulls had acquired Dunn from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler trade the previous summer. Chicago was as desperate at point guard as Dunn was to play the position. The Bulls had been muddled at point guard ever since Derrick Rose got hurt. Jerian Grant, Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Cameron Payne each had turns as Chicago’s point guard du jour. As the extremely hyped No. 5 pick in the 2016 draft, Dunn looked more promising than any candidate yet.

But Dunn didn’t capitalize. He wasn’t good enough his first season with the Bulls and regressed last season. Chicago drafted Coby White and signed Tomas Satoransky at point guard last summer. Dunn said the Bulls didn’t even engage him in contract-extension talks.

Dunn looked like a bust who wouldn’t be long for Chicago.

Yet, Dunn is not only still there, he’s starting at small forward and making a real case for an All-Defensive team.

“When adversity hits,” Dunn said, “I don’t fold.”

Dunn surprisingly earned a rotation spot to begin the season. Then, when Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison got hurt, Bulls coach Jim Boylen shocked even Dunn by tabbing him as the replacement starting small forward.

“I ain’t a three,” Dunn said. “But I can hold my own.

“I’m not afraid of a challenge or anything. Whatever the team needs from me, that’s what I try to do. If they say, ‘Kris, we need you at the four,’ f— it. As long as I’m on the court, I love to play the game of basketball. And I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

Dunn said he “absolutely” still envisions becoming an NBA point guard. He views his current role as merely a product of what his team happens to need.

“It doesn’t take away what I’m capable of,” Dunn said. “I’m not going to let anything or anyone paint a narrative for me. I know I’m a point guard.”

I’m more skeptical. Dunn is a clunky outside shooter (26% on 3-pointers this season, 31% career). That’s a huge demerit for a lead guard to overcome.

But point guards tend to develop later than other positions. Dunn can attack the basket, and he’s a solid playmaker. If his shooting comes around, he has a chance.

In the meantime, Dunn is playing lights-out defense.

Among guards defensively, Dunn ranks second in real plus-minus (behind Alex Caruso), first in PIPM and second in RAPTOR (behind Donte DiVincenzo). If he keeps this up, Dunn must be taken seriously for an All-Defensive team.

Though he’s nominally a small forward, Dunn often defends the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, usually a guard. Unlike the bigger Porter, Dunn can take that burden off Zach LaVine and Satoransky.

Dunn – who’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan – has also thrived in Chicago’s aggressive and flowing defensive scheme. He has stolen the ball on 3.8% of opponents’ possessions, the highest steal percentage since Tony Allen.

Allen thrived in a different environment, though. Non-shooting defensive specialists have it harder than ever.

It seems telling, when listing Dunn’s offensive responsibilities, Boylen slipped in “defend at a high a level.”

Dunn’s defensive real plus-minus is +3.72. His offensive real plus-minus is 1.38. The difference between those marks – 5.10 – is one of the largest in the NBA. Nearly everyone else with a bigger spread between offensive and defensive real plus-minus are offensive-minded players.

Here are the players with the biggest differences between their offensive and defensive real plus-minus, the highest spread first. The right side of the bar marks the better rating. The left side of the bar marks the worse rating. Better offensive players are in black. Better defensive players are in red:

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Dunn will be a free agent next summer. The Bulls can make him restricted by extending a qualifying offer – a standing one-year offer a team must tender to preserve matching rights.

The cost of Dunn’s qualifying offer will be $4,642,800 or $7,091,457, depending on his role the rest of the season.

He’d get the higher qualifying offer by starting 19 of Chicago’s remaining 41 games or averaging slightly more than 24 minutes per remaining Bulls game. Dunn is currently averaging 24.8 minutes per game.

Sometimes, restricted status can get a player a bigger contract. It forces other teams to go over the top with an offer sheet. See a couple of Dunn’s teammates, Porter and Lavine. But it seems unlikely any team would covet Dunn enough to make that type of push for him.

So, a higher qualifying offer could help Dunn in one of two ways. He’d get a larger fallback salary if no other contract emerges. Or the Bulls would be less likely to extend a qualifying offer in the first place, making him unrestricted and allowing him more freedom to find a team that’ll use him at point guard.

Dunn expects to return to the bench once Porter gets healthy. That timeline could determine Dunn’s qualifying offer, though it’s also quite possible Chicago wouldn’t extend even the smaller qualifying offer.

Either way, Dunn’s defense is earning him playing time that’s useful in developing his offense.

“I hold myself at a high standard, and I want to be really good player in this league,” Dunn said. “And I have the abilities to do it. It’s just on honing my craft.”

Dunn, who’s averaging 7.2 points per game, isn’t hijacking the offense in a last-grasp attempt to prove himself. He lets Chicago’s other guards handle the playmaking and pitches in where he can – primarily defense. He’s doing exactly what the Bulls need from him.

“The biggest thing about Kris Dunn is he has a spirit for the team and a spirit for doing the right things,” Boylen said. “When you have that, good things happen to you.”

Three Things to Know: LeBron breaks records, Rondo breaks finger, Lakers keep on winning

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron breaks records, Rondo breaks finger, Lakers keep on winning. LeBron James showed no mercy to his friends and former teammates Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson Monday night as the Lakers easily rolled past the Cavaliers to their ninth consecutive win, 128-99. The Lakers scored 81 points in the second half, LeBron had 31 on the night, Dwight Howard had 21 and 15 rebounds (plus drained a three).

The game itself was also the least interesting news out of Staples Center on Monday night.

When you’ve played the game as well and at as high a level as LeBron has for going on 17 seasons now, you’re walking history. Seemingly every time he steps on the court LeBron sets a new record or moves up some all-time list. On Tuesday night, that bit of history was LeBron passing Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas for eighth on the NBA’s all-time assist list (LeBron now has 9,067).

The other bit of news is the Lakers will be without Rajon Rondo for four to five days after an MRI found he suffered a “nondisplaced volar plate avulsion fracture” to his right ring finger. Those of us who are not doctors would call that a “jammed finger,” one where the hyperextension of the ring finger pulled the ligament and a little piece of bone broke off. It’s not serious, but Rondo joined Anthony Davis — who officially has a “ gluteus maximus contusion” — in street clothes for this game.

The Lakers are at home Wednesday night vs. Orlando before the Grammys force them (and the Clippers) out of the building for a couple of weeks.

2) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes history with a 20 point, 20 rebound, triple-double at age 21. The Clippers didn’t like giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — of course they did it to make the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George pairing come together, you make that deal every time. That doesn’t mean trading SGA didn’t sting; the Clippers knew he was going to be special.

Now everyone in Oklahoma City sees just how special. Gilgeous-Alexander had his first triple-double on Monday night, with 20 points, a career-best 20 rebounds, and 10 assists as the Thunder beat the Timberwolves on the road.

That was a little bit of history.

Gilgeous-Alexander is just starting to tap his potential, and having a season (or more) next to Chris Paul will only help that development. SGA has the raw tools to be one of the best point guards in the game, and now we see the mental aspects coming along as well. Oklahoma City has its point guard of the future in place.

3) Watch Arron Gordon’s game-winner to beat Sacramento. If you didn’t watch the Orlando at Sacramento game Monday night because you were checking out some football game, or watching “Manifest,” we’ll forgive you.

Just know you missed a heck of an ending.

The Kings were down two late when De'Aaron Fox made seemingly made every Magic defender lose him on the way to an and-one that put Sacramento up one.

That might have been the game-winner until Evan Fournier found a surprised Aaron Gordon, who got his shot to fall.

Orlando got the 116-115 win thanks to 26 points and 15 boards from Nikola Vucevic on the night.

Report: Lakers willing to trade anyone besides LeBron James and Anthony Davis

Lakers LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma
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The Lakers are building around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

And nobody else.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka is prepared to trade anyone on the roster, except Davis and LeBron James, if it means filling a gap the Lakers need in order to win a championship, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

As it should be. Beyond their two stars, the Lakers have a roster deep with expendable players. The Lakers’ title window is both open and in danger of slamming shut along with 35-year-old LeBron’s prime. Some teams place more value on continuity. But the Lakers already have so many newcomers this season. It’s worth pursuing talent upgrades.

The pressure is on.

Some Lakers are more available than others. Kyle Kuzma comes up most frequently in trade rumors. As players on one-year contracts who’d have Bird Rights after, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo must consent to being traded. Between Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope/McGee/Rondo on the spectrum, most non-star Lakers fall closer to Kuzma. They’re available.

A concern: How will those players react? Trade rumors sapped morale last season. Now, it’s time for that chatter once again to kick into high gear.

Maybe Lakers players’ tradability is so self-evident, reports like this don’t cause a stir. This is also a more veteran-laden roster than last season. And the Lakers surely don’t regret doing whatever was necessary to land a star like Davis.

But it’s at least worth monitoring chemistry, focus and motivation amid reports like this one.

Lakers beat Thunder without LeBron James, Anthony Davis behind 36 from Kyle Kuzma

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kyle Kuzma scored a season-high 36 points and the Los Angeles Lakers rolled past the Oklahoma City Thunder 125-110 on Saturday night without stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James had a chest cold. James is averaging 25.4 points, a league-leading 10.7 assists and 8.7 rebounds and has helped the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference.

Davis, who leads the Lakers with 27.1 points per game, missed his second straight game with a gluteus maximus contusion.

It didn’t matter. Kuzma, in just his third start of the season, made 15 of 24 shots.

Rajon Rondo added 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers. Los Angeles shot 51.5% to win its eighth in a row.

James played on Friday night and had 35 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in a win over the Dallas Mavericks.

Without him, the Lakers raced to a 73-49 halftime lead over the Thunder behind 58% shooting. Kuzma scored 23 points before the break. It was Oklahoma City’s largest halftime deficit of the season.

The Lakers extended the lead to 32 in the third quarter before Oklahoma City rallied and trimmed its deficit to 102-82 at the end of the period, but the Thunder never really got close.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari each scored 24 points for the Thunder, who had won 11 of their previous 13 games.

 

Report: LeBron James (illness) out for Lakers-Thunder

LeBron James
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LeBron James made a big deal about not resting.

But he can’t avoid illness.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Both the Lakers (won seven straight) and Thunder (won 11 of 13) have played well lately. But this takes the shine off the matchup. Anthony Davis is also banged up.

At least we’ll get Chris PaulRajon Rondo. That’s often an interesting clash.