Longtime Nuggets Guard T.R. Dunn A Defensive Asset For Timberwolves' Coaching Staff

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Lindsey LaBelle
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It’s been more than 20 years since Wolves assistant coach T.R. Dunn last played for the Denver Nuggets, and in that time he’s changed from a defensive standout to a valued coach and the franchise has reloaded with new players and front office personnel.

But as the Timberwolves and Nuggets square off tonight at Target Center, Dunn can’t help but see some familiar flashbacks to the team with whom he spent 10 of his 14 NBA seasons.

“They play a very fast pace,” Dunn said. “They still play a similar style in that they like to get it up and down the floor, they run, they say they like to take advantage of the altitude there, which is the same thing we said back when I played.”

In those days, Dunn was a defensive rock for an offensively-talented Nuggets squad. He currently brings that same philosophy to the Wolves' coaching staff.

Regarded as one of the top defenders of his time, Dunn was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team three times from 1983-85 and was also known for his keen rebounding ability. Fellow assistant coach Jack Sikma, who spent time in Seattle and Milwaukee during Dunn’s career, said there one thing you could count on in facing the Nuggets is where you’d find Dunne ach night.

“He was used a lot and they would always assign him the toughest guy to guard,” Sikma said. “T.R. has a quiet demeanor, but he got into people and knew how to play and how to make them uncomfortable.”

During his career, Dunn became a record-book mainstay with Denver. He still ranks second in the Nuggets’ record book in all-time steals (1,070), fourth in games played (734) and fourth in minutes played (18,322).

In the process, Dunn took eight trips to the postseason with Denver. He was dependable defensively despite the Nuggets’ main focus lying on the offensive end. On those eight Denver playoff teams, the Nuggets ranked in the NBA’s top four in points per game all eight seasons—leading the league four times.

Sikma said on many of those Nuggets teams Dunn might have been the only lockdown defender on the team. His style of play mirrors the type of prototypical wing defense each team needs, and it’s something the current Wolves team have in Andrei Kirilenko.

“T.R. was a really strong and savvy and used his body well and took things away from big-time scorers, and there were a lot of them at that time,” Sikma said. “There were a lot of guys who could put the ball in the hole, and you could bet that 25-30 minutes a night T.R. was going to be on him.”

Today, Dunn brings that same tenacious defensive mindset to the sidelines. He’s been a professional basketball coach since landing his first assistant job with the Charlotte Hornets in 1991, and since then he’s spent time on the bench with the Nuggets, the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting, the University of Alabama and, most recently, under coach Rick Adelman in Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota.

Dunn said this coaching staff took over in Minnesota last season with the intention of changing the franchise’s defensive philosophy. The Wolves finished second to last and last in the league in opponents points per game in the previous two seasons. This year, Minnesota is third in the league allowing 90.4 points per game.

“This season, we’ve come in with the same mindset—we need to be better defensively,” Dunn said. “That’s something we want to have as a statement of our team, something we can depend on every game no matter what we’re doing offensively. No matter who we have on the floor, we come in with a certain mindset defensively that we’re going to be tough, and we’re going to challenge teams and we’re going to try and impose our presence on other teams.”

That’s the type of mentality Dunn personally brought to the game during his playing days, and it’s a mindset that is still applicable to today’s game.

“He was one of those guys, he was one of those guys I’m sure—fortunately I didn’t play that position—but I’m sure guys didn’t like see coming,” Sikma said.

Dunn was in the thick of the action when the NBA truly took off in the mid-‘80s, and it hasn’t slowed down since—but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I was very fortunate to get an opportunity to get into the league as a coach right after I finished playing,” Dunn said. “Even with the ups and downs, it’s been great. It’s been a great ride for me.”


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