For Dunn, priorities and personnel have changed, wanting to win games hasn't
"I'm here to win; that's all I want to do is win games. If I have to sacrifice my game to do that, I'm willing to do that." - Kris Dunn
Maybe we all missed something; maybe we need to take another look.
If the Bulls were looking for a point guard in this draft, how excited would they be if they had the opportunity to draft a long-armed, physical defensive specialist, the best in a major conference who also was a capable three-point shooter at 37 percent and who was known to overpower opponents with his strength and athletic ability? You know, like Kris Dunn.
But maybe we all told Kris Dunn to be someone he isn't and then wondered why he isn't what we want him to be.
You know, Kris Dunn, the No. 5 selection in the 2016 NBA draft, the second point guard selected and the guy who stunned the NBA world with 27 points in his first Summer League game.
Sometimes you search everywhere for something, and it's hiding in plain sight.
As the Bulls Wednesday prepare for the Washington Wizards without former Wizard Otto Porter Jr. and maybe Zach LaVine with injuries, that seemingly neglected player is the Bulls point guard who seems again to be showing the aggression and savvy that last season even made him the team's go-to guy down the stretch of games.
...I have to get back to doing what I do best, which is be aggressive, make plays, look at the rim and make plays for others and guard my (butt) off.
There's been a spike in animation and ardor from Dunn, who is again starting to attack the rim, six free throw attempts in the last three games after three in the previous seven. Dunn is shooting almost 40 percent on threes in March, indicative early in Monday's victory in Phoenix when Lauri Markkanen passed on an open three on the wing to pass to Dunn in the left corner. Dunn never hesitated with his shot, making at least half his three-point attempts in five of the last six games. Dunn still isn't much of a volume shooter, but he's back to double figures in field goal attempts and in the last four games averaging 13.5 points and five assists along with almost two steals. In the fourth quarter Monday as the Bulls were maintaining their lead, Dunn rammed his way to a vital three-point play.
"I've definitely shown I can do it," Dunn said in an interview earlier this week. "I've shown it last year numerous times. This year early in the season when Zach was injured and they told me I had to be more aggressive, I showed it."
Dunn averaged 17.8 points, six assists and 5.8 rebounds when LaVine missed five games in December with a sprained ankle. The Bulls were 3-2. Then at the end of January, LaVine missed a game and Dunn had 14 points, eight assists and five rebounds in the win in Miami.
"The Lakers game last week he was out, I had 18," Dunn said. "When they need me to be aggressive, I can be aggressive. That's not the hard part. The hard part is when you have so many guys it's a balancing act and I took the road to sacrifice for the team. I don't know if they appreciate it or not. But all I want to do is help this team win."
"I don't want to say they don't need me to really do as much, but I feel like my job was just to get them the ball and defend," said Dunn. "I don't know if it helped. Going here on out I have to get back to doing what I do best, which is be aggressive, make plays, look at the rim and make plays for others and guard my (butt) off."
Dunn doesn't care to talk about the future or what's being said, but no doubt he hears the talk that the Bulls are growing a solid core and just need a point guard. He's a tough 25-year-old who came through a lot, so he doesn't make excuses. He's always tried to do the right thing.
But the mixed signals and messages are apparent, and Dunn seemed to have this quaint notion that the point guard's responsibility is to—get this—pass the ball. Sure, it's hard not to laugh. Certainly, Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, among others, would think that's pretty funny. Having responsibility for the ball and giving it to someone else! Seriously, guys do that in today's NBA?
Yes, that's what Kris Dunn believed. After all, it seemed the best way for the team to succeed given the personnel and priorities.
Dunn seems like someone who wants to please. But anyone would question on a 20-52 team if it was worth it and the right way to go about things.
"This season," said Dunn, "I've felt like I sacrificed my game for the team. I've just got to get back to what I do, which made me, and that's being aggressive. I try to sacrifice for the team because I understand that when it was just me, Zach and Lauri—they are our primary scorers—I just tried to get them the ball and get them in the right spot. Then when Otto came, that's three big time scorers. So I'm just trying to figure out how I can help the team.
"Zach, Lauri and now Otto, you see if they have it going or not and if they don't have it going, that's when I'd be more aggressive," Dunn explained. "We've got three big time scorers now, and most of the time they've (at least two) got it going. So it kind of defers from my game. There are plenty of games as I look back I can show I wasn't being aggressive and wasn't being myself.
"I don't know if me sacrificing for the team helped or not helped the team," Dunn acknowledged. "I really don't know. I'm here to win; that's all I want to do is win games. If I have to sacrifice my game to do that, I'm willing to do that. But I do believe (I've gone away from who I was). Last year most of the time I was playing, it was me and Lauri; Zach was injured. So I had to be more aggressive for the team. We were playing great basketball and I think everyone locked into that period."
It's easy to forget with so much that has occurred in the last year with the Bulls.
I don't make excuses. Go out there and play hard and do the best I can with the minutes I get.
It started with the trade of Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans after that stretch of seven straight wins and nine in 11 games when the Bulls were the hottest team in the league in December of 2017-18. Then after All-Star break, the team switched to a development analysis of the roster that led into the draft. Then to start this season came the glut of injuries, including a meniscus strain that kept Dunn out the first two months. By the time he returned, he was playing for his third coach in three seasons and beginning a stretch of three offensive philosophies in perhaps a month.
So it's been yet another accommodation. Dunn's scoring is down this season to 11.1 from 13.4 last season. His assists are similar, 5.9 compared with six last season. But his three-point shooting is a career high 35 percent, suggesting there's growth. He's scored at least 14 points in five of the last 10 games, including two of the last three after 18, nine and seven against the Lakers.
"With Minnesota, I didn't even know what my position was," Dunn admitted of the baffling rookie season with former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "Just go out there and guard, basically. Last year I felt like Fred (Hoiberg) helped me get my swag back. He allowed me to play my game and I was showing flashes of what I did in college, being able to score the ball and get the guys involved and still what I do best is play defense. This year things got different with Zach being more aggressive, Lauri being more aggressive. Now we have Otto; they took the reins off of him so he can be more aggressive. So this season with Jim it's been great, but it's also been a challenge for me as a point guard with different systems. Remember at a point of time we slowed it down and then we speeded it up and now it's multi ball handlers. So I have to go to the corner and be a spot up guy and play defense. I am just trying to figure it all out, but I don't make excuses. Go out there and play hard and do the best I can with the minutes I get."
It is a valid point Dunn expressed without envy or anger. He didn't seek out the interview, but he replied candidly and evenly while sitting by his locker during the recent road trip.
The injuries to Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine and Dunn ravaged the Bulls' season. LaVine in that period developed into an elite scorer with few offensive options around him. When Markkanen returned the emphasis was on featuring his game. Then came the trade for Porter, and it's only natural for the team to want to take advantage of the new fit, and now expanded ball handling responsibilities for Markkanen, Porter and LaVine to vary the offense.
It's easy to forget that just over a year ago, when the Bulls needed a big play it was Dunn who made it.
He was involved in almost a half dozen game winning plays in that December streak with a clutch jumper to beat the 76ers, deciding free throws on late drives to the basket in two wins against the Knicks, a step back winner against the Jazz. There were also big games for him in wins over Charlotte and Milwaukee and the winner in overtime in New York in Markkanen's breakout game. Dunn was on the way to yet another big game and perhaps the biggest win of the season in January against Golden State when he made a steal and slipped making the dunk, suffering a concussion. He missed about a month and when he returned, the Bulls had changed direction.
It's been difficult to find the right path back.
It's one thing to attend Providence; it's another to rely on providence.
"For college, I was one of those primary guys to look at the rim and be aggressive and try to score and at the same time be a point guard and try to get my guys involved," Dunn noted. "I think I've just got to get back to what I do, and that is being aggressive. But it really came down to sacrificing. We've got three big time players. But right now the best thing is just to be aggressive, be myself."
"I have shown I can do different things in this league," Dunn said. "I think I'm shooting the ball behind the three-point line better right now (39.3 percent in March). I showed I can shoot the mid range. I can get to the basket; there's been games I've taken over. But there are not too many teams where you have dynamic scorers who can put the ball in the hole at a high clip. Lauri, he can go for 30 at any given moment, Zach he can go for 30 at any given moment, Otto he can go for 30 at any given moment. So the question is do I go in there and shoot the ball with them? Or do I try to do the little things that help the team win?
"I'm not the first option to get myself going," Dunn acknowledged. "I understand that. I'm not the second option. Our job is not to get me going. But if I get rolling they'll look for me; they have done it this season. I'm in a tough situation, I understand that. So I just stay positive. That's the biggest thing. I've been proud of myself I stayed positive. I've sacrificed for the team and I'm willing to do whatever I can to help a team win.
"I feel I am just going to keep working on my game and keep getting better and see what the rest of the season has in store for me," Dunn said. "I'm still young in this league. The biggest thing is to keep learning the game, how to be a point guard in this league, keep reading pick and roll situations, times where I can be aggressive, get guys the ball and keep guarding. I love to guard and try to figure out how to stay out of foul trouble."
"This is my third year in the league, second year as a point guard," Dunn noted. "As I keep being more aggressive they'll (officials) lay off the whistle a little more as they do with Patrick Beverley, as they do Tony Allen, Marcus Smart. It takes time. They have to get used to who I am, but I'm not going to shy way from what I do defensively. The only thing I can do is go out there and play hard and be positive and be a good teammate and try to figure it all out during the ride."
Got a question for Sam?
Submit your question to Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.