In His Second Year in the NBA, Kris Dunn is Still a Student of the Game
As Kris Dunn grows into the Bulls starting-PG role, Sam Smith looks at how he's developed so quickly this season
The game is over, and despite back to back tough losses this week, the Bulls have won 10 of 14 going into Wednesday’s game with the Toronto Raptors. Kris Dunn sits at his locker, drained despite what often seems like a languid approach to the game with his fluid athleticism. He’s patient with every media interview, candid, accessible, thoughtful, though also without shifting blame. Yes, the NBA admitted Tuesday its officials had missed that obvious foul by Shabazz Napier on Dunn’s jumper in overtime with 8.7 seconds left and the Bulls trailing by two. It could have been another clutch moment for the second year point guard like his floater with 1:27 left that gave the Bulls a four-point lead in regulation. Not this time.
Then it’s a long shower and stepping into some new fashions, Dunn these days partial to an eclectic array of headwear. Usually, it’s then onto the team’s charter aircraft heading for the next game, an opportunity to relax, perhaps play some cards, grab some snacks while boarding and then order a dinner. Not very often for Kris Dunn, though, says Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. Because school rarely seems to be out for Dunn, another reason why he’s gotten the point for the Bulls so efficiently and effectively.
“The thing I’ve really been impressed with Kris is he’s a student of the game,” says Hoiberg. “He’s the first guy on the plane who goes back to Paul Miller, our film coordinator, and gets his minutes (played) and goes back and watches them before he does anything else. Then we’ll have an edit for him the next day with coaches and, obviously, the team film sessions we have. Just his willingness to learn.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen out of Kris is overall consistency on both ends,” Hoiberg added. “He showed flashes early of really being in a (defensive) stance and then taking plays off. But now he’s out there with a great focus and mentality, and the most impressive thing about Kris is just how he’s learned to help finish games. It’s not easy at this level. He did a lot in college, but in only his second year he has shown no fear in taking and making big shots down the stretch. That has to be learned, and a lot of times it’s an innate quality in guys. He’s got a little bit of both. I’ve been really impressed with Kris’s work ethic. That’s where it starts.”
It’s the ongoing maturation of a point guard right in front of us.
It was yet another disappointing Bulls loss Monday to the Trailblazers with Dunn’s fingerprints all over it from his 22 points and seven rebounds to his eight turnovers, the latter which was an aberration for him of late.
After struggling with ball control early in the season, Dunn improved in December when he averaged 15 points, eight assists and just 2.6 turnovers, an impressive three-to-one turnover to assist ratio. Dunn is averaging 13.7 points and six assists for the season, but in the last four games since his one for 12 stinker in Boston, he’s averaging 19.5 points and eight assists.
He’s hardly perfect, sometimes too casual with a pass, like his late, way-too-low bounce pass to a rolling Robin Lopez against Portland. Sometimes in his determination to make a play, he might miss a corner three-point shooter late.
Russell Westbrook did all the time and was MVP.
“Down the stretch, I definitely want to have the ball in my hands,” says Dunn, not long removed from a so called bust in Minnesota and bench player with the Bulls early in the season. “The team, the coaching staff give me confidence to do it. The coaching staff did an unbelievable job with me each and every day, getting me back slowly, to keep working and proving and progressing. I’m going to go out there and try to make the right play, make the right read and keep trying to be aggressive. I’m going to keep shooting it. I have a lot of years and I feel the more you keep shooting the more comfortable you get. Be able to tweak things you are doing wrong. Do it now when I am young and tweak in off season and become more polished.”
It’s what also makes this Bulls reset season difficult to gauge. It’s a season on parallel rails.
There’s the desire to build winning habits, which has been working better lately with seven straight wins after that 3-20 start.
And without conceding the post season draft, there’s the requirement to develop the young players, particularly Dunn and Lauri Markkanen from the Jimmy Butler trade. And soon Zach LaVine, who continues to practice toward a return probably this month from knee surgery last February.
It’s why Markkanen and Dunn mostly need to be in the games late, and why mistake or not, Dunn needs to have those plays. It also helps that he’s been the best player on the roster this season in completing those plays.
“I’ve heard (I can’t shoot) all my life,” admits Dunn with a smile. “High school, I didn’t shoot the ball and still got the job done. College, I didn’t shoot the ball a little more; still got the job done. I don’t listen to that. I know my game, how I can affect the game.
You don’t have to be a shooter to be able to affect the game. There’s so much to the game to control and help the team. I want to become a good shooter, but at the same time I don’t listen to that.”
The 6-4 Dunn has certainly been adequate shooting the ball this season, and with his mid range game teams no longer play off him. It’s become a go-to play for him. And, refreshingly in some sense — and no offense meant, certainly — he really isn’t trying to be like Mike.
Of course, being four years old when Jordan won his last championship, Jordan probably is more a part of NBA history, in there with Bird, Magic and Kareem. Dunn’s a Kobe guy, as many are of his generation.
“To be honest,” Dunn said when asked who among current guards he studies, “I look at Kobe, his mentality. In that (closer) situation, he just wants the ball. I study him a lot when it comes down the stretch, his footwork and being able to get to his spot even when the defender knows what spot he’s going trying to get to. And still being able to raise up and make the play. I watch a lot of him.”
Dunn was asked the sort of player he aims to be.
“Somebody who’s a dog on both ends,” Dunn says. “Who can play defense and is not scared to get dirty a little bit; offensively, who can run the team.”
A guy who just loves going to the movies. Because it’s where he continues to learn and grow.
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