The Jimmy Butler trade last June probably was the most significant trade in the history of the Bulls franchise. Never had the Bulls traded an All-Star player in his prime like Butler. So the Bulls have considered the players acquired in that trade, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen, as the building blocks for the franchise’s future. All three have excelled at times this season, though because of injuries and LaVine’s recovery from knee surgery, the trio hasn’t played together that much. Still, they are expected to be the foundation for the team the Bulls hope to build in these coming years. Both Dunn and LaVine because of recent injuries and health problems will not play again this season. Markkanen continues to play, though it’s possible he misses a game in the last week because of recent back and elbow issues. I met with each last week during the Texas/Florida trip for a brief question-and-answer about their first seasons with the Bulls. This is the second of three parts.
Kris Dunn has one of the more extraordinary childhood stories in a world where there are many. Dunn’s mother took Kris and his brother when Kris was one year old from their Connecticut home. She was often troubled and occasionally in jail. Fearing being split up and going to foster homes, the boys, at times, actually lived by themselves, getting money for food from gambling and hustling. Eventually, the boys’ father located them and regained custody. Kris’ mother has since passed away.
The athletic 6-4 guard, initially a football player, became a top basketball prospect in high school in Connecticut and then decided to attend college close to home at Providence. He had shoulder problems and missed parts of his freshman and sophomore seasons. He played two full seasons and won Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. He averaged about 16 points his last two seasons, but with a year of eligibility because of injury, nevertheless, declared for the NBA draft and got his college degree. He was taken No. 5 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2016 draft.
Dunn had 27 points in his Summer League debut, but then suffered a concussion and missed the rest of the games. He was primarily a defensive oriented backup for Minnesota, averaging just 3.8 points and shooting 29 percent on threes in about 17 minutes per game.
This season with the Bulls, Dunn averaged 13.4 points, six assists, 4.3 rebounds and two steals, the latter among the NBA leaders. He shot 42.9 percent and 32 percent on threes. The 24-year-old Dunn played in 52 games and started 43. He suffered a toe injury March 15, which ended his season. He had a finger injury in preseason that delayed his season debut and a concussion in January after a nasty fall that kept him out 11 games. Dunn became the team’s clutch performer, especially in its 10-6 December. He had 13 points in the fourth quarter in a November win over the Hornets. He came off the bench to start the season after returning from injury, but then replaced Jerian Grant. Dunn had late game winning shots or free throws in wins over the Knicks December 9, the Jazz December 13, the 76ers December 18, the Knicks Dec. 27 and January 10.
Bulls.com: What did you anticipate for yourself following the trade to the Bulls?
Dunn: I just wanted to come in and try to improve. This is my first time having big minutes in the NBA. Just go out there and play hard.
Bulls.com: What has been most encouraging? Most discouraging?
Dunn: Discouraging was the unfortunate injuries. I love playing basketball, being out there with my guys. The positives, I think I’ve had some good moments. I’ve had a lot of good games this year and next year I’ll be trying to build on that. Try to be an impact player each and every night.
Bulls.com: You and Zach were in somewhat similar situations coming to the Bulls and having to prove yourselves again, him with injury and you with a disappointing rookie season. What do you feel you accomplished individually given the circumstances?
Dunn: I showed my teammates, the fans, the coaching staff, the organization that I’m a ballplayer, that I’m going to go out there and play hard, play the right way. I’ll be going out there trying to win games. I play to win. I have a winning mindset and that’s what I try to bring here.
Bulls.com: What do you feel is the best thing you did this season individually?
Dunn: “Compete each and every night. I don’t back down from anybody. I try to take on each and every matchup the same way, from an elite point to a second year point guard. I try to play the same way and be aggressive. I definitely got my swagger back. I didn’t have it in Minnesota. I’m glad to have it back. I went out there and played with confidence. I just tried to get the respect out of people in this league.
Bulls.com: What could you have done better? What do you look forward to regarding next season?
Dunn: This summer I’m going to add a lot to my game. I’m going to try to polish up some of the things I haven’t been as good at. I showed the mid range area was one of my shots. I have to improve at the rim. Toward the end of the season, I felt I started improving. Work on that more in the summer. My decision making, do better on the three, ball handling, a whole bunch of things. Post up. I shot the post up this year better than in the summer. I’m excited.
Bulls.com: What do you feel you did best this season?
Dunn: Last year, I really wasn’t playing in my position. I was almost like a two, sometimes a three. I think I did a good job trying to be a leader, trying to run the team. I think I did a good job being vocal when I returned (from the concussion) this year. I want to do a lot more being vocal because as a point guard you have to be the leader when you take on that challenge.
Bulls.com: Can you be that elite point guard?
Dunn:I’m trying to be an elite point guard. I have the intangibles for it. I’ve got the work ethic. It’s all about putting it together and doing it the right way. I want to be an elite point guard, but a guard who wins games. That’s the big thing for me, try to make everyone better.
Bulls.com: Did you have doubts given this summer and missing most of Summer League and last year?
Dunn: Not at all. I know my talent. I know how hard I work. Last summer, even coach Thibs can vouch for it. I was in the gym every day. I’ve had a positive mindset since I got here. I knew good things were going to happen. I just had to be patient and keep working hard.
Bulls.com: Was there a highlight this season, something that stands out?
Dunn: Just the winning streak we had going. I think we were playing at a very high level. I think everybody was playing very well, and it shows what we can bring. It’s something you can grab and bring onto the next season. That’s the positive of this. If I had to pick a highlight or moment, it would be that moment.
Bulls.com: Are you looking forward to you, LaVine and Markkanen for a whole season?
Dunn: For sure. I think individually we showed flashes. There were some games we did it together. It’s just going to take time, take chemistry. But I’m the type of person who wants to get it now. It’s going to be a big summer for all of us. But I don’t want anybody to get the concept about that we’re young and this and that, the first full season. I want to get it done now.