Is Kris Dunn the point guard of the future?
"This is my second year being a point guard in this league and I am learning. I am improving each and every game. I'm trying to be a good leader for this team." - Kris Dunn
It was just really an aside the other day when the Bulls were preparing to play the Golden State Warriors—spoiler alert: Didn't go well—though it perhaps pinpointed one of the biggest decisions the Bulls have to make, and one that was at the top of their list to start the season.
Is Kris Dunn the point guard of the future?
The continuing discussion and analysis heads into Los Angeles Tuesday for a game with the Lakers minus the injured LeBron James. With the Lakers having officially found rock bottom with a home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday, it's probably the best chance for the Bulls to win a game on this difficult Western Conference road trip.
But that also would miss the point.
"I'm trying to be a good leader for this team, I am trying to do what coach wants me to do. We are starting to push the pace, starting to figure that out and be aggressive on both ends of the floor." - Kris Dunn
There have been so many distractions from a coaching change to major injuries, including to Dunn, to lineup and rotation roulette that sometimes the priorities are obscured. But getting back to the point, one of the goals of this season is to determine if the Bulls have the right players to move forward.
Especially the way the NBA game has evolved, point guard has become perhaps the most crucial position.
So Dunn, in response to reporters' questions, was talking about his and Zach LaVine's development, and that it's really just beginning. And, after all, it wasn't a straight line to success for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They were 23-43 their first season together in the lockout 2011-12 year. The next season, the team was 47-35 and then 51-31. No one was talking championships.
"This is my second year being a point guard in this league and I am learning," said Dunn, who missed 30 games with injuries last season after playing shooting guard as a rookie in Minnesota. "I am improving each and every game. I'm trying to be a good leader for this team, I am trying to do what coach wants me to do. We are starting to push the pace, starting to figure that out and be aggressive on both ends of the floor.
"It didn't come easy for them (Curry and Thompson)," Dunn noted. "When they first came in the league they weren't talked about as much as other guys were. But they kept working, they kept building that chemistry and now look where they are. They built a championship team. They got the game on smash and you have to go in there and compete.
"I think we (with LaVine) learn from each other's game," said Dunn. "Being around each other we try to figure out what we both do best and what we can teach each other. Chemistry is getting there and we are going to keep building and working hard each and every day,…"
Wait, here it comes.
"…and as the time comes if we are still together we just keep hooping."
Dunn isn't looking to not be together. But he also understands it's an ongoing examination and trial for these Bulls this season.
Though the answers seem to be clearer for others.
Lauri Markkanen is in a bit of a slump lately, two for 16 on threes the last four games and averaging 14.8 points and six rebounds in January after a strong close to December when he averaged 22.2 points and 8.2 rebounds the last five games of the month. Markkanen seems to deferring some as the team works in a new system of play under coach Jim Boylen. But there's little doubt the seven-foot shooting forward is a rare talent.
Zach LaVine has been the team's most consistent player all season, averaging 25.2 points and shooting 50 percent on threes the last five games amidst the seven-game losing streak. LaVine is averaging 23.6 per game for the season and 36 percent on threes and has been one of the league's top shooting guards.
Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. has been consistent. He is averaging 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game the last five games, comparable to his averages for the season despite rookie hazing foul troubles and varying matchups. Carter is second among rookies in blocks and rebounds in an impressive rookie season for a 19-year-old.
Dunn has been somewhat of an enigma.
He's playing better than he did last season, but still hasn't put together a consistent run of play.
He is averaging 12.6 points and 8.8 assists the last five games while attempting just eight three pointers. He made four. In this era, the three-point shot is the treasure of most top point guards. Dunn is shooting them better, a career high 34.6 percent this season. Though he attempts fewer than two per game. That's ninth on the team, though Justin Holiday and Cameron Payne no longer are with the team.
Dunn is averaging 13.2 points per game this season, slightly down from last season, and a career high 6.8 assists. His assists per game would rank 12th in the NBA, but he doesn't have enough games played yet after injury to qualify.
"Lauri, this is his second year, my third. Zach is the most experienced out of all of us and he's still learning as a player, too... We're all still learning individually; we're definitely still learning as a team. You are not going to build a monument in one day." - Kris Dunn
Dunn has developed an excellent mid-range jump shot that he seems to be able to get anytime the way he weaves over a screen to the elbow or free throw line. The 6-4 guard also has finished stronger at the basket and has been a defensive presence, generally defending the highest scoring guard. Dunn is averaging 1.5 steals, which would rank about 20th in the league.
It's clear he's doing many positive things. But is it enough? Plus, it's not easy to judge since former coach Fred Hoiberg emphasized a faster pace of play. When Dunn returned from his knee injury, Boylen was in place with a slower pace and more defensive emphasis.
The Bulls appear to have the elements of a young core with Markkanen, LaVine and Carter. It's hardly a finished product, which the team understands. Whether they have a point guard for the future is one of the most important decisions.
"We've got to figure it out," Dunn agreed. "I'm not going to say we're going to get it all at once; it's a learning process for us. But I am excited. I like going out there and hooping with those guys and figuring out what we can do.
"Lauri, this is his second year, my third. Zach is the most experienced out of all of us and he's still learning as a player, too," Dunn pointed out. "We're all still learning individually; we're definitely still learning as a team. You are not going to build a monument in one day. It's a process and I get it, they get it. But we are hungry for it.
"To be elite in the game, you have to have everything," Dunn agreed. "Last year I built a foundation. I knew the mid range is my shot; that's my go to shot. I knew getting to the basket, I can get there any time I want to. Create for my teammates? I know I can do that. Now it's about doing the little things: Being even more solid on defense, start taking more threes. Make me a threat in that emphasis. Learning the game and seeing how people guard pick and rolls. As you can see, I have been finding Wendell with lobs. I am trying to add a little bit of everything. Credit to my teammates, the coaching staff for helping me learn the game."
The lessons continue. There are 39 more games.
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.