Kris Dunn is not done. Just because Jerian Grant will start at point guard Tuesday in the Bulls preseason opener in New Orleans doesn’t mean the battle is done. It's only just begun.
And I’m obviously not done wearing out that Dunn pun.
“We’re going to start Jerian (Grant), Justin (Holiday), Paul Zipser, Bobby (Porrtis) and Robin (Lopez),” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters after morning practice. “A lot of things came into it. We’ve been using different combinations. Not that this is going to be our starting lineup on opening day. We’ll start a completely different lineup tomorrow vs. Dallas (with Dunn at point guard). We met as a staff, talked it over and this is what we came up with.”
Though the first preseason game for a team that may not have a set rotation and starting lineup all season isn’t conclusive, it does suggest Hoiberg is following through on the promise/threat/commitment that it’s a daily competition with this young team.
And everyone has to earn his position and playing time.
“The biggest thing we’re looking for is consistency at that spot,” said Hoiberg. “The guy who is the backup point guard or even our third point guard--which right now is Ryan Arcidiacono, and we tried Denzel (Valentine) in a scrimmage at the one as well—(must be) competing. If the starter isn’t getting it done, you always have to look to possibly make a change. We’re trying to get the right combinations. We want to get the best shooting lineup around certain guys.
“The thing I’ve been most impressed with (Jerian)---and this goes back to our minicamp before summer league---is the leadership qualities he showed,” said Hoiberg. “Obviously, that’s a big thing moving forward with such a young team: Who is going to develop into that leadership role. He has gotten us into an offense. Defensively, he has been much better as far as his consistent pickup point. And he has shot well. Jerian has been rock solid.”
Grant, the Notre Dane star nephew of former Bull Horace Grant, was acquired with Lopez in the Derrick Rose trade. He had 28 starts midseason in 2016-17, but then fell out of the rotation with the return of Rajon Rondo. Grant was limited defensively and often erratic. But coaches were impressed with his commitment this summer and improvement.
“Kris will get his minutes,” assured Hoiberg.” The biggest thing is if our guys are playing hard and with effort. We understand mistakes are going to be made, especially early on in their careers as they try to establish themselves. As long as they play with effort, they’re going to get opportunity. I have no doubt Kris will do that this year.”
So the Bulls open the 2017-18 preseason without starting any of the three players from the Jimmy Butler trade.
Zach LaVine remains out after February ACL surgery. He stayed back in Chicago. Lauri Markkanen will not play on this trip because of back spasms. Hoiberg said he may not play in Friday’s exhibition home opener against Milwaukee. Dunn will come off the bench, though Hoiberg said Dunn will start Wednesday in Dallas against Summer League point guard star Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith starred in the Bulls Summer League preseason opener against Dunn, who had 11 points on three of 12 shooting in that game. Dunn left the team after that game because of a family medical issue.
“I’m excited to square off with any player,” Dunn said when asked about presumably facing Smith Wednesday. “He’s a really good player. There’s a reason he’s got a lot of hype, very athletic guy. The Summer League we both went at it, got a lot of respect for him. I think it’s vice versa, too. Going out there it’s just not about the matchup between me and him. It’s as a team; let’s go compete.’’
Dunn didn’t seem concerned about his debut behind Grant. At least for now.
“Nah,” Dunn said when asked if he was concerned. “Both good point guards, both want to take on that leadership. I think it’s good for us. We’re not really out here trying to battle each other. We’re trying to provide for our team and get the most wins we can here, and today I think we’re both going to try and go out there and play our games.’’
“No, not really,” Dunn added about whether starting now mattered. “I was in a terrible situation last year where I didn’t get to play a lot of minutes. So coming in this year, knowing I will have those minutes under my belt, it really doesn’t matter to me. It’s been going well. I think the coaching staff is doing a good job with me, letting me know when I’m trying to do too much, but also letting me know when I do good, keeping my confidence high. Going out here today, just play my game. Don’t try and do too much. Try and get everybody involved first and then look to attack.
“Getting back to my old ways. I’m going out there and playing with confidence, just playing off my instincts. Just having fun with it,” said Dunn, who was upbeat and positive about training camp and the coming season. “I think that’s the biggest key. When you’re having fun with it and going out there and working hard. It’s (shooting) been getting a lot better. Just getting confident. I take pride in my defense, I take pride in my toughness. I don’t appreciate people scoring on me. I try and stop anybody that I can. It’s a team thing. Support each other. You don’t want to knock no player. You want to see each other do good, see each other improve and go out there do well for the team. It’s not really an individual thing. It’s all about the team. I think we’re just trying to do that.’’
Sharing the horizons new to us; watching the signs along the way; workin' together day by day; start out walkin' and learn to run. Yes, they've just begun.