Kris Dunn has battled through minor bumps and bruises during his brief NBA career. So when he landed awkwardly on his left knee in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks, he figured he had simply bruised something as he hobbled back down court.
Team doctors looked at Dunn after the game and he didn’t even mention the injury when speaking to reporters in Dallas. It wasn’t until the Bulls boarded the plane late Monday evening that Dunn began to feel discomfort in the knee. Upon returning home the knee began to lock up on him, and it got worse even as he iced it to help with the pain.
An MRI on Tuesday morning revealed that Dunn had suffered a moderate sprain in his left MCL, an injury that will keep him out for 4 to 6 weeks at a time when the 0-3 Bulls need their point guard most. It’s not the first injury for Dunn, but he scoffed at the notion that he’s prone to these injuries after suffering his fourth – finger, head and toe injuries kept him out last season – injury since arriving in Chicago in the Jimmy Butler trade.
“I think it’s unlucky. It comes with the game,” Dunn said. “I can either cry about it or try to work my way around it. I’m going to stay positive, be a man about it. Whatever happens, happens. I’m going to rehab the best I can, get back on the floor and work.”
Dunn had missed the first two games of the season due to the birth of his first child, Lennox. He was clearly shaking off rust in Monday’s loss, finishing with 9 points, 7 assists and 4 turnovers in 30 minutes, the majority of which came after the injury midway through the second quarter.
The timing is never good to lose a starting point guard, but this felt like one injury the Bulls couldn’t have after already missing Lauri Markkanen (elbow) and Denzel Valentine (ankle). Though the Bulls got by at the point in those first two games of the season, the defense has struggled mightily without Dunn, their top defender and communicator, and they now face a string of top-tiered point guards in the next two weeks. It begins Wednesday night with Kemba Walker, the league’s second leading scorer.
“When they say next man up, it’s actually true,” Dunn said. “Even though two men are out, stay positive and keep building on what we’ve been working on. I know we’re 0-3 but there have been some positives in those games. Keep building on it and try to get a win. Once we get a win, we can probably build on that.”
First up to replace Dunn will be the man who started the first two games of the season, fan favorite Cam Payne. Though he’s become the fall guy for the Bulls during their current (and perhaps now-prolonged) rebuild, Payne will enter Wednesday’s with some confidence. He scored 17 points in Saturday’s home loss to the Pistons and played well on the second unit on Monday.
Payne is at his best when he’s playing aggressive and downhill, but he knows that on the first unit with scorers like Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis, picking and choosing those spots will be paramount to his and the team’s success.
“You really don’t know when to be aggressive and when not,” Payne said. “It kind of just comes with the flow of the game. If Zach has it going, obviously, you have to keep going until the fire gets out. There are opportunities at times for point guards to be aggressive.”
Payne could also benefit from the Bulls riding LaVine, who has had the ball in his hands quite often in the early going. Though he hasn’t made a 3-pointer in 68 minutes this season, Payne shot 38.5 percent from beyond the arc last year. If he’s forced to play off the ball, it could work in his favor: Payne was 18 for 43 on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, a 44 percent mark that led the Bulls. Though his defense will be the key, especially against a talent like Walker, even a handful of points to take the load off LaVine and Portis could be critical moving forward.
Ryan Arcidiacono will resume second-team duties, while Shaq Harrison and Tyler Ulis could see minutes as Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls begin mixing and matching to see what works. It’ll help that they’ll have Dunn in their ears as another coach on the sideline while he works his way back.
“I’m going to try to keep the same approach,” Dunn said. “That’s what I told Coach (Hoiberg) yesterday. I’m going to be here, try to be a leader and try to help the guys as much as I can. Don’t try to be too down on myself. Spread that positivity.”