Bulls player preview: How will Bulls utilize Kris Dunn?


NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet | Cristiano Felicio | Tomas Satoransky | Chandler Hutchison | Otto Porter | Adam Mokoka

How last year went

Kris Dunn entered last season with some momentum. Though he was one of a few key Bulls who were bitten by the injury/tank bug, his final nine games of the 2017-18 season saw him average 14.3 points, 5.1 assists and 1.9 steals in 29.2 minutes. He even shot 36% on 2.8 triples per game and got to the free throw line 3.9 times per game.

So, where exactly did that player go? Maybe it was the rise of Zach LaVine as a dominant ball handler, or perhaps Dunn’s knee sprain that kept him out of 26 of the Bulls’ first 27 games until Dec. 10 never allowed him to find a rhythm. But when he eventually returned, Dunn was a shell of that 2018 closing self. He played 30 minutes per game because he was the team's best point guard - and the Bulls weren't all that interested in winning - but his results were poor. He averaged 11.3 points on 42.5% shooting, 4.1 rebounds and 6.0 assists. His 1.5 steals per game were nice, but even that came in a less-than-stellar defensive year from a usually trustworthy stopper. It was ugly all the way around for Dunn, who sat the final eight games with a sore back.

Expectations for this year's role

It's difficult to say at this point. He'll be part of a critical position battle in training camp between himself, Coby White and Ryan Arcidiacono (this assumes Tomas Satoransky starts and plays 30 minutes, which feels like a safe bet at this point). He'll get the first reps on the second unit simply because of his seniority but will have to hold off White (who the Bulls have plenty invested in) and Arcidiacono (a Boylen favorite). If nothing else, Dunn is going to be a self-proclaimed dog in practices and push the youngsters. If he can prove to be a worthy pick-and-roll guard and get back to what he was defensively two seasons ago, he'll play as long as he's on the team.

Where he excels

There's no denying an engaged Dunn can defend. His numbers from a year ago weren't outstanding - the Bulls were better defensively with Dunn off the court - and his Defensive RPM was just 46th of 104 point guards - a solid number but not anything to back up the claim that he's one of the NBA's best on-ball defending point guards. But we'll call last season a wash. Dunn was hurt for 26 games, entered the rotation at a time when Zach LaVine was handling the ball early and often, and played with myriad different lineups as the Bulls rested players both with injuries and for ping pong balls. Dunn is a solid defender with a smart IQ and high motor. He'll commit a silly foul from time to time but makes up for it more times than not.

His free throw numbers and field goal percentage won't show it, but Dunn is an aggressive offensive player. Specifically, he does an excellent job of playing downhill. Among players who appeared in at least 41 games, Dunn's 11.7 drives were 27th in the NBA. The issue was what happened when he did drive. Forty-three players averaged 10 or more drives per game, and Dunn's field goal percentage (43.8%) ranked 40th and his free throw attempts (0.7) ranked 40th. But he was a solid passer in those situations and by in large gets it done attacking the basket.

Where he struggles

Dunn is an effective passer, and that's about it on the offensive end. He'll make his share of floaters and midrange jumpers, but even those aren't the most efficient looks. For someone with such a sturdy frame and someone who attacks so frequently, Dunn's free throw attempts are non-existent. He just doesn't draw fouls (and, no, refs aren't missing calls). Then there's the issue of his 3-point shooting. Dunn averaged 0.7 triples per game in 30.2 minutes; to put that in context, Thaddeus Young, a power forward who lives in the paint, averaged 0.6 triples in 30.7 minutes per game last season.

Dunn is essentially an easy cover. He won't draw fouls and he's not a threat from beyond the arc. Force him to commit to one and you've got a good chance of getting the ball back.

Best case/worst case

The Bulls still believe in Kris Dunn. They had to upgrade the point guard position, but there’s still a route for him to be a legitimate contributor. In a best-case scenario, Dunn continues to play well when staggered with Zach LaVine, finds success on pick-and-roll action with Thaddeus Young and Daniel Gafford on the second unit, and returns to his usual great defensive self after an ugly season on that end of the floor. Dunn is 25, meaning his ceiling is somewhat limited at this point, but he also still has his best basketball years in front of him.

In a worst-case scenario, the Bulls can’t find a trade partner for Dunn and he isn’t able to beat out White or Ryan Arcidiacono for a backup spot. The Bulls don’t want to simply eat his $5.3 million salary, but they upgraded at the position with an eye toward the future. They may not have a choice.

One key stat

Scoring has never been higher at point guard than it is right now. That’s part of what makes Dunn’s recent struggles so visible, is that his counterpart most nights is scoring in the high teens with multiple 3-pointers and trips to the free throw line. In those specific areas, Dunn was historically weak in terms of per-game production.

He averaged 2.1 free throw attempts and 1.5 3-point attempts per game in 30.2 minutes. The last point guard to be below those thresholds was 5-foot-3 Muggsy Bogues in 1992. Bogues, of course, had serious limitations on the offensive end and went just 2 of 27 from beyond the arc that season. Dunn is an athletic 6-foot-4. There’s really no excuse for his passivity he showed so often. He’s a fine midrange shooter, but that’s an efficiency nightmare waiting to happen.

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