The hardware will have to wait. But at least Kris Dunn revived his career.
The Bulls' guard, who finished second in the NBA in steals, landed on the outside looking in when the NBA announced its two All-Defensive teams Tuesday night on TNT.
Dunn received four first- and 23 second-team votes to finish with 31 points, the most for any player not on one of the two teams. However, his points total lagged far behind second-team guard Eric Bledsoe of the Milwaukee Bucks (59).
Bledsoe joined the Los Angeles Clippers' Patrick Beverley on the second team, while the Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons and the Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart comprised the first-team guards.
Simmons led the NBA with 2.1 steals per game, just ahead of Dunn's 2.0 per game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, the Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis and the Utah Jazz' Rudy Gobert rounded out the first team. The Clippers' Kawhi Leonard, Miami Heat's Bam Adebayo and the Bucks' Brook Lopez comprised the rest of the second team.
That means another notable omission — Heat forward Jimmy Butler.
Dunn bucked offseason trade speculation, which included trade talks with the Memphis Grizzlies, and became the anchor of an over-performing Bulls defense in 2019-20 thanks to his ability to attack the ball and turn over opponents.
Even with his season cut short after 51 games due to an MCL sprain, he finished fourth in deflections per game (3.7) and second among point guards in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus (+3.01). The Bulls finished pre-restart regular-season play 13th in defensive rating — they were ninth when he went down on Jan. 31 — and first in opponent turnovers per game (18.3) by a fair margin.
For a team that employed relentless trapping schemes in pick-and-roll coverage, and generated more of its offense off turnovers than any team since the 2014-15 Bucks, Dunn's supreme positional length, motor and physicality was essential. A rudderless season careened off the rails entirely when he went down for good on Jan. 31, exacerbating an already-injured Wendell Carter Jr.'s absence.
“That’s my niche — to guard. They want me to be a defensive player, which I love to do,” Dunn told NBC Sports Chicago in December 2019, when the Bulls’ defense ranked ninth in the NBA. It would rise to fifth by the end of the month.
“I feel I do things just a little differently. I can pickpocket people. I can get in passing lanes. I can wall people up. I can guard point guards to power forwards. I even guarded some centers in the post before and held my own. I think I can do a little of everything defensively.”
All of those virtues were on display in his 1,269 minutes in 2019-20. In the 32 games Dunn started, the Bulls allowed 106.2 points per 100 possessions, a figure that would have ranked fifth in the NBA over the full season. Their .406 winning percentage in such contests, while underwhelming, trounced a .273 mark in games he came off the bench or was injured. When he was on the floor, the Bulls defended at a rate of 6.8 points per 100 possessions better than when he sat — a 92nd percentile mark, per Cleaning the Glass.
Still, Dunn’s future with the Bulls is uncertain. Coming off a knee injury, he faces restricted free agency this offseason. And for all his defensive prowess, his imitations as a jump-shooter and age — he turns 27 in March 2021 — leave doubt about his long-term fit with a rebuilding club.
NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls writer Rob Schaefer contributed.