Bulls

How Bulls’ Kris Dunn carved out NBA niche in resurgent 2019-20 season

How Bulls’ Kris Dunn carved out NBA niche in resurgent 2019-20 season

NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Kris Dunn.

Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky

2019-20 Stats

7.3 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.0 SPG | 44.4% FG, 25.9% 3P, 74.1% FT | 14.5% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 26

July 2016: Dunn signed a 4-year, $17,488,287 rookie-scale contract with Minnesota Timberwolves

2020-21: RFA (QO: $7,091,457)

(via Spotrac)

Strengths

Seeing the ball, attacking the ball and stealing the ball. At 6-foot-3 with a 6-9 wingspan, Dunn doesn’t discriminate when it comes to ripping opponents — he owns the length and physicality to swallow up guards and hang with wings of all shapes and sizes. In 2019-20, amplified by defensive schemes that demanded aggressive blitzing in pick-and-roll scenarios, Dunn currently sits tied for second in the NBA in steals per game, seventh in steal rate (34.1%) and fourth in deflections per game (3.7)… All in spite of logging only 24.9 minutes per contest across 50 games.

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And even in an underwhelming team-wide season, Dunn’s contributions were impactful. The Bulls were 6.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively in 2019-20 with Dunn on the floor than off, and played their best basketball after he was inserted into the small forward slot of the starting lineup on Nov. 29 with injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, going 7-7 in December and bumping their defensive rating to as high as second in the NBA. He was an anchor for a squad that turned opponents over — and scored off said turnovers — at a higher rate than any team in the league by a wide margin.

Most importantly for Dunn, he found his niche, despite coming off an offseason littered with trade rumors. He’s a ball hawk and a bonafide perimeter stopper at a level few in the NBA can boast. A legitimate All-Defense candidate. Just ask Trae Young, Paul George or anyone else that had the misfortune of happening across his path this season.

Areas to Improve

Dunn is a serviceable playmaker in spurts, and actually improved his finishing drastically this season on cut-back volume. But for him to ascend from defensive specialist to truly valuable role player on a winning team, he’s got to find a jump shot.

It’s not just that in 2019-20, he regressed from a 32.3% career mark from 3-point range to 25.9% (24.1% on NBA.com-defined “wide open” long-balls). It’s that other teams stopped treating him as an even marginal threat from outside, opting instead to sag off, hone in on other creators (read: Zach LaVine), and muck up driving and passing lanes. It’s a testament to just how great Dunn’s defense is that he’s still an impactful NBA player at his position despite that deficiency. But no matter how stingy a defender Dunn is, it’s hard to survive in the modern NBA with more than one non-shooter on the floor.

Ceiling Projection

Exiting his rookie contract, Dunn is 26 and coming off a sprained MCL sustained Jan. 31. He'll be a restricted free agent when the offseason begins, but due to his mixed bag of attributes and the Bulls' uncertain position, the market for his services is unclear

As for his individual ceiling: Any point guard of the future premonitions have passed in Chicago. And that’s OK. If he can pull off a Marcus Smart-ian turn as a long-range shooter to at or close to league average, it doesn’t feel outlandish that Dunn could compete for All-Defense consideration as a reserve on a good-to-great team through his prime.

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine shouts out Damian Lillard during 61-point explosion

Bulls’ Zach LaVine shouts out Damian Lillard during 61-point explosion

Damian Lillard is not of this planet.

As the Portland Trail Blazers scrap for a spot in the Western Conference’s play-in round, Lillard dropped a career-high-tying 61 points on 17-for-32 field goal shooting (9-for-17 from 3 and *rubs eyes* 18-for-18 from the charity stripe), eight assists and five rebounds in a 134-131 victory over the red-hot Dallas Mavericks. Flames spit from his fingertips.

It was Lillard’s third 60-point outing of the season (and second straight game with 50-plus; he’s had six of those this year and 11 in his career). Twenty-two of his 61 points and 11 of his 18 free throws came in the fourth quarter. It was a magnificent, all-encompassing performance — one that has become all too commonplace in a campaign by Lillard that is historic in its prolificity.

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When these shots are falling, you know it’s your night. Or, for that matter, your season.


What’s more, Lillard followed that friendly roll — which tied the game 130-130 — by drawing an offensive foul on Trey Burke on the ensuing defensive possession, then immediately setting the table for a Hassan Whiteside dunk that put the Trail Blazers ahead for good.

The win secures Portland (34-39) full control of its destiny in the Western Conference play-in race. A victory over the Brooklyn Nets Thursday guarantees them a swing at the eighth seed (and should the Memphis Grizzlies fall to the Milwaukee Bucks that night, Portland will move into the No. 8 spot, granting them a one-game handicap in the play-in). Lillard’s outing epitomized clutch.

And another electric scorer with ties to the Pacific Northwest took notice:

Real recognize real. As it's always been.

Bulls fans will remember Lavine’s 49-point, 13 3-pointer eruption against the Charlotte Hornets way back on Nov. 23, 2019 — it was one of the few bright spots of the season, though it feels decades-old now. 

“It was fun to see,” Lillard said of LaVine’s night on Nov. 25, with the Trail Blazers in town for an early-season date with the Bulls. “Any time you see that type of performance, you hope that it comes in a win. And I think how they just came up big hitting 3 after 3, you know, he hit a couple tough ones… He has that type of talent, that type of ability to have a night like that.”

Lillard would know.

LaVine enjoyed his career night just 24 hours after being yanked by Jim Boylen from a loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.” Lillard’s comes three days after a close loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in which he missed two crucial late-game free throws that could have pulled Portland ahead by a point. An unsavory beef with FS1’s Skip Bayless followed.

“I think that's a separator, you know, being able to have that type of mentality,” Lillard said on Nov. 25 of LaVine bouncing back from being benched. “He could have easily came out and pouted and not showed up for his teammates, but he responded in a kind of way that a player at his level should.”

Lillard embodied that mentality Tuesday. And LaVine, via Twitter, put respect on his name.

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How Sky are approaching WNBA season, from advocacy to unprecedented schedule

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How Sky are approaching WNBA season, from advocacy to unprecedented schedule

The 2020 WNBA season is one like no other. While the league is playing out its truncated, 22-game campaign in a bubbled campus at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla, it’s also dedicating the proceedings to social justice advocacy.

To name a few ways the latter has come to fruition: Players across the W have honored the lives and called for justice for Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and other victims of police brutality and racial violence with jersey messages, on-court demonstrations and comments to the media. The Sky, specifically, launched a fund to benefit Chicago-based community organizations based on team performance called #SkyTakesAction. There was even a leaguewide thrust to publicly endorse Raphael Warnock, a Democratic challenger for Kelly Loeffler’s Senate seat in Georgia, after Loeffler repeatedly came out in opposition of the W’s social justice initiatives and the Black Lives Matter movement. Everything enacted by the league on this front has been pointed and unified.

Meanwhile, there’s basketball to be played, as well. And the Sky is on the rise. Despite dropping two of its last three contests, the team is off to a 5-3 start to the season, with mammoth victories over the Las Vegas Aces, Los Angeles Sparks and Washington Mystics embedded in. It’s a group with championship aspirations one year after bursting onto the scene under first-year coach James Wade and bolstered by a high-octane, free-flowing style of play; and it returned much of the core of that breakout squad, even as many stars across the W traded threads.

Sky forward Gabby Williams recently joined the Bulls Talk Podcast to discuss all of the above — from her commitment to pushing for change to the high hopes, and strange circumstances, surrounding the team this season.

“Our decision to come to the bubble really was, if we're going to go, fighting for social justice is going to be at the forefront of our season,” Williams said. “That's going to go hand-in-hand with the WNBA.”

And on grinding through a season with games near every other day: “It’s going to be hard on our bodies, it’s going to be hard mentally, it’s going to be hard physically, emotionally, everything, it’s going to be exhausting. So we’re just going to try to keep each other up. It’s going to be gritty, it’s going to be a season that we have to grind out, and it’s not going to be easy for anyone. So we’re just focused on our bodies, and staying healthy and staying together.”

Listen to the full conversation here or via the embedded player above.

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