Bulls

John Paxson reserved on Kris Dunn as PG of the future: 'We have to get better at that position'

John Paxson reserved on Kris Dunn as PG of the future: 'We have to get better at that position'

The good news for the Bulls entering Year 3 of their rebuild is that they’ve got potential foundations pieces at four positions.

Both Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen appear to be cornerstones of the franchise, while Otto Porter and Wendell Carter provide complementary skill sets at the other wing and other big spots. It’s a position many rebuilding groups would love to be in, and for that there’s optimism about the team going forward.

The bad news? The Bulls are still searching for a future piece at the league’s most important position.

In what was a year of growth and development for the other pieces of the 2017 Jimmy Butler trade wound up being disastrous for Kris Dunn. In his third NBA season, Dunn posted averages of just 11.3 points and 6.0 assists, and while his defensive instinct shown through at times – he was 17th in the NBA with 1.5 steals per game – his gambles and miscues resulted in the Bulls being 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him off the court.

He took a step back in his third season and the result was a non-committal answer from VP John Paxson when he was asked Thursday about what the future holds for Dunn.

“We have not given up on Kris. I think he has defensive abilities but we have to get better at that position, there’s absolutely no question in my mind,” he said. “He has an opportunity this summer to improve his game, come back with the mindset of being a true push guard, getting us to play with pace. I do see our starting lineup with three legitimate 3-point shooters in Zach, Lauri and Otto, a point guard who can get those guys opportunities will be a priority.

“Kris is going to have opportunity because he’s under contract but we understand as an organization that that’s a position that if we’re to make a step in the right direction, that we’re going to have to address. No beating around the bush on that one.”

It was admittedly a difficult season for Dunn to get much going. He missed 24 games at the start of the season with a knee sprain – and the last eight with a sore back – and by the time he returned in mid-December, Zach LaVine had established himself as a ball handler and initiator of the offense.

Dunn suggested on Tuesday that he had prepared over the summer with the expectation of having the ball in his hands more and not being an off-ball guard. Dunn shot a career-best 35.4 percent from beyond the arc but it came on just 96 attempts in 46 games.

“If I knew we were going to do multiple ball handlers, I would’ve prepped for it over the summer. But going into the summer, my job was to create for others,” Dunn said. “If I knew we were going to do a multi-ball handler situation, I would’ve prepped for the summer a little different.”

He also said he sacrificed his role at times to allow LaVine and Markkanen – and later Otto Porter – to flourish as scorers. That’s true, but Dunn also shot 42.5 percent from the field and averaged fewer than 2 free throw attempts per game; he and Lonzo Ball were the only point guards to average 30+ minutes and attempt fewer than 2 free throws per game. Dunn disappeared for long stretches and wasn’t able to accomplish much without the ball in his hands.

He now enters a critical offseason, both for himself and his status on the Bulls depth chart. He’s under contract through next season and has a qualifying offer for 2021. He’ll certainly be a part of the rotation on a Bulls roster that’s weak on point guard depth – and Ryan Arcidiacono will be a free agent – but the Bulls could address the position anyway over the summer.

Whether it’s in the draft – Ja Morant is a logical choice if the Bulls grab the No. 2 pick, but Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White are also options in the top-10 – or free agency, the Bulls are serious about upgrading their weakest position.

Dunn said he welcomes any competition that comes his way.

“I’m a dog. I don’t run from nothing,” he said. “It’s a business. (Management is) going to do what they’re going to do. I’m just going to control what I can control. I’m excited to get back in the gym and do what I do.”

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, See Red Fred joins Big Dave and Matt Peck. The guys talk about some big plays down the stretch by Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine. Plus a great defensive job by Kris Dunn on Paul George. (1:30) See Red Fred states his case for more playing time for Denzel Valentine. (4:00) Plus what's going to happen when Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison come back. (8:00) The guys share some concerns about Coby White in the short term. (10:30) See Red Fred tells you about 3 players who have exceeded expectations this year. (13:00) Plus the guys debate whether Zach LaVine should compete in the dunk contest or 3 point competition. (18:00) They discuss the impact that Kris Dunn has had on the defensive end of the floor. (20:30) Plus See Red Fred lays out his blueprint for the Bulls to make the playoffs. (23:30) Plus the guys make a wager regarding the rest of the season. (25:00)
 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”