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.”