The biggest difference in Kris Dunn has been the overwhelming confidence he’s played with, helping spur this new brand of Bulls basketball.
The biggest attribute Kyrie Irving has in his bag is the overwhelming ability to embarrass his opponent with his trick bag of dribble moves, quickness and tricky shots around the rim.
Safe to say, Dunn’s newfound confidence will be tested against the Celtics—one can surmise it’ll either be validated as real or doubted as some form of anomaly. Irving missed the Dec. 11 matchup with the Bulls due to injury but he’s been on a tear in the six games since.
Irving is averaging 30.2 points and 5.3 assists on 48 percent shooting and 41 percent from 3-point range. In the last eight games Dunn’s numbers represent the best sample size of his career, with 15.8 points, 8.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds on 46 percent shooting.
Dunn doesn’t deny looking forward to the matchup.
“For sure. He’s one of the best point guards in the league,” Dunn said after the Bulls beat Orlando earlier this week. “I’m a competitor, I want to compete against all the best guards.”
While the point guard position is as deep as it’s ever been in recent memory, Dunn hasn’t had to go against the top players at his position in this streak. Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a fringe All-Star who gave the Bulls big time problems last month, scoring 47 points in a close Bulls win.
But Dunn helped hold Walker to just 5-for-16 shooting, including 3-for-10 from 3 in the streak-starting Bulls' win on Dec. 8.
Since then it’s been a who’s who of “who” opposing Dunn, which makes the matchup with Irving in Boston so interesting.
“It’s a great opportunity for Kris to see one of the best players in the game right now,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “So again (he’s) got to go out and play solid basketball, can’t go out and make it a personal one on one matchup, Kyrie Irving you’re going to have to have full team awareness, you are not going to stop him one in one; for Kris continue to go out, grow and get better but it’s a great opportunity and challenge for Kris tonight.”
Irving can score 30 in his sleep, and even a good defender like Dunn can only provide so much of a defensive challenge. One key will be watching Dunn’s body language if Irving gets it going early—the boisterous and emotional Dunn hasn’t had to tone it down during this streak so if he carries that defeated look it may not bode well for the long run.
“He’s a completely different basketball player,” Hoiberg said. “He’s confident, he’s got a swagger to him; he’s getting into the paint and making plays; he’s shooting his three at a high clip, the best of his career, so he’s doing a lot of things well. The biggest thing we always talk about with Kris is consistency in everything he s doing, offensively, defensively, and he’s again continuing to grow and get better and he still has a very high ceiling.”
It’s easy for Hoiberg to say it isn’t personal, and Dunn isn’t going to make it personal but to put up numbers or to have a positive effect on winning against a player of Irving’s caliber is what coaches want their players to have.
“Always. When you go against the best guards, you have to step your game up to a whole nother level,” Dunn said. “You know they’re gonna go out there and compete. You gotta go out there and battle against them.”
He’ll see Washington’s John Wall, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in a four-day stretch starting Dec. 31, point men who can embarrass in different ways.
This stretch hasn’t yet put Dunn on the radar for those guys, but he’s desperate for a measure of respect.
“It’s all about the respect thing. That’s what I’m trying to play with,” Dunn said. “I still have to put a lot more work in. This NBA, it’s not easy. It’s a lot of good guards out there. I have to keep working each and every day.”