Bulls

NBA Buzz: Is time running out on Kris Dunn as Bulls starting point guard?

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Is time running out on Kris Dunn as Bulls starting point guard?

If you’ve been paying close attention to Jim Boylen’s rotation and minutes allocation, it’s become increasingly apparent the head coach is more comfortable with Ryan Arcidiacono running the offense in crunch time.

Arcidiacono has been getting more fourth quarter minutes at the expense of Kris Dunn, and this past Sunday when Zach LaVine was sidelined because of a patellar tendon strain, both Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison played more minutes than Dunn.

With four weeks left in the regular season, is there anything Dunn can do to convince the coaching staff and front office they should stick with him as the starting point guard heading into next season?

My colleague at NBC Sports Chicago, Mark Strotman, tweeted an interesting stat breakdown on Sunday, showing that Dunn has only attempted nine free throws in 14 games since Feb. 1. As Strotman points out, what makes this stat even more mind-boggling is that Dunn averages 12.1 drives per game, which ranks 25th among all players. You would think he would be able to draw more free throws with that many attempts at getting to the rim.

And, that gets us to the heart of the problem. The third year pro seems to be battling his confidence right now, getting caught in between on too many plays. During an All-American college career at Providence, Dunn was the primary scorer and attacked defenses on almost every possession for mid-range jumpers and drives to the basket. At 6-foot-4, he was considered an ideal pro prospect because of his aggressive mentality and defensive skills. He wound up going fifth overall to Minnesota in the 2016 draft.

Bulls fans saw some of that aggressiveness last season, when Dunn became a go-to scorer late in games while LaVine was rehabbing from ACL surgery. Unfortunately, Dunn’s first season as a Bull was short-circuited by a frightening fall after a breakaway dunk against Golden State at the United Center. He didn’t seem like the same player when he returned, and that sometimes tentative play has carried over into this season.

Dunn is a reluctant shooter from three-point range, ranking near the bottom of all starting point guards in attempts from beyond the arc. In catch and shoot situations, Dunn has had some success when he doesn’t hesitate and steps right into his shot. But all too often you can see him thinking about whether he should pull the trigger, even though his 34 percent success rate this season is better than his career average.

Decision making is also an area where Bulls’ coaches are looking for more from Dunn. His 2.63-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t exceptional, and the propensity to make high risk passes in transition really hasn’t improved since he arrived in Chicago. Dunn is still a solid on-ball defender who averages 1.5 steals per game, but his impact on that end hasn’t been quite as good as the Bulls had hoped either.

So, what does that mean for the future? Bulls general manager Gar Forman has been seen at a number of Murray St. games this season, scouting point guard Ja Morant, who is projected to be a top 3 pick in the June draft. And the Bulls also did their homework on intriguing Vanderbilt prospect Darius Garland, whose freshman season was cut short by a meniscus injury.

The Bulls could use their lottery pick on one of the two point guards or shop for a veteran in free agency to compete with Dunn during training camp in September. Remember, Dunn is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this summer, but coming off an uneven season, it’s hard to predict the Bulls and Dunn’s representatives will be able to agree on a price point both sides can live with.

Bobby Portis was traded last month because the Bulls knew what kind of contract he was looking for after failing to come to agreement on an extension before opening night last October. The front office could be facing an even bigger stalemate with Dunn, who will be looking for a starter level contract even while facing competition to hang on to that job next season.

If the Bulls draft Morant or Garland, don’t be surprised if they actively look to trade Dunn this summer. With nearly $20 million in cap space available, the Bulls could look to add a veteran like Derrick Rose, Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio or Darren Collison to serve as a mentor and hold down the starting job until the rookie is ready.

Another option would to be to make an aggressive offer to a restricted free agent like Terry Rozier or Malcolm Brogdon with the hope that teams with high payrolls like the Celtics and Bucks won’t match, and then go with Arcidiacono and Harrison as back-ups.

Bottom line, with 14 games left in the regular season, it seems unlikely Dunn will be able to change the opinions already formed by the coaching staff and front office. He can pretty much count on seeing his name involved in trade rumors throughout the offseason as the Bulls decide which direction to go in trying to strengthen their roster at arguably the most important position in the modern NBA.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

Who would have predicted the two-time defending champion Warriors turning into team turmoil this season? From the ongoing distraction of Kevin Durant’s impending free agency to the sideline blow-up between Durant and Draymond Green, to the arrival of the mercurial Boogie Cousins, it’s been quite a rollercoaster ride in the Bay Area.

The latest incident came Sunday night during a shocking homecourt loss to the team with the worst record in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns.  Warriors coach and former Bulls good guy Steve Kerr was caught by the television cameras saying “I’m so f***in tired of Draymond’s s**t.” Kerr laughed it off in talking with reporters after practice Monday, saying the lip readers got it wrong, and he actually said “I beg to differ with Draymond’s approach.”

Everyone had a good laugh and the case was closed, but the reality is Green is having a subpar season, opposing teams are feasting on Cousins’ defensive ineptitude and Durant had to leave Sunday night’s game after rolling an ankle continuing the team’s season long run of nagging injuries. The Warriors are still the favorite to complete a championship three-peat, but as we learned during the Bulls’ glory years, getting that third title is the hardest because of the physical and mental fatigue that players and coaches have to overcome.

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Did you see Bobby Portis made an official complaint to the NBA referees’ official Twitter account saying he was fouled twice with no call in the closing minutes of the Wizards’ overtime loss to Minnesota last Saturday? Give credit to Portis for going right to the source with his complaints, but it won’t give him any satisfaction.

By the way, Portis has continued the hot streak that began in early February with the Bulls since his arrival in Washington. In 12 games with the Wizards, Portis is averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds, shooting 48 percent from the field and a red hot 46 percent from the three-point line. It makes sense that the Bulls didn’t want to commit somewhere in the range of $15-16 million a season for Portis, who would be a backup to both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., but BP is playing his way into a big contract come July.

Meanwhile, the other player involved in the Otto Porter Jr. trade, Jabari Parker, is averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds per game in 26 minutes off the bench. It will be interesting to see what kind of market develops for Parker this summer.

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Speaking of former Chicago high school stars, Marshall High School product Patrick Beverley is coming off quite a week. He asked Clippers head coach Doc Rivers for the defensive assignment against LeBron James in a match-up against the Lakers and despite giving up seven inches and about 70 pounds, he more than held his own in the Clippers' win.

Later in the week, Beverley guarded MVP candidate Paul George in the Clippers’ win over Oklahoma City, leading to a frustrated George complaining about the officiating in a postgame interview, drawing a $25,000 fine from the league.

Beverley decided to rub a little salt in the wound, tweeting at George “Men lie, numbers don’t. He tried to blame the refs. Naw bra bra!!!”

It’s no wonder I’ve been hearing from so many Bulls fans about how much they’d love to see Beverley bring that toughness and defensive mentality to his hometown team next season. His game reminds me so much of my friend and former colleague at NBC Sports Chicago, the late great Norm Van Lier.

Maybe if Beverley decides to come back to Chicago in free agency, the Bulls can give him the No. 2 jersey that Norm made famous. I know Norm would be smiling, and he wouldn’t have to ask Beverley for 48 minutes of intensity.

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Zion Williamson's injury is devastating news for NBA fans of every allegiance, but there is a silver lining for Bulls fans

Zion Williamson's injury is devastating news for NBA fans of every allegiance, but there is a silver lining for Bulls fans

Monday afternoon, news broke that Pelicans rookie, awe-inspiring phenom and the subject of numerous long-forgotten basketball prophecies, Zion Williamson, will miss the first 6-8 weeks of the NBA season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right meniscus. No reaction to this news is complete or legitimate without first acknowledging that this is a devastating development for anyone who loves this league and, of course, for Zion himself (human to human, injuries are brutal and we wish him the best). On a basketball note, Williamson looked every bit as exceptional as advertised this preseason, and the Pelicans are primed to be one of the most fun young teams the NBA has seen in a long while — a League Pass must-watch of the highest caliber.

But, unfortunately, the show will have to go on in New Orleans without their No. 1 overall pick, at least for the time being. In the wake of the initial report, NBA Twitter was ablaze with reactions, as one might expect. Among the highlights…

Historical comparisons were pondered:

 

 

 

Meniscuses (menisci?) were offered up:

 

Odds swung:

 

(Hi, Coby) 

Bandwagons tipped:

 

There is a silver lining for Bulls fans in all of this, though. Right now, barring a highly improbable (to put it lightly) NBA Finals matchup, the Bulls and Pelicans are slated to face off twice in the regular season, the first meeting of which will be on January 8 in New Orleans. According to the reported 6-8 week recovery timetable for Williamson, he should be set to return some time in between late November and mid-December. That means there’s a good chance Williamson will suit up for both games against the Bulls this season — unless, of course, nagging injuries plague his rookie campaign (please no). 

The city of Chicago got a taste of the legend of Zion this preseason, when the Pelicans visited the United Center on October 9. Williamson was exquisite in that contest, tallying 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting in 27 minutes of game action, accumulating a number of highlight-reel plays along the way:

Now, let us all come together and pray to the basketball gods for a speedy recovery and a long and healthy career for the Duke product. No matter your allegiances, there’s no doubt the NBA is better and more exciting league with him in it.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device. 

Bulls exercise options on Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison

Bulls exercise options on Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison

On a day that saw a number of young stars across the league secure bags large and larger, the Bulls made some ripples of their own, exercising the fourth-year option on Lauri Markkanen, and third-year options on Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. 

These moves are a formality. Markkanen and Carter are each poised for statistical jumps this season and are already unquestioned centerpieces of an exciting young core in Chicago. Hutchison, when healthy, has also showed flashes of being an intriguing piece on a team strapped for defense-minded wings.

Still, it’s a nice bit of reassurance that these guys are around for the long haul (Markkanen and Carter, at least). Even when/if Markkanen hits restricted free agency two offseasons from now, the Bulls will be able to match any offer sheet he might sign with another team. The same is true for Carter in three years, provided they extend qualifying offers to each of them (at this point, it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t).

For now, having already productive NBA players with enormous potential on team-friendly deals is a big reason to get excited about the direction the Bulls are heading in. Now, buckle up for the season-opener this Wednesday in Charlotte.

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