Bulls

Season in Review: Kris Dunn fails to make the jump in Year 3

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Kris Dunn fails to make the jump in Year 3

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter  | Wayne Selden | Zach LaVine | Antonio Blakeney | Cristiano Felicio

Preseason expectations: As part of the Jimmy Butler return, Dunn was expected to grab the reins of the point guard position in 2019. He played excellent basketball for a two-month span between November and January. In that 26-game span, Dunn averaged 15.3 points on 45 percent shooting, 7.7 assists and 2.1 steals in 31.4 minutes. He was the Bulls' best closer and looked to be making real strides, which was important considering he was already 24 years at season's end. With Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine having sky-high expectations (that they wound up meeting for the most part), the pressure was on Dunn to keep up.

What went right: Dunn's 6.0 assists per game were good for 23rd in the league, and his 2.66 assist-to-turnover ratio was 10th among the 25 players who averaged 6.0 assists per game. We're not exactly advocating for assist-to-turnover as a relevant stat, but Dunn managed to take care of the ball for the most part. Yes, at times it stuck in his hands and it messed up the flow of the offense. But he was a decent decision maker, specifically in pick-and-roll action. He was certainly better in the halfcourt but much of that was barking orders from Jim Boylen.

Dunn's not overly quick but did a nice job getting inside the paint on drives, where he ranked 27th in the NBA with 11.7 drives per game. His 11.0 assist percentage on drives was 15th best among the 36 players to averaged 11 or more drives per game. He struggled shooting on drives (something we'll get to later) but athleticism and quickness wasn't Dunn's issue. While his finishing needs plenty of work, he starts pretty well and continued to improve on that in his third season.

What went wrong: For starters, injuries plagued him once again. Dunn has missed 66 games the past two seasons. It's tough to improve while you're sitting on the bench. When he was on the floor, Dunn struggled with efficiency. He shot just 42.5 percent from the field - down from last season - on fewer attempts per game, and while he improved his 3-point field goal percentage (to 35.4%) that also came on fewer makes and attempts per game. Dunn was red-hot on midrange attempts when he returned from his knee strain in December but when those shots went cold, he wasn't able to get to the basket or make defenders pay from beyond the arc.

Dunn also regressed as a defender. He was a gambler whose personal fouls per 36 minutes increased to 4.3, and the Bulls were actually 2.3 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Dunn off the floor. What was once his strong suit became another shortcoming. His early-season knee injury didn't do him any favors but it was a troubling year on that end of the floor.

The Stat: 30.2, 1.5, 2.1

Ask James Harden about the importance of free throws and 3-pointers and what it does for a player's (and team's) efficiency. Welcome to the NBA in 2019. But the numbers Dunn posted - or, more accurately, didn't post - in that regard were troubling. He averaged 30.2 minutes, attempted 2.1 3-pointers and went to the free throw line 1.5 times per game. The last guard to average such few free throws and 3-point attempts in as many minutes was 5-foot-3 Muggsy Bogues in 1992.

Dunn lived as a midrange shooter which was...less than ideal. He shot a respectable 35.4 percent from deep - a 3.3% uptick from the previous season - and was nearly 80 percent from the charity stripe. He just took so few of either that it didn't change much for his overall game.

Dunn had 19 games this season in which he didn't shoot a single free throw. He had just 10 games in which he attempted more than two free throws.

2019-20 Expectations: It's about as close to a guarantee as you can get that Dunn will enter his fourth NBA season in a reserve role. The Bulls have been honest and upfront about their need to get better at point guard and that means bumping Dunn down on the depth chart. Maybe he begins the year as a starter and a non-Ja Morant rookie (Coby White or Darius Garland?) begins as the back-up, but Dunn's role will be limited from what it was a year ago.

Assuming he plays the bulk of his minutes in a reserve role, Dunn needs to improve his efficiency. That means fewer of those low-percentage floaters and mid-range jumpers, fewer risks taken both as a passer and a defender, and a slight uptick in either his free throw attempts or 3-point attempts. He needs to be able to hang his hat on something. The potential is there as a distributor and a tough, physical defender in a back-up role.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Coby White and Daniel Gafford join Mark Schanowski

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Coby White and Daniel Gafford join Mark Schanowski

Mark Schanowski is joined by Bulls top draft picks Coby White and Daniel Gafford after they were introduced to the media Monday at the Advocate Center.

0:50        White on how he thinks he can help the Bulls

1:25        White on his meeting with Jim Boylen

2:00        White on joining a very young roster

2:30        White on the influence of his father

3:33        White on the viral video of him reacting to Cam Johnson being drafted

4:50        White on his teammate first personality

5:38        White on looking forward to playing w Gafford

6:42        Gafford on his skill set

7:15        Gafford on watching the NBA when he can

7:40        Gafford on evolving big man role

8:47        Gafford on if he can do more offensively

9:20        Gafford on Bobby Portis, and some of their similarities

10:30     Gafford on some of his highlights from Arkansas

11:10     Gafford on Jim Boylen

11:30     Gafford on pick n roll game

12:00     Gafford on Coby White

12:40     Gafford on falling to the 2nd round, how getting drafted by the Bulls worked out

13:22     Gafford on throwing out 1st pitch at an upcoming Sox game

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

Bulls Talk Podcast

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NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

From what Coby White, Jim Boylen and John Paxson have expressed, there appear to have been two key factors that led the Bulls to select the North Carolina point guard seventh overall on Thursday night.

The first came early in November when general manager Gar Forman was scouting the Tar Heels in Las Vegas. White was an absolute star in two games against Texas and UCLA, averaging 26.0 points on 57% shooting (16 of 28), 5.5 3-pointers on 11 of 17 shooting and 5.5 assists. White also had just four turnovers in 54 minutes and got to the free throw line 13 times.

"Gar saw Coby play out in Las Vegas early in the year and my phone was blowing up with texts from Gar. That was the moment he was on the radar for sure," Paxson said. "It was Gar seeing Coby in Las Vegas that got the antenna up."

Paxson also referenced White's success against Duke as attention-grabbing. White struggled in the first of three matchups against the Blue Devils, scoring just nine points on 3 of 14 shooting. But White responded at home with a 21-point outing in Game 2, and in the ACC Championship Game tallied 11 points, 5 rebounds 4 assists and 3 steals in 38 minutes.

"He talked about it when we did our background that he wasn’t’ going to have that happen again," Paxson said of White's initial clunker against Duke, "and the next two times he played Duke, he had really good games and learned from it. That’s what so much of this is about."

That second Duke game - a game the Tar Heels won, 79-70, over the Zion-less Blue Devils - was also the moment White began feeling like he might be a one-and-done prospect. He didn't arrive in Raleigh feeling that way, but the 21-point effort on 8 of 18 shooting (and a career-high 3 blocks) put the thought in his head. It was part of a dominant stretch that included 34 points against Syracuse, 28 more against Clemson and, five days after the Duke game, 19 points against Louisville in the ACC Tournament.

"I think it changed after we played Duke at home," White said. "I started to get a lot of buzz, started getting on draft boards in the top 10. And then kind of after the season, I talked to Coach (Roy) Williams before anyone, and he kind of gave me his blessing, saying that I should go. After that it was kind of an easy decision for me."

The other instance that brought White to Chicago was a pre-draft meeting on the Saturday before the NBA Draft. White arrived in Chicago and, despite opting not to work out privately for the Bulls, did meet with Paxson and Boylen. Both Paxson and White described that interview as a telling sign of the mutual interest, and Boylen reiterated that impressive interaction on Monday when White was introduced to the media at the Advocate Center.

“He looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He’s coachable. He has a soul and a spirit, which I think is important, and he’s been just awesome to deal with,” Boylen said. “We had a great meeting. It was great for both of us.”

White described that meeting with Boylen as the best he had with any coach in the pre-draft process. Paxson said White was “anxious for more” after the coaching Boylen did in that meeting, with the two looking at both good and bad film from White’s freshman season.

It all culminated in Thursday night’s selection. With both Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver off the board, the Bulls drafted for both talent and need in selecting White. He isn’t a traditional point guard – his 24.7% assist rate is evidence of that – but he gives the Bulls both a dynamic scorer and someone to push the ball in transition. Paxson said as much on Thursday and Boylen doubled down on that assessment four days later.

“Well I think the most important thing for us is when the ball is in his hands. We have to run with him. We want to play faster. We want to play smart, but we want to play faster when it's appropriate. He's a guy that can make decisions on the move. We've got to get the rest of our team to run with him. That's going to be our job, and I'm excited for that.”

White will also give the Bulls a floor spacer – he shot 35.3% from deep as a freshman – at the position, something they desperately needed the past few years. He’s hardly a finished product but should get the chance to improve right away, whether it’s as a starter or backing up a free agent acquisition in July.

But Boylen applauded White’s desire to get better, something that rubbed off in that pre-draft interview. White had a direct answer when asked what he needs to improve on in his rookie season.

“Coming in, decision-making. The league is ball screen-heavy so decisions off ball screens. At Carolina, coaches kind of wanted me to really just go one speed and that’s fast all the time,” White said. “I think coming into the league, I can use my change of speed and change of pace better. I’ve been trying to work on that a lot. Those two things are really key for me.”

Finding talent was key for the Bulls after a 22-win season. But they’re also thrilled with the personalities and workers they found in both White and second-round pick Daniel Gafford.

“We drafted these guys because of their ability to be coached and be teachable,” Boylen said. “Everything we got back on their background was teachable, coachable, want to get better, care for their teammates. Those are the kind of guys we targeted.”