Bulls

In shutting down Trae Young, Kris Dunn showcased his value

In shutting down Trae Young, Kris Dunn showcased his value

Trae Young is one of the most dynamic basketball players on the planet — he’s currently the fifth-leading scorer in the NBA (27.9 points), a 37.6% 3-point shooter (on 8.9 attempts per game) and a transcendent facilitator in the halfcourt and open floor. Some would be daunted, faced with such an adversary (especially given his recent history against the Bulls).

Not Kris Dunn, who took lead responsibilities guarding Young in the Bulls’ 136-102 drubbing of the Hawks, Wednesday night. For him, it was just another game.

“Nah, not at all,” Dunn said when asked if matching up with Young provided him with extra motivation. “It's part of the game. I'm guarding the best player, I'm motivated for all of it. That's what I want. I want the best player. I wanna see what I got. I like the competitiveness of it.

“My job is to guard the best player on the other team. Since I've been starting, I've guarded Buddy [Hield], D'Angelo [Russell], Jimmy [Butler], Trae. You look at the tape, I've been doing a good job,” Dunn said.

Young finished his night with 15 points on 4-for-14 shooting (1-for-6 from 3-point range), seven turnovers and 13 assists. That assist figure is a gaudy one, but Dunn hounded Young — on-the-ball, over screens, everywhere he turned — all night, and clearly shook his rhythm with every poke, bump and step. Of Young’s seven turnovers, two were straight steals by Dunn:

 

“KD takes the challenge and has great respect for Young. Tries to fight him all over the floor,” Jim Boylen said. “He's a good player, man. But KD's a good player, too. KD's a top-level defender in this league.”

That sentiment permeates the Bulls’ locker room. Dunn’s defensive energy does, too. 

“He puts a lot of pressure on the ball. I just know from my personal experience playing against him, you have to be very careful, because he has quick hands,” Tomas Satoransky said after Wednesday morning shootaround. “I think the offense feels very crowded with him on the ball. So I think that's a very strong point that he brings to that starting lineup.” 

“Everybody knows on this team, I take a lot of pride in my defense. You know, I try to anchor it,” Dunn said. “And I think my defensive energy allows everybody else to put their hard hat on and guard, too.”

Since Nov. 27, the Bulls sport the third-ranked defense in the league (with a 102.4 rating). Dunn’s first game in the starting lineup? Nov. 29 in Portland, two days after Chandler Hutchison suffered a shoulder injury that has rendered him inactive ever since.

And even in spite of his offensive deficiencies — Dunn is currently shooting 19.3% from 3-point range — his greatest skill, stealing the basketball, opens up the area of the Bulls’ offense in which they’re at their most efficient: transition. 

Per Cleaning the Glass, 17.3% of the Bulls’ overall possessions come in transition (fourth-highest in the NBA), and they turn 66.5% of their steals into transition plays (ninth in the NBA). The Bulls score 127.0 points per 100 transition plays, 144.8 when said possessions come off steals (those figures rank eighth and seventh in the NBA respectively).

“When we play in transition, I think that's when we're at our best. And in order to get in transition you gotta get stops,” Dunn said. “We got a lot of athletes, a lot of young guys who can get up the floor, and that's what we gotta do.”

Dunn is tied for third in the NBA in steals per game with two. The Bulls, as a team, lead the league in steals per game (9.6) and opponent turnovers per game (18.4).

“He's a ballhawk,” Zach LaVine said of Dunn. “He's gonna make it tough on ’em. I think the dude can mess around and be a first team all-defensive player.”

That idea is also not an uncommon one around the Bulls. Dunn, himself, admits to aspiring to that level of acclaim. 

“I feel like I'm a top defender in this league, and I take pride in it, and I should… Do you see a lot of defenders do what I'm doing? What I do is a little different,” he said with a grin. “But nah, all jokes aside, you know, that's one of my goals. That's always gonna be one of my goals until I get on there.”

LaVine and Dunn both stressed, though, that team success is requisite to any individual recognition. That’s the priority, above all. For now, Dunn remains indelibly confident and secure in his role. The Bulls need him to be. 

“I'm just going with the flow, you know, whatever the coaching staff needs from me, the team needs from me, I'm gonna go out there and do it,” Dunn said. “I tell people this all the time, I'm a [Swiss Army Knife]. I can do a little bit of everything.

“I'm not worried about where you put me on the floor. I'm a hooper, Imma go out there and hoop.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls swept by Bucks in 2020

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls swept by Bucks in 2020

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson discuss the Bulls loss to the Bucks, pick their lineups for the 2020 All-Star game, and discuss acceptable basketball tattoos.

1:00 - The difference between the Bucks and Bulls is staggering

3:20 - What is going on with Lauri Markkanen?

5:00 - How bad does Zach LaVine's back hurt after carrying this squad?

6:30 - Jim Boylen just refuses to play Denzel Valentine

8:30 - Why do the Bulls keep falling apart in the 2nd half?

10:00 - Which players progressed for the Bulls this season?

12:00 - Viewer comment about Bulls playoff chances

15:10 - The guys pick their starters for the 2020 All Star Game

21:45 - Viewer comments about Spencer Dinwiddie/Derrick Rose

24:20 - David Kaplan got a tattoo!

25:30 - If you had to get a basketball tattoo what would it be

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

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

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Lauri Markkanen's struggles are a daily storyline, but the solve isn't simple

Lauri Markkanen's struggles are a daily storyline, but the solve isn't simple

MILWAUKEE — When Thad Young played for the Pacers, this was, according to Young, that team’s scouting report on Lauri Markkanen:

“He’s a guy who can score in different levels of the game. He can shoot the midrange. He can take you off the dribble and do his hanging fade to get his shot off. Or he can step behind the line and tee up some 3s,” Young said. “So we tried to keep him seeing bodies so he wouldn’t take the ball from one side to the other.”

Markkanen’s struggles — and the Bulls’ usage of him — is becoming an almost daily storyline. It certainly dominated Monday’s postgame questioning after the Bulls dropped to 1-18 versus winning teams with a 111-98 loss to the Bucks.

For the second time in three games, Markkanen failed to score in the second half. Seven of his 11 attempts came from 3-point range — all of which he missed. His eight points came from two putbacks and four free throws.

That’s it.

“He missed some shots he normally makes. That happens,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I thought he was moving well. He had a couple great cuts to the basket, opportunities at the rim. That’s what we want from him — inside, outside.”

But that’s not happening enough. Fifty-three percent of Markkanen’s attempts this season have been 3-pointers. That’s up 11.5 percent from last season and 4.1 percent from his rookie season.

Too often, Markkanen is being relegated to playing as a stationary, 3-point shooter and not the dynamic, multifaceted scorer for whom Young’s Pacers teams prepared.

“Yeah, I think I can do a lot of good things besides just shoot threes,’’ Markkanen said. “Haven’t really been able to do that lately. Just have to figure out the way I can attack the rim more and get to the free-throw line. I need to figure out my spots.”

This is not meant to fully absolve Markkanen, who has indeed missed open looks consistently this season. For the second straight game, Markkanen joked about how Boylen called a play for him on the first possession, only for Markkanen to turn it over.

Markkanen also again acknowledged the sore left ankle he is playing through as he tries to reach his well documented goal of playing all 82 games. Markkanen called the ankle “not normal but getting there” and also shook off banging knees with Donte DiVincenzo that left him running hobbled for a few possessions.

Markkanen said he has no problem talking to Boylen about his usage and, as is his nature, looked inward.

“We’ve talked about it. He ran some plays for me. I turned it over. He does run some stuff for me. I just have to make the plays,” he said. “If you shoot the ball like [I have], you don’t really deserve touches. Can’t really complain.

“When you’re feeling it and actually making shots, it would be good to get closer to the rim and kind of keep it going. A lot of our plays I screen and pop.’’

The Bulls tied their franchise record with 48 3-point attempts. Boylen said that was the gameplan since opponents averaged 40 3-point attempts and 17.5 makes in the Bucks’ mere six losses.

Never mind that even if the Bulls hadn’t gone ice cold in the second half to finish with 14 makes that adding 3.5 more makes would’ve still left them on the losing end. The Markkanen problem is bigger than a math problem.

“I think the system complements him to the point where he has a lot of freedom to do different things,” Young said. “If he’s open, he takes a 3. If he’s not, he tries to make a play. He’s doing the best he can, just like me and any other guy on this roster. He has to continue to believe in what we’re doing.”

Markkanen now has nine single-digit scoring games after posting just four last season. He has nine 20-point games after registering 22 last season.

This is a huge season for Markkanen not only because his success is tied into the success of the Bulls’ rebuild but also because he’ll be eligible for an extension of his rookie contract following this season.

“I know he’s going to work. And he cares. He has high character,” Boylen said. “I believe in him. And our team believes in him.”

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