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NBA Draft Combine: Kris Dunn relishing opportunity to showcase his maturity, skills

NBA Draft Combine: Kris Dunn relishing opportunity to showcase his maturity, skills

There’s a stigma given to upperclassmen each year at the NBA Draft Combine.

Where one-and-dones have buzzwords like “potential,” “intrigue” and “upside” attached to their scouting reports, those players with three or (gasp!) four years of college basketball experience are labeled as “mature,” “savvy” and more “NBA-ready” than their younger counterparts.

Oftentimes it’s a lazy assessment based solely on age instead of merit. But when it comes to 22-year-old Providence point guard Kris Dunn, both his on-court talents and off-court moxie ooze with maturity that have NBA teams coveting the best guard in this year’s draft.

That Dunn was even at Thursday’s combine, held at Quest Multiplex in Chicago, says plenty about his character. As a likely top-5 pick and the first guard off the board, no one would have thought twice had Dunn decided to skip the event in its entirety. It’s what Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Dragan Bender, Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray — also soon-to-be lottery picks — opted to do.

Instead, Dunn showed up about 90 minutes into Thursday’s session to meet with the media and support fellow draft hopefuls who aren’t guarantees for the lottery. That included his Los Angeles workout partners Ron Baker, Damian Jones and Jakob Poeltl, as well as Providence teammate Ben Bentil.

“I’m just here to support my guys,” he said.

It’s a situation Dunn wouldn’t have been able to act on had he declared for the draft a year ago. The Big East Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and likely first round pick in 2015, the 6-foot-3 point guard surprised many and decided to return to the Friars for a fourth season.

The decision paid off handsomely. He averaged 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists and was named the Big East Player of the Year for a second straight season. He again led the Friars to the NCAA Tournament and helped Providence win its first March Madness game since 1997.

In the process he boosted his draft stock and earned his social sciences degree — he’ll graduate this weekend — something he took great pride in considering his difficult childhood upbringing, helping to show the importance of education to his two younger sisters now entering high school.

A first round selection in 2015 would have made Dunn an overnight millionaire. Even when his closest friends and family, his coach, and draft pundits were saying he was ready to make the jump, his reasoning behind passing on the draft couldn’t have been simpler or more mature.

“I’m happy that I came back for a whole other year because I didn’t feel like I was ready to go to the NBA,” he said. “The decisions I’ve made through that time and now, I’m 100 percent appreciative of it.”

There’s no denying he’s now ready. A lockdown defender, a blur in transition, a playmaker with an improving jump shot, Dunn’s game translates to the pros as well as any guard in this class.

He’ll need to take better care of the ball, but that should come in a more free-flowing NBA offense. He agrees with the John Wall comparisons, admits he likes getting under his opponents’ skin, and believes his greatest strength is his defense — he led the Big East in steals each of his last two seasons.

If there’s any real knock to Dunn’s game, it’s that he’s already 22 years old. He redshirted as a sophomore following a second shoulder injury that forced him out of all but four games. That number is ancient in NBA circles; Dunn is three-and-a-half years older than the 18-year-old Ingram, expected to be a top two pick.

Should Dunn be selected in the top five, he’d be the first upperclassman taken in that range since Victor Oladipo in 2013. He would be the first 22-year-old selected in the top five since Wesley Johnson, a junior-college transfer, in 2010.

But what Dunn has experienced in four years in Rhode Island, a Big East Tournament title from the bench in 2014, to two first round tournament exits, to success in 2016, has molded him into a player who won’t be surprised by anything at the next level.

“I think between the maturity level of me and the other guys, and there’s no knock on them, they’re just young. I think that’s just an advantage for me,” he said. “Right now I feel like I’m 18. Coming out running around there, my motor’s high. I’m in a good space.”

The Chicago Tribune reported last week that the Bulls are intrigued by Dunn. He could be the heir apparent to Derrick Rose, a free agent in 2017, but the Bulls would either need to hit on their 1.8 percent chance in the lottery of moving into the top three, or trade into the top five with limited assets (unless Jimmy Butler is included).

Still, Dunn said he met with the Bulls this week and would love to learn behind a player like Rose, who has also dealt with and overcome his share of injuries.

“I would have no problem being behind an MVP player, just learning so much about (Rose). His situation is almost similar to mine, through injuries.

“I want to know how he became that MVP player, how he was that Derrick Rose that everyone was in love with and how you stay humble throughout that process is just keep working. I have no problem going to the Bulls and being under Derrick Rose because he's a phenomenal player.”

Dunn’s versatility will make him a coveted prospect to any team selecting in the lottery. He’s ready to lead a young team, contribute immediately on a contender, or learn from veterans. The pure point guard is able to adapt to his surroundings because of his maturity — an accurate label as opposed to a buzzword.

He has flash in his game, no doubt. But four years in college and that additional experience has helped him hone in on what’s most important. It’s what he’ll use at the next level in order to succeed, regardless of his age.

“You’re going to get someone who works hard every day. A guy who has great character. My personality resonates because I’m so goofy, I love to laugh. I like to make other people smile and I’m a very hard worker. I like to say I’m a blue-collar worker,” he said. “Nothing was ever given to me. I go after it with everything I have.”

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.