Kris Dunn

Bulls will enter offseason with unanswered questions up and down the roster

markkanen-thumb.jpg
USA Today

Bulls will enter offseason with unanswered questions up and down the roster

Even if the NBA is able to salvage some portion of the remaining regular season schedule when the league is given the go-ahead to resume play, the Bulls will face an offseason filled with questions.

Sure, Coby White has been a bright spot, averaging 20.1 points a game in February, 22.4 points with six assists in five games in March and finally making his first start at point guard in the last game before play was suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But is White the long term answer at point guard, and can he team with Zach LaVine to form an efficient backcourt at both ends of the floor?

White’s assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7 assists to 1.7 turnovers) is hardly what you’d expect from a starting point guard, but for most of the season he was used as a shooting guard capable of providing instant offense off the bench. With regular play at the point, White’s assist totals should grow to around five to seven per game, but he’ll need to prove the turnovers won’t also grow at a comparable rate. LaVine is very high on White’s potential, and having another explosive scorer playing with him should help reduce the defensive pressure LaVine faces on a nightly basis.

White’s play at the defensive end showed considerable improvement as his rookie season went on, which suggests he could be capable of defending either guard spot at 6'4", allowing LaVine to take the easier match-up. Both players have the quickness to jump into passing lanes and create transition opportunities.

From a coaching perspective, staggering the minutes of the two guards after the opening six minutes will also allow each player to take on the lead offensive role at times, playing alongside a facilitating point guard like Tomas Satoransky, Ryan Arcidiacono or Kris Dunn (if he returns).

While the backcourt is starting to take shape, the frontline is loaded with question marks. Was Lauri Markkanen’s slump in his third NBA season just an outlier, or will the Bulls have to adjust their evaluation on his potential? Can Wendell Carter Jr. have success as an undersized center and find a consistent role in the offense? Can Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy long enough to contribute?

Markkanen’s future is the biggest question facing the franchise right now. Was he held back by the changes to the offensive system this season, or does he simply lack the aggressiveness necessary to average 20 points and 10 rebounds over a full season?

Markkanen took a significant step backwards in year three, and the Bulls were hoping they would get a better chance to evaluate his play over the final 17 regular season games. Don’t forget: Markkanen is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this offseason, and it’s hard to imagine the Bulls offering him a near max deal coming off a sub-par season in which he averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting just 42.5% from the field.

All options have to be on the table for Markkanen, including a possible trade if contract negotiations result in a stand-off or the opportunity to acquire an All-Star level veteran presents itself. It’s likely the 7-foot forward will be back next season, and he could have an expanded role in the offense if a coaching change is made.

The Bulls also were hoping to bet a better read on Carter and Porter over the final 17 games. Carter missed about six weeks of game action because of a serious ankle sprain, but was just rounding back into game shape when the suspension hit.

Carter told reporters he’s probably better suited to play power forward than center at 6’9”, but with Markkanen and Thaddeus Young in tow, center will remain his position for now. Since the Bulls don’t use post-ups as a staple of their offensive system, Carter Jr. doesn’t receive the amount of touches he’d like. Plus, his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers is also underutilized. Carter Jr. will need to spend the offseason working on improving his shooting range to add the 3-point shot to his arsenal.

Porter missed almost the entire season because of a broken foot, and he’ll almost certainly be back with a $28 million player option for next season, When healthy, Porter Jr. can add 3-point shooting and playmaking to the offense, but he’s not part of the team’s long-term future.

Second-year forward Chandler Hutchison saw his season cut short by injuries, and the Bulls really don’t know if he can sustain the improved play he showed before re-injuring his shoulder in early February. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls go for another wing player with their lottery draft pick.

Kris Dunn will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, and even though he ranked second in the league in steals per game, his limited offensive ability will probably result in the Bulls letting him walk this off-season. Since the team is already deep at point guard, paying Dunn somewhere in the range of $8 to 10 million per season on a long-term contract just doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. The Bulls could look to re-sign Shaquille Harrison to provide some of the on-ball pressure and potential for steals that is Dunn’s specialty.

RELATED: Bulls questions: Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

Since the Bulls will be over the expected salary cap for next season, roster changes will have to come through utilizing the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, trades and the draft. According to multiple reports, the Bulls are expected to add one or more new talent evaluators to their front office hierarchy, but it’s unclear whether someone will be brought in with the authority to drastically reshape the roster or make a coaching change.

Until the front office changes are implemented, everything else is pretty much on hold. With one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, the Bulls could look to trade their upcoming lottery pick and one of their rotation players for a veteran who could help lift the productivity and consistency of the starting line-up. Almost every season an All-Star caliber player is looking to force a trade from his current team, and the Bulls have to be aggressive in exploring those opportunities, especially if the 76ers decide to break up their star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

With the Bulls taking a step back in year three of the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild, no one on the roster should be considered untradeable. If a new general manager is brought in with total authority on roster construction, this could be an offseason of change for the Bulls. But if the current hierarchy remains in place, look for Jim Boylen to return next season with largely the same roster, hoping that improved health and familiarity with the offensive and defensive systems will result in a significantly better record in the 2020-21 season.

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 questions: Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

Bulls questions: Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

Two times per week, we'll be breaking down a pertinent Bulls question for you all to chew in during the NBA's hiatus.

Past installments: What is Zach LaVine's ceiling?

Kris Dunn’s arc over the past calendar year has been something to behold.

As recently as last August, the Bulls were, by all accounts, actively shopping Dunn after a tumultuous spell as the team’s starting point guard in 2018-19.

But they found no takers, and the fourth-year guard from Providence went on to carve out a niche for himself as a defensive linchpin over the course of the 2019-20 season. His insertion into the Bulls’ starting lineup keyed a month-long stretch where the team boasted a top-two defense in the NBA. When he went down with an MCL sprain on Jan. 31, he led the NBA in steals. And in his absence, the Bulls’ defense absolutely cratered.

Before that MCL injury, Dunn’s value had never been higher. But with it, his offseason is in flux. Whenever the NBA’s free agency window opens, Dunn will be a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $4.6 million — he fell six starts short of meeting the current CBA’s starter-criteria, which would have inflated that figure to $7.1 million. (Though those figures now might be subject to change.)

 

The Bulls will, of course, extend that offer to Dunn. The question is whether they would entertain matching any offer sheet he might find elsewhere (our K.C. Johnson floated the Clippers as a possible team with interest) or hammering out an extension themselves. 

There isn’t a ton of cap space around the league this summer, and if the current coronavirus-induced hiatus dings the cap any further, there could be less. But a reasonable $8-11 million AAV projection for Dunn puts him in the range of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which a number of teams will be able to flaunt. 

Would the Bulls consider a multi-year extension with those parameters? Let’s weigh the pros and cons. 

The pros: Dunn’s rare blend of length, tenacity, and vocality on the wing makes the Bulls’ aggressive, turnover-happy defensive schemes go. He’s beloved in the locker room, and he improved ancillary components of his offensive game this season; he got to and finished at the rim better than he ever has — 42% of Dunn’s looks came there (87th percentile for his position) and he finished 65% of them (83rd), per Cleaning the Glass — and proved capable as a lead ball-handler and distributor in spurts. You could do a lot worse than him anchoring a second unit as a defensive specialist.

But the cons loom: Dunn’s erratic 3-point shot caused major problems for the Bulls’ offense this season. Beyond a paltry 25.9% overall 3-point clip (2.2 attempts per game), defenses simply stopped guarding him from the outside for stretches this season. The Bulls’ offensive system is precarious enough without allowing opponents to deliberately muck up driving and cutting lanes with regularity. Further, with younger, less expensive ‘defensive energy’ guys to potentially lock up already on the roster (Shaq Harrison, Adam Mokoka), might the Bulls be able to replace a large percentage of Dunn’s production at a fraction of the investment?

It might be best to tread lightly with the latter calculation: Dunn’s defensive impact cannot be overstated. With him on the court this season, the Bulls defended at a rate of 103.6 points per 100 possessions and 110.4 with him off. For context: that’s roughly the difference between the second and 18th-rated defenses in the league. Had the Bulls’ record been a tad loftier, he might have had a legitimate All-Defense case — there simply are not many better on-ball defenders in the NBA, from a physical or mental perspective. Ask Trae Young or Paul George if you want proof of that.

Still, this team and organization are currently in a position where investing long-term in a guy so specialized may not be responsible. Without questioning Dunn’s work ethic, he just turned 26 and when he returns, he will be coming off a potentially significant knee injury. At some point, you are what you are as an NBA player. What Dunn brings is tangible and impactful, but unless legitimately sold on him as a foundational, long-term piece, keeping the books as clean as possible probably behooves the Bulls.

With all the above as background, the best-case scenario for the Bulls is a market not emerging for Dunn in a fraught cap environment and securing him for another year on that qualifying offer. In Dunn’s best interest is capitalizing on a year highlighted by revelatory defense and role acceptance by locking into a long-term commitment — whether that be in Chicago or elsewhere.

Time will tell if those interests will align in a marriage. If not, Dunn’s time with the Bulls will have been topsy turvy, but ultimately worth appreciating. 

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.

Examining Kris Dunn's future with the Bulls after career-reviving season

Examining Kris Dunn's future with the Bulls after career-reviving season

It didn’t take Jim Boylen finally officially confirming it, or even seeing Kris Dunn exit the training room Tuesday still on crutches, to know that the Bulls’ guard’s season is over.

Multiple outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, already had reported that likelihood when an early February MRI exam confirmed a second strained MCL in as many seasons in Dunn’s right knee. 

That didn’t make Boylen’s disappointment any less palpable when he became the first team official to confirm it.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Boylen said before the Bulls flew to Minnesota, where they face the Timberwolves Wednesday. “It’s a tough one, man. He had a helluva year.”

That Dunn did. In fact, his role acceptance following a disengaged offseason is one of the more underrated storylines to this season. Dunn did a reclamation project on his career, even as the Bulls’ woes continued.

If the Bulls extend a qualifying offer by June 29, Dunn will be a restricted free agent this summer. His market will be an intriguing one to monitor. On the one hand, he grew into an elite defender, averaging 2 steals to rank second leaguewide behind Ben Simmons. On the other, his 25.9 percent 3-point shooting made him an offensive liability at times, with opposing defenses playing well off him. 

League gossip has existed all season that the Clippers are at least one team that planned to show interest in Dunn this offseason. Whether his injury changes that or what other teams get involved is unknown.

What is known is that Dunn deserves credit for looking inward and reviving his career. As recently as last summer, it appeared stalled out. If trade talks with the Grizzlies involving a sign-and-trade for Justin Holiday had panned out, Dunn would’ve been playing for his third team in four seasons.

Instead, he listened to people he trusted, accepted his role of initially coming off the bench and fit into the defensive identity Boylen wanted to create.

Historically, the Bulls have let the market dictate matters involving their restricted free agents. It wouldn’t surprise for a similar scenario to play out with Dunn. If the Bulls extend the $4.6 million qualifying offer, Dunn also could play on that and become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

For a player with Dunn’s injury history, that seems like a shaky proposition. Especially since the injury cost Dunn the starting appearances he needed to earn a higher qualifying offer of $7 million. The guard should be looking for guaranteed, long-term money.

Dunn suffered the freak injury on the first play of the Bulls’ Jan. 31 road loss at the Nets when Thad Young’s head crashed into his knee after taking a charge. That Kyrie Irving proceeded to scorch the Bulls for 54 points on 19-for-23 shooting underscored the importance of Dunn’s defensive presence.

Will it be enough for Dunn to remain with the Bulls? He’s at least played himself into that possibility, which seemed a longshot scenario when the season began.

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.