Kris Dunn

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Pecking Order: What should the Bulls do with Kris Dunn?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Pecking Order: What should the Bulls do with Kris Dunn?

No matter how rocky things get, we can always count on the Atlanta Hawks to make us look good. On the second night of their back-to-back following a crushing overtime loss to Miami, the lifeless Hawks arrived in Chicago, then promptly rolled over and died. That was nice of them!

It gave the Bulls a much-needed blowout victory at home on Wednesday night, 136-102.

Zach LaVine’s extremely efficient output of 35 points on 12-for-16 shooting, including hitting all seven of his 3-point attempts, was the biggest headline. 

Lauri Markkanen added to his recent stretch of 20-point performances and Denzel Valentine continued to earn his minutes with another solid night off the bench. (Give up, NBA defenders! That Valentine floater is unguardable!)

But the other big takeaway from Wednesday night’s victory was the defensive dominance of forgotten (and now remembered) man Kris Dunn. In a season with confusing plot lines everywhere, perhaps no character is more perplexing than Dunn.

It’s the Kris Dunn Conundrum. It’s the Pecking Order.

1) Don’t knock Dunn’s defense

For a former fifth overall pick who was once touted as a rebuilding team’s point guard of the future – not to mention the trade rumors last offseason – Dunn deserves credit for blocking out the noise and embracing his role as a defense-first backup this season. That is, of course, until multiple injuries flung him into Jim Boylen’s starting lineup. 

Whether starting or supporting, Dunn is bringing the defense.

His 102 defensive rating leads the Bulls and would be a career-best mark for Dunn. Only Ben Simmons (2.2) and Jimmy Butler (2.1) are averaging more steals, and Dunn (2.0) is producing his in nearly 15 fewer minutes per game. Look no further than Wednesday’s victory for the latest example of Dunn’s elite defense. Trae Young, currently the NBA’s fifth leading scorer, finished with just 15 points on 4-for-14 shooting and turned the ball over seven times.

Kris clearly takes pride in his defense and welcomes the challenge of slowing down the best guards in the league. In these NBA days of teams scoring at will, it’s nice to see somebody still give a damn about defense. 

Call me old fashioned, call me a meathead Chicago fan. I like defense.

2) There’s such a thing as being TOO aggressive

While Dunn’s stealing ability is elite, so is his propensity for unnecessary fouls. He’s committing a whopping 5.8 fouls per 36 minutes. That’s the fourth highest mark among NBA players with 400+ minutes this season and eighth highest among ALL players. Yikes.

Kris has fouled out of four games already and had five fouls in three more. You can’t be an elite defensive asset for your team if foul trouble keeps you off the floor. Kris can fix this problem by eliminating unnecessary fouls when he’s guarding between half-court and the three-point line.

But that aggressive style leads to all the steals. It’s a fine line.

3) For the love of god, red light!

Boylen gave Dunn the green light on shooting open 3-pointers this season. While Dunn has always been a reliable midrange shooter, that part of the court is essentially off limits in this offensive system. That doesn’t mean Dunn should chuck 3-pointers if he can’t find that range, though.

There’s a reason Dunn finds himself wide open behind the arc. 

Defenses are daring him to shoot. It hurts the spacing for the rest of the Bulls offense as opponents can ignore Dunn’s weak side of the court, sagging into help coverage to contain Zach, Lauri and others.

Here’s a fun stat for you, courtesy of 670 The Score’s Jeff Mangurten: Kris is down to 18.3% on 3-pointers this season on 60 attempts. No player has attempted more than 105 threes and shot under 20% in a full season in NBA history. 

I think it’s time for the red light, Jim.

4) Back to the bench?

Denzel Valentine is proving he deserves minutes and he brings more than accuracy from downtown. He has a crafty midrange floater and provides some high caliber passing the Bulls are sorely lacking. These are the reasons Bulls fans are calling for Denzel to replace Dunn in the starting lineup.

It’s a fair question. Starting Denzel would help the spacing issues in place of the brick-chucking Dunn. However, we all know Denzel’s defensive limitations. With Zach and Lauri’s defensive issues, that starting unit is already at a disadvantage. 

Replacing Dunn with Denzel could really sink that unit defensively. 

It’s also worth noting that of the six different five-man lineups with at least 50 minutes this season, the current starting lineup of Satoranský, LaVine, Lauri, Wendell Carter Jr. and Dunn has the highest net rating of +9.3. 

Maybe the idea of starting Denzel over Dunn isn’t such a no-brainer after all.

5) Still trade bait?

It was widely reported the Bulls shopped Kris last summer but found no takers. With the additions of Sato and Coby White, and Dunn’s apparent lack of chemistry with LaVine, the writing was on the wall.

Now that Dunn is playing well – 18.3% from beyond the arc aside – his trade value has risen from below the basement to a non-zero quantity. 

Will Bulls management look to trade him as we approach the February deadline? 

Some of that likely depends on whether the Bulls can get back into the playoff hunt between now and then, and how important they view Dunn to be reaching that goal.

But if we remain on this current trajectory, they might decide it’s in their best interest to gauge the Dunn market again. I suppose it’s possible they’ve reconsidered the idea of signing him to a modest extension, but all subtext points to the Bulls and Dunn parting ways during or after this season.

Hopefully Kris continues to show his value on the defensive end while the Bulls brain trust ponders that decision. Getting that three ball above 20%? That might be asking too much.

Thanks for reading. See red, be good.

What to watch for: Bulls match up with Charlotte Hornets for the third time this season

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USA TODAY

What to watch for: Bulls match up with Charlotte Hornets for the third time this season

For the third time this season, the Bulls and Hornets square off, this time at the United Center. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:

Hornets’ last five (3-2)

  • Dec. 11 — W at Nets: 113-108

  • Dec. 10 — W vs. Wizards: 114-107

  • Dec. 8 — L vs. Hawks: 122-107

  • Dec. 6 — L vs. Nets: 111-104

  • Dec. 4 — W vs. Warriors: 106-91

Storyline(s) for each team

This is already the third matchup of the Bulls and Hornets this season, and each of the first two were wild in their own way. In the first — the season-opener — Lauri Markkanen dropped a season-high 35 points and 17 rebounds, but in a foreboding result, the Bulls squandered a 10-point fourth quarter lead and fell 126-125. Then, on Nov. 23, the Bulls found themselves on the winning side of an epic late-game collapse, and an epic Zach LaVine performance. You remember:

Both of these teams are theoretically hunting the eight seed in the East, but the Hornets have a little bit more to hang their hats on, at present. They’re 1.5 games back of the current eighth-seeded Orlando Magic (the Bulls three games back) and are enjoying breakout campaigns from budding star Devonte’ Graham, fast-improving sophomore Miles Bridges and rookie P.J. Washington. Even Terry Rozier has become a pretty efficient catch-and-shoot scorer.

The Bulls are on a solid run of defensive performances, in which they've competed wire-to-wire against the Heat and Raptors (both losses) and throttled the lowly Hawks, but are still waiting on their halfcourt offense to catch up. For what it’s worth, they’ve scored 120.5 points per contest in their two matchups with Charlotte this year. Given the ludicrosity of each of these teams' last two matchups, it's hard to say if either has a definitive edge tonight, but it should be a fun one, nonetheless. 

Player to watch: Devonte’ Graham

Speaking of Graham… It’s early, but he might already be building a compelling case for Most Improved Player this year. After averaging just 4.7 points in a reserve role in his rookie campaign, he’s up to 20 points and 7.6 assists per game on 39.7% 3-point shooting (8.9 attempts!) this season, and has earned a starting backcourt role alongside Rozier. In the Hornets' last game, in Brooklyn, he dropped 40 in riveting fashion:

Fortunately, the Bulls have as good a point-guard stopper as you could ask for in Kris Dunn, who’s coming off a night of hounding — and effectively bottling up — Trae Young. Graham is averaging 20.5 points, nine assists and five 3-pointers made against the Bulls this season. A stringent performance against him would be another feather in Dunn’s cap.

Matchup to watch: Paint scoring and rebounding

The Hornets have been notoriously shaky in the painted area — at least on the defensive side of the ball. Per NBA Stats, Charlotte currently ranks 28th in the league in defensive rebounding rate (70.5%) and opponent points in the paint per game (51.8), and 25th in blocks per game (4.3). Bismack Biyombo has recently slid into the Hornets' starting lineup as a mend to that, but the team doesn’t have much in the way of rim protection outside of him.

In the season-opener, the Bulls outrebounded the Hornets 58-48 and outscored them 78-42 in the paint. The story of their last matchup (No. 23) was LaVine’s 3-point barrage (the Bulls lost both the rebounding battle and the points-in-paint battle), but if the shots aren’t falling tonight, the interior could be a well to return to. In that scenario, Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford would be benefactors.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

At Thursday’s practice, Jim Boylen said Chandler Hutchison and Cristiano Felicio both played 3-on-3, a step in the right direction for both (it was Hutchison’s first contact day). No further updates on either of them, as of yet. Other than that, the Bulls should enter this one with the same cast of characters as the past two weeks. 

For the Hornets, Marvin Williams has already been ruled out, Nic Batum is officially listed as doubtful and Malik Monk is officially listed as probable. 

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