Kris Dunn

Improved 3PT shooting and lower usage the path to success for Kris Dunn

Improved 3PT shooting and lower usage the path to success for Kris Dunn

Much has (fairly) been made this year of the Bulls ongoing search for a long-term answer at the point guard position. While Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine have taken big step forwards this in their development this year, Dunn's game has seemingly plateaued, with some pretty big red flags. But to act as if Dunn hasn't made some improvements this year would be a disservice to his game, and his perimeter shooting as of late definitely deserves a closer look.

In the Bulls OT win over the Wizards on Wednesday, Dunn attempted a career-high seven 3-point shots. And much, much more important than the fact that he took seven attempts from deep was just how went about taking them.

By my count, two of his seven 3-point attempts on Wednesday were step-back 3-pointers—he made 1 of 2—a shot that it was extremely rare to see him take in year's past.

In Jim Boylen's offense Dunn does a lot of his work by running to Lauri Markkanen or Robin Lopez for handoff plays. And when the opponent runs hard to deny Dunn the ball you will occasionally see him reject the screen and take a one-dribble step back 3-point shot.

Dunn's form still makes his shot relaease a little bit slower than most, but with how far defenses sag off of him, even a slow-developing step back will do wonders for his offensive game.

Through 11 games in March, Dunn has shot 40 percent from the 3-point line on 35 attempts. His overall 3-point attempt rate has not increased in a meaningful way but simply hitting his open shots are half the battle since opponents are still going so far under the screen on him. He has clearly worked hard on his shot and has so far seen his 3-point accuracy increase every season of his career.

So with all this in mind, it is still too early to give up on Dunn as a long-term piece of this team.

As LaVine has taken on a larger role as a primary ballhandler and play initiator, Dunn has adjusted his game in turn, driving to the basket less and focusing more on keeping the ball moving.

With all the changes the Bulls went through this year, a full offseason of work with the current roster will make Dunn a little bit more sure of his role on the team, which will surely change even more depending on who the Bulls select in the 2019 NBA Draft and what they do in free agency.  

But if ultimately Dunn's role is that of a low-usage, defensive-minded player who doesn't have the ball in his hands—a la Shaq Harrison—then the path for him to contine to start next to LaVine is there. 

Though the catch-and-shoot numbers are worringly bad this season (28.8 percent), Dunn has taken strides a pull-up shooter. After shooting a solid 36 .2 percent on 58 pull-up 3-pointers in 2017-18, that figure is up to 45.7 percent, though only on 35 attempts through 45 games. 

The overarching point here is that if Dunn's improvement from 3-point range is real—which his career-best 79.1 percent free throw percentage would suggest—then we should expect a small increase next season as well. 

Ultimately, despite being underwhelming on offense overall due to poor finishing at the rim—26th percentile among "combo guards" via subscription-based site Cleaning the Glass—Dunn can actually increase his offensive value by shooting less, and that is why there should still be optimism in regards to Dunn. 

To fully flourish in the NBA, Dunn needs to be on the floor with players who will use up enough possesions to make him an overqualified fifth option, rather than a woefully underqualfied third or fourth option. Whether the Bulls draft another PG or not, next season will be huge for Dunn. 

Marcus Smart is a great example of the type of player Dunn can and should become on a winning team.

In 2018-19 Smart has a career-low 13.8 usage percentage. But by taking a step back on offense (in terms of overall shot attempts) and redirecting his shot profile to attempt more 3-point shots than 2-pointers, Smart is putting together the best season of his career in terms of offensive efficiency. Once the Bulls have added yet another intriuiging offensive talent, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Dunn's career won't take a similar turn. 

With Boylen as head coach, there will always be minutes for a player like Dunn, who gives maximum effort on defense even if a tad overzealous with his physicality. But Dunn's game is coming along, even if it seems like it isn't.

He is a late bloomer who has improved his plus/minus rating by 0.7 points amid another tough season.

When the games are bigger and the lights shine brighter on what many expect to be a much improved team next year, Dunn will be ready to take another big step forward whether he is playing next to LaVine or doing more work with the second unit. And that is because despite being open about the PG position, the Bulls orginization still believes in Dunn, which Boylen showed with his postgame comments on Wednesday:

"Kris Dunn is a hard worker who cares, tries and isn't afraid of the moment."

Strotman: The Bulls have something special in Shaq Harrison

Strotman: The Bulls have something special in Shaq Harrison

Oftentimes an overlooked aspect of an NBA rebuild is the supporting cast. Franchise players are critical, and creating a championship contender means finding Hall of Fame talent. Supporting cast starters come from those late Lottery to mid-first round selections, and free agency is critical to plug holes once those young players are ready to contend.

But what about the bench? What about the situational role players that can turn a game on its head at a moment’s notice? What about that tired-but-true cliché of players doing the little things?

It’s critical. It’s necessary. The Tony Allens, the Shane Battiers and the Shaun Livingstons make good teams great, and great teams elite. And what the Bulls have in small forward Shaq Harrison is the early stages of a glue guy, a role player and a defensive star who they’d be wise to hang on to.

Wednesday’s effort against the Wizards was vintage Harrison with an added bonus. Starting for the second time in as many games, Harrison finished with 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting and four steals and provided more elite defense, this time on All-Star Bradley Beal. This came two nights after a four-steal performance against Devin Booker and the Suns, the team that cut him in training camp last September.

“Defensively he’s like a mad dog chasing a meat truck,” Jim Boylen said before Wednesday’s overtime win. “But he’s playing in a system now and it’s great to see what he’s doing.”

To say that Harrison has been good on the defensive end would sell him incredibly short. His on/off numbers won’t impress because he’s usually on a second unit that features players like Cris Felicio, Antonio Blakeney and Wayne Selden that hurt his numbers.

But in a league that’s increasingly focused on offensive numbers like never before – and it becoming difficult to find relevant defensive numbers – Harrison is absolutely thriving on the other end. Though he’s averaging just 18 minutes per game, Harrison is second in the NBA in deflections per 36 minutes (3.9), first in steals per 36 minutes (2.4) and his average defensive speed of 4.50 miles per hour is the fastest in the NBA.

Harrison isn’t just a really good defensive player; he’s a great one.

“Defense is 90 percent effort, 10 percent talent,” he said after Wednesday’s game. “I guess that 10 percent shows sometimes, but it’s 90 percent effort. Anybody can go out there and play hard any day and make things happen.”

Harrison is selling himself short. He was the primary cover on Beal in the second half and overtime, when Beal went 4 of 13 for 12 points. This is the same Beal who entered Wednesday’s game averaging 30.0 points on 50 percent shooting since Feb. 9. Harrison hounded him most of the second half and made life miserable for the potential All-Pro shooting guard.

“Grit, grind, fearlessness. He’s a very smart player, especially on the defensive side,” Kris Dunn said. “He’s in the right spots but at the same time you can put him on somebody and he’s going to go out there and work hard and try to make everything difficult for that person.

“He plays hard, great feet, great hands, athletic. He a dog. When you’re a dog on the defensive end that gives you a little extra.”

Perhaps Harrison’s defensive effort has given him more confidence on the offensive end. After all, two of his steals on both Monday and Wednesday led to his own fast break buckets. That’s a free 8 points on 4 of 4 shooting. But Harrison has done even more than that.

Wednesday was his best effort of the year as a scorer, filling that third option void for the Bulls who were without Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. Harrison’s 18 points were the most he’s scored since a 20-point effort in December, though that came in the infamous 56-point loss to the Celtics.

This time around Harrison did his damage in a win and it was a continued trend of efficient basketball. Prior to Jan. 29, Harrison was shooting a team-worst 50.4 percent in the restricted area and 22 percent in the paint. Since then, he’s 60 percent in the restricted area and 45.5 percent in the paint.

He’s never going to be a shooter – though he made his second triple in his last 19 games on Wednesday – so Harrison is focusing on what he does well. He’s living in the paint and moving the basketball when he can’t get to the basket.

“I’m watching film, I’m getting in before practice, I’m getting shots up and going over schemes with the coaches and trying to play at a controlled pace,” Harrison said of his improved offensive play. “And I think it’s paying off. I’m going to continue to keep working at it and get better.”

Anything Harrison provides on that end of the floor is a bonus. He’s going to make his money and stay in the NBA because of his defense. But what the Bulls have unearthed in Harrison is a keeper. The Bulls are 25th in defense this season and while Wendell Carter Jr. will improve them next season, this is still a team built around offensive talent in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr.

Harrison gives the Bulls something they desperately need: a talented defender on the wing. He’d give the Bulls a re-do on swapping David Nwaba for Jabari Parker this past offseason, he’d solidify the Bulls’ second unit with a defensive stopper and someone who could be an offense-for-defense substitution late in games.

He has a team option for next season that the Bulls will undoubtedly pick up, but they could go a step further by extending him to a longer-term deal. He’s already 25 years old, so this isn’t as if the Bulls have found a young hidden gem. But Harrison hasn’t stopped improving since he debuted in October. The defense has only gotten better, the offense has slowed down for him and he fills a need. His ceiling is capped by his offensive limitations, but there still feels like there’s a lot of potential there.

The Bulls have their frontline talent in Markkanen and LaVine, they have an excellent supporting cast with Porter, Carter and potentially Chandler Hutchison. They’ll also add a top-8 pick in June. Harrison couldn’t complement that cast of players any better. He could be the Allen, the Battier, the Livingston as the Bulls look to build a playoff contender.

“I think as much as this league is about playoffs and great players and great personalities and all those things, this league is about improvement (and) development,” Boylen said. “And seeing an undrafted guy come in and get better and grow, he’s improved his finishing, his ball handling, his decision making, his shooting.

“When you see guys improve and grow, I don’t think there’s anything better.”

Clippers 3rd quarter blitz sinks Bulls in LA


Clippers 3rd quarter blitz sinks Bulls in LA

The Bulls have been very honest and open all year about still being in the process of evaluating the PG position. Despite some explosive offensive developments from Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine, it is clear the team could use more capable passers. And just how badly the Bulls need to add a playmaker--whether it be a PG-sized player or not--was on display on Friday night.

Doc Rivers has the Clippers playing with a lot of confidence and over the last 10 games, they have the 12th best defensive rating in the league (108.2). But that didn’t stop the Bulls from shooting a very efficient 56.8 percent from the field in the first half and Dunn was a solid part of that success.

After playing quite tentative in the first, Dunn woke up in the 2nd quarter, scoring 9 PTS which included going 3/3 from the free throw line. Most important was the fact that he looked aggressive at moments attacking the basket. Dunn has been noticeably less aggressive when attacking the basket, and is averaging 3.6 less drives per game since the All-Star break, so it is excellent to see him get to the basket and finish through contact.

However in the third quarter, the Clippers came out with a tremendous amount of intensity, forcing 8 Bulls turnovers. Their ball pressure only further exposed the Bulls playmaking woes, which became magnified once Ryan Arcidiacono went down after being hit with a hard screen from Montrezl Harrell.

In that same third quarter, Lauri Markkanen--who is in the middle of a ice-cold shooting slump--had zero shot attempts in just over seven minutes of playing time. Though Markkanen obviously has to be aggressive in demanding the ball, he also (obviously) needs his teammates to seek him out when is open (especially when coming off of screens), something Stacey King pointed out many times during the broadcast.

Markkanen ultimately scored 10 PTS in 28 minutes on only eight field goal attempts. He did shot 2/3 from the 3PT line but was overall ineffective. He struggled all game with the physicality of Harrell, who dominated inside the paint to the tune of 26 PTS on 50 percent shooting. And again, it is OK for Lauri to struggle when matched up with a high-energy player like Harrell. But nights like Friday are exactly when he could use another player on the floor who could feed him for some easy baskets.

LaVine did his best to carry the offense in the second half with Arcidiacono out, and Dunn & Markkanen dealing with foul trouble. He scored 15 of his 31 PTS after the half. He also finished the game with 7 assists (and 4 turnovers), the first time he has chipped in at least 5 assists since March 1.

But LaVine also got to the FT line a whopping 13 times in this game, his second-highest FT total in a single game on the season. When you are exerting that much energy--in terms of being a team’s best 3PT shooter, finisher and playmaker--it is understandable that you personally may struggle with turnovers. However, the Bulls carelessness with the ball extends to the entire roster. This was clear seeing as the Bulls finished the game with 17 total turnovers which led to the Clippers scoring  23 PTS off of those turnovers, which was the main deciding factor in the game.

The Bulls and the Clippers are both teams that very much take on the personality of their head coach. Both teams have had a heavy focus on toughness, dominating defensive rebounding, points in the paint and mid-range offense this season.

And so it was almost fitting that once things got intense on the court, it spilled over to the sideline where Jim Boylen and Rivers exchanged words, leading to a very quick double ejection.

If Boylen’s ploy was to get himself ejected on purpose to fire up the team, then kudos, as the Bulls actually outscored the Clippers 45-37 from the moment he got ejected late in the third quarter. Of course, the damage was already done as the Bulls were dominated in the early portion of the 3rd.

Though the Bulls couldn’t pull out the road win, this was yet another game that suggests there is some growing synergy between Boylen and his young roster. And THAT is the most important thing for the franchise as they head into a crucial offseason.