Trae Young

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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Four observations: Bulls rout Atlanta Hawks in much-needed get-right game

Four observations: Bulls rout Atlanta Hawks in much-needed get-right game

The Bulls picked up a valuable get-right win in a 136-102 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks. Observations from a game the Bulls had to win, and did handily:

The bench provided a spark (again)

Bulls starters not named Zach LaVine got off to a sluggish start in this one. At the 3:14 mark of the first, the Hawks led 29-21 and were shooting a scalding 13-for-18 (72.2%) from the field (3-for-6 from 3-point range). LaVine had 12 of the Bulls’ 21 points.

The hosts ended the period ahead 37-33, buoyed by a 16-4 run by a bench unit of Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono, Denzel Valentine, Thad Young, and Daniel Gafford. Valentine hit four floaters over that stretch, Gafford had a resounding block, White had a strong and-one take over Alex Len and Thad Young tallied five points, for good measure. 

Bench runs have become commonplace for this Bulls team, even in the midst of a three-game losing streak. This one carried over into the second quarter, which the Bulls won 29-19, holding Atlanta to 6-for-21 (28.6%) shooting, 2-for-10 (20%) from three. They didn't look back from there.

Young finished the first half with nine points, four rebounds, and two assists. White had a flashy night — tallying 19 points. Valentine and Gafford connected on a handful of alley-oops (which has quickly become a tradition).

Zach LaVine bounced back

LaVine — averaging 20 points on 33.3% shooting during the team’s three-game losing streak — was ripe for a breakout, and this Hawks team (29th in the NBA in defensive rating) presented an opportunity to bounce back. He took advantage.

As mentioned, LaVine carried the Bulls offense early: he had 18 first-half points on 7-for-9 shooting. Embedded in that line were a few highlight-reel dunks that awoke the United Center:

He tacked on a cool 17 (!) in the third quarter before coming out with the game out of reach for the Hawks. LaVine finished the night leading all scorers with 35 points and shot a staggering 7-for-7 from 3-point range. When he’s on, it’s too much fun, and he dazzled in this one. 

In a favorable matchup, the defense kept rolling

Coming into this game, we knew the Bulls defense, theoretically, matched up well with Atlanta’s offense plan of attack. For the most part, that bore out, in practice.

Kris Dunn was outstanding in containing Trae Young tonight, hounding him off of every screen (where he was usually aided by a hedge from the big in coverage) and staying attached even in instances when Young was able to penetrate.

Young didn’t score until the 11:07 mark in the second quarter and finished the night with 15 points on 4-for-14 shooting (1-for-6 from three) and seven turnovers. This is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA we’re talking about here. He did rack up 13 assists (six in the first quarter) — and some were very, very pretty — but most of those came in transition. In the halfcourt, the Bulls’ set defense effectively bottled him up.

The Hawks, as a team, committed 23 turnovers on the night, which the Bulls were able to convert into 15 points. Atlanta is an inferior opponent, yes, but it was a strong showing, nonetheless.

Blowouts are fun

This one was a little too close for comfort early on but ended in a rout. The Bulls simply outclassed the Hawks, winning statistical categories this team has often been overmatched in, from rebounds (42-40) to points in the paint (78-42), to blocks (7-4), to the 3-point battle. Lauri Markkanen even utilized garbage time to turn a fine stat line into a good one: he had 10 points in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 22 points on 8-for-9 shooting. 

So, you know what? Rest your brain with some of the best clips of the night. You’ve earned it:

 

 

 

 

The Bulls can push questions about fourth-quarter stagnation, cold shooting streaks, and crowded rotations until this weekend. This was a solid overall performance.

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Bulls look for second win of the season over Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Bulls look for second win of the season over Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

The Bulls will look to snap a three-game losing streak when they welcome Trae Young and the 6-18 Atlanta Hawks to the United Center tonight. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago —until then, here's what to watch for:

Hawks’ last five (2-3)

  • Dec. 10 — L at Heat: 135-121 (OT)

  • Dec. 8 — W at Hornets: 122-107

  • Dec. 4 — L vs. Brooklyn: 130-118

  • Dec. 2 — W vs. Warriors: 104-79

  • Nov. 30 — L at Rockets: 158-111

Storyline(s) for each team

For the second time this season, the Bulls and Hawks are set to square off (the first a 113-93 drubbing by the Bulls on Nov. 6), and for the second time this season, the Hawks enter said matchup on the second night of a back-to-back. On Nov. 6, Atlanta laid an egg the night after a hard-fought win over the not-yet-disappointing Spurs in San Antonio. This time, they’re coming off an excruciating overtime defeat in Miami (something the Bulls can relate to). The Hawks’ loss to the Heat may have been even more painful than the Bulls’, if only because of the virality of it:

 

 

Overall, the Hawks have underwhelmed this season, one in which their young and exciting core of Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Hunter, and co. were expected by some to push the franchise closer to contention (hey, the Bulls can relate to that, too!). They enter play 6-18 (3-15 since Nov. 6) and still without Collins, who is 19 games into a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA's Anti-Drug Program. This is a winnable game.

The Bulls are banged up and fast-falling from the Eastern Conference playoff race, but strung together a couple — all things considered — quality performances against two of the league’s best teams in the Raptors and Heat earlier this week. The moral victories won over the course of their recent real-life defeats will resonate a little stronger if they can come out and play a complete game against this Atlanta team tonight. 

Player to watch: Jabari Parker (and Zach LaVine)

Screw it. These are two not-great basketball teams that chuck a ton of 3-pointers, so if the aesthetic of this one doesn't end up all-together pleasing (likely), it’ll at least be fun to watch Parker, a son of the city, go to work. He’s currently in the midst of something of a bounceback campaign — averaging 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 13.2 FGA on 50.2% shooting — with an emphasis on the 'bounce':

 

This also has the potential to be a big Zach LaVine game. It feels like you could posit that every night, but this Hawks team truly is a juicy matchup for him — Atlanta enters this game the 29th-rated defense in the league (114.3) and lacks a true lockdown presence on the wing to throw at him. Just two weeks ago, remember, James Harden torched the Hawks for 60 points and eight assists en route to a 158-point team performance. LaVine, shooting 33.3% and averaging only 2.3 fourth-quarter points in the Bulls’ last three games, feels due.

Matchup to watch: Trae Young + Hawks’ secondary playmakers vs. Bulls defense

On Nov. 6, the Bulls put together one of their most impressive defensive performances of the season, holding the Hawks to 6-for-30 3-point shooting and forcing 24 turnovers (the most they’ve forced in a game this season; they lead in the NBA in opponent turnovers per game).

It was a banner night for the Bulls’ blitzing pick-and-roll coverage schemes — in the game, they completely corralled Young, the Hawks highest-usage (33.4%) and most dynamic player, holding him to nine points, three assists, four turnovers and 3-for-12 shooting (0-for-8 from 3-point range). On the season, he averages 28.4 points and 8.4 assists per game on 38.2% 3-point shooting (nine attempts). 

Without his most reliable playmaking screen-and-roll partner in Collins, the Bulls were able to cut the head (Young) off the proverbial snake of the Hawks’ offensive attack the last time these two teams met. Tomas Satoransky (season-high 27 points on Nov. 6) and Kris Dunn's length and activity were key to containing Young off screens, and they'll be huge factors tonight, when the emphasis will again be on forcing the ball out of Young’s hands and into the hands of Atlanta’s secondary playmakers (primarily, their forwards). Those players weren’t able to make the Bulls pay last time, and based on the team’s league-worst 32.1% 3-point shooting percentage, there’s a solid chance they could fail to do so tonight, as well. 

After that aforementioned Nov. 6 game, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said, of the Bulls' defensive strategy, that they'll "never let Trae [Young] have an easy game for the rest of his career." That quip, of course, was in reference to Young’s 49-point outing against the Bulls last March. Pierce's theory will be tested again tonight.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Yesterday, news broke of another Otto Porter Jr. injury setback — he is now set to be evaluated over the course of the next four weeks, the latest in a series of alterations to his original recovery timeline. Needless to say, a return isn’t in sight, for him or Chandler Hutchison, who is still dealing with a bruised shoulder. Even beyond Porter and Hutchison, the Bulls’ injury report is beginning to lengthen, but chalk most of these up to the wear and tear of the regular season:

As of this writing, the Hawks’ most significant absence will be Collins. Other than that, they come into this one mostly healthy.

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