The Bulls had two glaring positional needs when Year 2 of their rebuild began.
Small forward had been a revolving door since the team traded Jimmy Butler, initiating the rebuild in the first place. It was first thought that Jabari Parker might have been able to fill in that role, but that proved to be a square peg in a round hole. Justin Holiday had a solid run early in the season long enough for the Bulls to flip him for two second-round picks, and rookie Chandler Hutchison showed some promise before a broken toe sidelined him.
But the Bulls cemented the small forward position on Wednesday when they acquired Otto Porter Jr. They’ll pay upwards of $56 million to the 25-year-old the following two seasons but that’s the price for a two-way forward who has been one of the league’s best shooters the previous two seasons.
VP of basketball operations John Paxson said during his and Gar Forman’s 26-minute press conference on Thursday that the Bulls feel confident in four positions with Porter at small forward, Zach LaVine at shooting guard and Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. But what about point guard, that second glaring need?
“We still are evaluating Kris Dunn and the rest of this year, for the good or the bad, is letting Kris Dunn play, get experience and keep trying to become the player that he wants to become,” Paxson said. “It’s all about the decisions we’re going to make going forward and what happens the last 27-28 games.”
The Bulls may still be in the evaluation phase, but unless Dunn has a revelation it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Bulls are still in need of a point guard.
That’s not to say Dunn doesn’t have value. First of all he’s under contract in the final year of his rookie deal next season, so this isn’t a matter of whether he’ll be here in 2019-20 or not. And he’s still a plus defender and a high energy player. All teams need that, just not in the starting lineup at 30 minutes per game. His raw numbers aren't awful - 12.2 points, 6.3 assists, 1.5 steals - but still leaves plenty to be desired for a guy playing 30+ minutes a night with no real backup behind him.
And some of Dunn’s deeper offensive numbers are seriously troubling. He’s on pace to become the first point guard since Rajon Rondo in 2011 to average 30+ minutes and fewer than 2 free throw attempts and 3-point attempts; and that season Rondo was second in the NBA in assists per game and shot 48 percent for a 56-win Celtics team. Dunn isn’t Rondo.
Nitpicking further, the last player to average 30+ minutes and fewer than Dunn’s 1.8 3-point attempts and 1.7 free throw attempts was Toronto’s Alvin Williams in 2004. Just 40.5 percent of Dunn’s attempts are coming within 3 feet or from beyond the 3-point arc. That’s a woefully small number, and Dunn’s midrange game isn’t what it was earlier in the season.
This has been a troubling trend for Dunn his entire three-year career. He isn’t a 3-point threat and doesn’t get to the free throw line. The Bulls don’t exactly have the Warriors shooters around him, but adding Porter now gives Dunn three legitimate 3-point shooters (LaVine, Porter, Markkanen). This is essentially his last shot to prove he can be a positive distributor since he isn’t bringing much in the scoring department.
“The point guard position is a critical position. It’s a tough one to play. You have to be a leader. You have to be a distributor. You have to be a scorer,” Paxson said. “That’s what the position requires. It will be interesting to see now as we’ve added another legitimate wing in Otto how Kris handles that role with scorers. And we’re excited about that. We’ll see.”
The Bulls have reportedly been linked to veterans like Ricky Rubio and Darren Collison, and a player like Mike Conley could be available for trade this offseason. The Bulls have scouted Murray State point guard Ja Morant multiple times and he could certainly be an option if the Bulls pick in the top-3 and don’t win the Zion Sweepstakes.
Whoever it is – and it certainly could still be Dunn – Paxson is clearly making it clear that the Bulls value the position. On top of that, it’s the one area they still have a glaring weakness.
It was telling that Paxson didn’t include Dunn, part of the Jimmy Butler trade less than two seasons ago, when discussing the core of the team.
Lauri Markkanen has finally made his sophomore jump over the last two weeks. Zach LaVine has proven to be well worth the $78 million investment the Bulls made in him in July. Wendell Carter Jr. performed admirably as a 19-year-old center thrust into the starting lineup. And Otto Porter has proven to be one of the league’s better shooters.
Dunn hasn’t made that jump, or shown any improvement really, and it’s on Paxson to identify where the Bulls can improve as they inch closer to contention in the next year or two.
“We’ve said all along that this process is about learning who fits, who doesn’t. We still like Kris a lot. I mean, he’s had some ups and downs this year in terms of his consistency. And that’s always a challenge for players,” Paxson said.
“Being consistently efficient in your game, at all positions but especially the point guard position, is something that all teams value, and we’re still taking a long look at Kris. But we like him. He’s been competitive. He can still defend. And he’s playing hard. So we’re going to keep evaluating him.”