Kris Dunn has a good shot at being the Bulls starting point guard this season.
The larger question, at least for now, is whether Dunn will be able to develop a good shot.
“Shooting, that’s something I need to improve on and something I’ve been working on throughout the whole summer,” Dunn admitted earlier in training camp. “(Coach) Fred (Hoiberg) has been helping me with that. I think I’ve been making progress. I think it’s more about my confidence. I didn’t really have that much during the season last year when I was a rookie in Minnesota. But right now I feel my shot is definitely progressing.”
Everyone will start to see Tuesday when the Bulls open their exhibition season in New Orleans. They’ll play in Dallas Wednesday and then the preseason home opener Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls play six exhibition games, the last Oct. 13 in the United Center against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls then go to Toronto Oct. 19 to begin the regular season.
It’s been much discussed and accepted that this is a transition period, and if the Bulls can play in transition, as they hoped, it will benefit Dunn.
The rugged 6-4 guard probably will start at point guard in Tuesday’s opener. Hoiberg said he’ll probably play alternate teams in each of the first two games. So it figures to be a long way to an opening night starting lineup.
Accounts coming from the Bulls closed practices suggest Dunn’s strengths are in the transition game and on defense, where he could flourish. Hoiberg was a world class shooter during his NBA playing career, and he has been working closely with Dunn.
But as much as Hoiberg has tried to help Dunn with shooting form—Dunn tended to fall back on his shot with substantially less effectiveness than Dick Barnett—he’s attempted to work on belief as much.
The combination of playing in Tom Thibodeau’s half court style and with a quick hook in limited minutes seemed to deal Dunn an emotional setback as well. He was perhaps the most highly regarded true point guard in the 2016 draft. Now, he’s trying to get back that form and conviction. In many ways, that makes Dunn the major project of training camp and the early season. If he can emerge, the Bulls will be well on the way to their goals with the return of Zach LaVine in December or January.
“The biggest thing with Kris is that he’s been here (working out in the Advocate Center) really since the trade happened,” said Hoiberg. “He played the one game in Summer League and had to come home with a family situation. You can see his confidence growing as we go along. That’s what you have to have when you are playing that lead guard spot. You have to be a confident basketball player: Get us into an offense, get us into a defense. He’s been coming along in that area.
“I’m excited about Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got the physical tools to be an excellent player at this level, a 6-11 wingspan, athleticism. He’s got the ability to get into the paint and make plays. But this game is extremely difficult to play–I know from experience–when you don’t play with confidence. So his biggest thing is continuing to build that up.”
Because of his potential on defense and inconsistent shooting, Dunn has drawn comparisons to Boston’s Marcus Smart.
“I don’t like comparisons,” said Hoiberg. “I know they happen all the time at this level, but Kris has to go out and worry about himself and be who he is, the type of player that got him drafted fifth last year, the amount of people that liked him coming out of college. Kris is an instinctual basketball player. You have to go out there and let him play his game. He’s going to play through mistakes, but they have to be effort mistakes. He has to go out there and play extremely hard and we expect that out of Kris.
“We obviously haven’t played a game yet, but we feel his shooting has improved,” Hoiberg said. “The important thing is once he gets out there he keeps his tempo solid, his body position. He’s had a tendency starting his shot leaning backward. It’ about getting that body in a straight line, finishing and following through every time he shoots it. It’s all about consistency with Kris.”
The Bulls will be watching carefully, but so will many others. Dunn was a vital element in the Jimmy Butler trade, and point guard, perhaps the NBA’s most important position these days, is not a strong position for the team. If Dunn cannot excel, it would be a setback.
But Dunn has dealt with pressure and ordeals before, famously his adolescent story of being kidnapped by one parent, he and his brother even living alone when they weren’t teenagers and eventually reunited with their father and on to a promising basketball career.
But even Dunn admits he was thrown off balance last season in Minnesota with the changes in style of play and expectations for such a high draft pick, one whom the Bulls were pursuing in that draft as well.
Dunn averaged just 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in 17 minutes playing behind Ricky Rubio. The label of potential “bust” comes quickly in the NBA, but more so players need to find the right fit. Dunn believes it will be in Chicago.
I’m getting to play point guard again, getting guys involved, knowing how to run the team again…
“I think the biggest thing with me is just probably staying the course, working hard each and every day, running the team,” said Dunn. “Coach wants to play at a fast pace. So just keep listening to the coaches and do the things they want me to do, compete each and every day.
“I’ve been working all summer for this position,” said Dunn. “I’m ready to lead the team. I feel I have the right attributes and the right mindset to do that. I think I have all the respect from the players because they see how hard I work on and off the court; right now I feel I am in the right spot. We’re all developing, we’re all trying to improve our games. That’s only building confidence for me. Last year, it was definitely a tough time for me; adversity definitely hit me. I had a bad year because I wasn’t who I was, playing with that fierce competitiveness. I play with that swagger, that confidence, and I didn’t feel I had that when I was in Minnesota. I wasn’t playing a lot. I wasn’t playing my natural position. I was under a tough coach; everything was so new. This year I am trying to bounce back from that. I played point guard four years (in college). I’m getting to play point guard again, getting guys involved, knowing how to run the team again, knowing when to pass and shoot.”
“As a young team, we understand there are going to be a lot of ups and downs during the season, a lot of adversity,” Dunn acknowledged. “We’re all trying to develop and improve our game. That’s the key for me, keep improving, polish my game and be the best I can for my team.”
It’s priority No. 1 for the young Bulls. It starts Tuesday.