Almost exactly one year after the Minnesota Timberwolves anointed Kris Dunn as the point guard most likely to direct Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins through their primes, the former Providence star was reduced to one third of an embarrassingly lopsided blockbuster trade.
The Chicago Bulls head-butted their reset button, trading three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and 16th overall pick Justin Patton for Dunn, a recuperating Zach LaVine, and seventh overall pick Lauri Markkanen.
There's a decent chance Chicago regrets making this trade—partly due to the steadily deflating balloon that was Dunn's rookie season. He averaged 3.8 points, 2.4 assists, and 1.0 steal per game while backing up Ricky Rubio on one of the league's more disappointing teams. According to Synergy Sports, Dunn ranked in the fifth percentile as an overall scorer; he turned the ball over a ton in transition and his jump shot was even worse than advertised.
Dunn made just 28.8 percent of his threes and attempted more long twos than shots within three feet of the rim. His Summer League debut with the Bulls did little to assuage those concerns. The 23-year-old finished 3-for-12 and, oddly enough, spent most of his time working off the ball in small lineups beside Denzel Valentine and Cameron Payne.
It's unwise to get upset over even the most curious Summer League decision, but nothing about Dunn stepping away from his role as the primary ball handler makes much sense. The Bulls should prioritize Dunn's development as a point guard, and that means letting him fill a role the organization presumably wants him to play during the 2017-18 regular season (and beyond). A LaVine-Dunn backcourt has plenty of question marks, but Chicago would be wise to try and answer a few in this Summer League environment—because both certainly won't be standing on the weak-side next year.
"I'm a natural point guard," Dunn said after the game. "That's what I do. I like getting guys involved, I've been doing that my whole life. I can score when the time is right, but if the coach wants to put me at the two that's fine. I just have to get adjusted to that and become a scorer."
At moments during the game, Dunn flashed the marvelous athleticism that made him a lottery pick in the first place—whirling through a double team with tremendous body control on one play, and then bowling over his man on an aggressive baseline drive a few minutes later. But he also endured frustrating stretches where he didn't even touch the ball.
Not all is lost, though. It makes sense if the Bulls become one of the fastest teams in the league next season, and the prospect of Dunn getting out in the open floor a bit more—and avoiding set defensive alignments—is tantalizing.
"In Minnesota there were a lot more isos because we had a lot of talented players," he said. "I can get downhill a little more. I think [Chicago's offense] is a quicker pace."
Despite being a top-five pick, it's very possible Dunn never evolves into much more than a defensive specialist. Given his draft slot and the player he was just traded for (Butler), that'd be a shame. But it also doesn't mean he can't have a useful career.
Named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016, Dunn is already a force on that end. He can slide between both backcourt positions and disrupt the opponent's primary action, whether that's mirroring his man on the ball or slithering around the floor, tracking guards as they weave around screens to free themselves for an open shot.
"He reminds me of Gary Payton," Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley told VICE Sports. "The defensive intensity, the intangibles, his personality, his toughness. His eagerness to battle every possession. I see a lot in him that Payton had in his younger years."
Even if he's yet to live up to the hype that comes with being named the best player in his college's conference two years in a row, Dunn's value is obvious. Equally clear is his need to make defenses respect his outside shot. He's working with the Bulls coaching staff now to refine his form, and his focus in Las Vegas is more on technical aspects that will hopefully chisel a more consistent stroke into his neuropathways. From that vantage point, there's some logic to working him off the ball.
"I'm trying to work on my mechanics, that's what I'm really trying to work on out here," Dunn said. "Trying work on my three, trying to work on my mid-range, and trying to make it at a consistent basis. When you shoot it, you should know that it's going in."
For all the positive attributes he brings to the table (the speed of a starving cheetah, a relentless intensity, and—at times—undeniably brilliant vision), guards who can't shoot only rise so high in today's NBA. In order for Dunn to become the point guard Chicago feels comfortable building its team around from the ground up, he really needs to lift that area of his game up off the canvas.
"All my life I've been getting to the hole," Dunn he said. "That's what I do. I ain't have to shoot in high school, I ain't have to shoot in college. I was more explosive, more athletic. But In the NBA, people realize that."