Progress Report: Kris Dunn

We’re two months into Kris Dunn’s career as Chicago Bull. He’s already exceeded all my expectations.

I’ll admit, those expectations weren’t grand. Nor should they have been given Dunn’s rookie season. After producing arguably one of the worst offensive performances by a top pick in some time, Dunn was a throw-in in the Jimmy Butler trade. His value as an asset was at an all-time low. He looked nothing like the player he projected to be coming out of Providence. Dunn’s stock was trending down and his selection as the No. 5 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft appeared to be an error.

But after a few short months, in a different system with greater responsibility, Dunn has morphed into what he was meant to be: a legitimate starting point guard.

Dunn, 23, has shown a significant progression from his rookie season. An expanded role has offered more possessions to create and showcase his skills. The majority of his per game and possession-based averages have dramatically increased.

More importantly, though, Dunn’s increased confidence is allowing the sophomore guard to do things each game we haven’t seen before. A few months ago, Dunn struggled to control the ball in pick-and-roll. Now, he’s closing games, draining timely baskets in clutch moments.

The overwhelming trend is positive, but there are still several important areas to monitor throughout the remainder of the season.

Fouling

The best defense against Dunn at present is himself. By playing an aggressive brand of defense, Dunn runs the risk of picking up cheap fouls in quick succession. Doing so has forced head coach Fred Hoiberg to remove Dunn from the floor, losing valuable playing time in the process.

Per NBA.com, Dunn ranks 10th in the league in fouls per game and is first among all point guards. He has fouled out of two games this season and has had four or more fouls in 11 of his 30 games.

Many of these fouls have come from an overzealous and undisciplined approach that you often expect from younger players. Unnecessary body contact and half-hearted attempts in striping the ball have led to cheap, unnecessary fouls.

Experience will ultimately teach Dunn where and when to be aggressive. Though high, his foul rate at present isn’t a long-term concern. But for fans wanting to see as much of the second year guard as possible, leaving games early due to foul trouble can be frustrating.

Turnovers

Controlling the ball and valuing every offensive possession is the primary responsibility of ball-dominant point guards. This has been an issue for Dunn throughout his NBA career, one that has transferred with him from Minnesota to Chicago.

Every offensive possession is vital for a team ranking last in offensive efficiency. In 17 of his 29 games this season, Dunn has had three or more turnovers. In an impressive victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, Dunn threw away the ball on four occasions. It’s a problem that still persists, though there has been improvements.

In December Dunn posted career-best numbers in turnover percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.

A reduction in turnovers has allowed Dunn to finish more possessions with assists. This development has been noticeable, but given the sample size remains small and he has a history of being turnover prone, it’s an area of his game that still requires monitoring.

Scoring Efficiency

Producing efficient offense remains an issue for Dunn and is arguably the biggest concern going forward. Though his true-shooting percentage has increased from his rookie season, it’s still significantly below league average.

It will likely remain that way if he doesn’t fix several flaws in his game: 3-point shooting, conversion rate at rim, and free throw attempts.

Much has been made about Dunn’s improved jump shooting technique. The mechanics on his shot look less robotic from last season and there is a better flow to his form. His feet placement in set shots has also been more consistent. The noticeable change to Dunn’s shooting form initially coincided with a significant increase in his 3-point percentage. During November, Dunn couldn’t miss, making 43.2 percent of his threes. Unfortunately, small sample sizes are prone to fluctuate, as they’ve done in December, regressing below career numbers.

It’s fair to note the most recent month of data is a small sample, too. Dunn’s percentages could easily trend upward if he catches fire for several weeks. What this indicates is expectations about his improved 3-point stroke should be tempered. Yes, his 3-point percentage is currently five points better than last season, though it’s still subject to variance.

Should Dunn’s 3-point shooting normalise to a mark below league average (36.3 percent), he will need to balance this weakness by scoring efficiently in other ways. Increasing free throw rate is a good place to start, but there’s been little movement from his rookie season.

Dunn has to get to the line more. And when he does, he must lift his free throw percentage (67.2 percent) above league average (76.5 percent).

If Dunn remains a a below-average 3-point shooter and doesn’t increase his free throw rate enough to pump his efficiency levels, he will need to convert his attempts around the basket at a higher rate than most. This isn’t happening just yet.

Per NBA.com, of the 67 players who attempt four or more shots in the restricted area, Dunn ranks 62nd in field goal percentage. Among players who average 10 or more drives to the basket, Dunn ranks 29th of the 36 players.

Some of these numbers are expected. A young and developing point guard darting into the lane and finishing above 7-footers is difficult task. But for someone who’s game is predicated on attacking the basket, the weighting and importance we assign to his finishing ability should vary based on their complete skillset. If Dunn hungers to be a guard who lives in the lane and consistently attacks the rim, he needs to be highly efficient at the basket to counter other lagging areas. He isn’t yet, and that’s hurting his production.

Dunn is clearly still raw and remains a work in progress. The areas in which he requires improvement are significant and shouldn’t be overlooked. For Dunn to progress from a starting-level guard to a potential All-Star, he will need to develop these skills. Given the rapid rate of progression in other facets of his game already this season, it’s entirely possible Dunn corrects these issues and makes the necessary leap the Bulls expect.

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