Kris Dunn, Ricky Rubio, and the Value of Patience

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It’s been a couple days since the draft. On Thursday, opinions were hyperbolic, emotions ran high, and a lot of scenarios (rumors, more specifically) were thrown around in ridiculously high frequency.

Imagine what it’s like in an NBA Draft war room.

To start, let’s recap: the Timberwolves drafted Kris Dunn with the fifth overall pick. Many analysts and mock drafts had him going as high as third, but after he fell to the Wolves, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden decided his talent was too good to pass up.

But even before the Celtics and Suns passed on Dunn, rumors floated around that two teams, the Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls, were high on the point guard. Very, very high.

The Sixers were offering big, big pieces for Dunn.

As he fell to the Wolves, the offer stood.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls were making, arguably, an even bigger offer for the fifth pick.

The Philly rumors died off quickly, but the Chicago talks held on for a while. But I’ll play spoiler: none of it happened.

If this is all that would have happened, I think most people would have felt pretty good at draft’s end. Sure, the Wolves passed up on some attractive prospects like Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield, but the Wolves took the prospect they thought was best. The Bulls and the Sixers were offering big-time deals for a chance to have Dunn on their team, so Thibs was not alone in his infatuation.

Everything would have been fine at the end of the night, had Adrian Wojnarowksi of The Vertical not come out with this.

This wasn’t the first rumor surrounding Rubio’s potential departure, but it was the first time a high-reputation reporter like Woj had made such claims. This was the first time these rumors felt like a scenario that could one day come true.

As the draft went on, and more reporters came out with trade scenarios (with Chicago, specifically), one thing seemed to be true: whether now or later, Kris Dunn is likely here to eventually replace Ricky Rubio in Minnesota.

Yes, Thibodeau came out and said he believes Dunn and Rubio can play together (though their lack of efficient shooting makes that an iffy pairing as it is), but everything from Thursday makes it seem just as likely that they’ll never play on the same team, let alone see the floor together.

All of this is happening very fast. And if the Wolves want to ensure they have the best point guard play they can get, it’s for the best that they slow down. Way, way down.

Kris Dunn was a hot commodity on draft night, and very well might end up being a fantastic NBA player (and if you haven’t heard the complicated and inspiring story of his upbringing, you need to). It’s possible that he ends up being better than Ricky Rubio. But it’s also entirely possible that he doesn’t.

It’s also possible that Thibodeau is less worried about who is technically better, and simply thinks Dunn’s specific skillset make him a better fit in his system than Rubio. Rubio has plenty of value, is on a good contract (keep in mind the giant salary cap bump taking place), and could fill another area of need if traded this summer.

But in the big picture scope of things, there is no reason to make this trade this summer. Why not enjoy having both point guards on your team, all while figuring out who is the best point guard in Thibs’ system in real time? Finding out post-trade is a scary, potentially regrettable decision.

If Thibodeau is worried about Rubio’s shooting, that’s completely understandable. He’s had historically bad shooting campaigns, and hasn’t really shown any strong signs of developing a consistent jumper (or percentage at the rim).

But Dunn is no stranger to bad shooting either. His percentages are better than Ricky’s, and he’s a significantly better finisher right now. But let’s not forget about the numbers our own Zach Harper broke down in last week’s AWAW Draft Roundtable.

The lack of a reliable jump shot worries me though. He shot 29% on spot-up jumpers. He was 38% on unguarded catch-and-shoot shots, 36% on guarded catch-and-shoot. He was 33% on jumpers off the dribble. His 3-point shot was fine his senior year (37%) but he didn’t show much over the course of his entire college career in that department. He was a fine scorer in the pick-and-roll (0.869 PPP, 76th percentile), but his PnR numbers including passes weren’t good (0.847 PPP, 49th percentile). Is that his fault or just a product of the college game? I don’t know that I have the answer but it’s enough to make me wonder if he’s a sure thing at the next level.

Dunn’s shooting is streaky and at-times inefficient, but even so, he will almost certainly become a more efficient shooter than Rubio as he learns NBA defenses. But Rubio’s calling card has been literally every other facet of the game.

Looking further, there isn’t another area of the game that Dunn has a clear edge on Rubio (with the exception of Dunn’s supreme athleticism, which could help Dunn immensely as he progresses at this level). Dunn’s defensive potential is an exciting  feature, but Rubio’s defense, as it is, will be hard to top. Few point guards, if any, are able to top him in that regards right now. We don’t even need to address passing/playmaking ability, which Dunn is solid-to-good at, but Rubio tops the league at.

None of this is to say that Dunn can’t become a superstar point guard. It’s entirely possible that he figures out his shot in the NBA, learns how to dominate opposing teams with his great size and athleticism, and fits perfectly with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s possible he’ll end up fitting perfectly in Tom Thibodeau’s plans for this team’s future.

But going off what’s possible isn’t good enough when you haven’t seen him play a second in the NBA. In the meantime, the Wolves have a fantastic starting point guard to have around, just in case things don’t go as planned with their highly coveted commodity. If things go perfectly with Dunn, Rubio’s value will still be there. He’ll still be who he is, all under a convenient contract.

There’s no reason to rush this. See what’s there before doing something that could end up being a bad decision. Thibodeau and Layden showed patience in the war room on draft night. They still have time. The should keep using it.

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11 Responsesso far.

  1. Tom says:

    Excellent article and of course I agree with everything that was said. The Jimmy Butler rumors were crazy even for the internet. Boston and LA could have offered more than we did, and would have, had they thought Butler was available. I think that Ricky is a great floor leader and Dunn maybe will be too, but if the goal is to make the playoffs this year, keeping both until Dunn is clearly better than Ricky is the logical move. Ricky’s contract and value to a team will not diminish if Dunn is the next Westbrook. He is what the league thinks he is. A good defensive, rebounding assist-maker that makes everyone around him better with a very affordable contract.

  2. Mebert says:

    I was vocal in the last article about how much I hated that pick, and I still do. However I am a fan of the team so time to look to the future I suppose.

    Wolves really need a PF. Good fits in free agency I think are Horford or Biyombo.

  3. enaidealukal says:

    My thoughts exactly. Trading any of the non-peripheral pieces (i.e. Towns, Wiggins, Lavine, Rubio and possibly Gorgui) before the season even starts seems hasty and short-sighted. Moreover, regardless of Thibs relative estimation of Dunn and Rubio, I don’t see how he or anyone else could rationally think that Dunn will approximate Rubio’s contributions this year, or even the next. Even if he develops into a superior player, or even a superstar, he won’t do it this year. So why not see what you have, give it a season or even first half of the season (i.e. up til the deadline) to see how the pieces fit together in Thib’s system?

  4. Sean says:

    If you’re the Wolves, of course it would be ideal to have Rubio take Dunn under his wing while the team pragmatically evaluates it’s PG situation. From a purely player standpoint, though, can you really see Rubio buying into all this and selflessly grooming his heir-apparent, especially considering all the fruitless years he’s accumulated with this franchise? I know he doesn’t have much leverage as he’s a player under contract, but if he feels his loyalty hasn’t been returned, I could totally see him going to his agent and demanding a trade. And not only would this put a dark cloud over the beginnings of this new, potentially franchise altering regime, but it could also reduce Ricky’s already shaky trade value. As much as I like Ricky, I think the best course of action is to him deal this summer. Yes, a rookie PG makes it so much harder to compete for the playoffs, but if you’re not truly contending for the title anyway, than there’s nothing wrong with taking another year to develop our young core.

    • Jello says:

      Yes, I very much believe Rubio will take Dunn under his wing so long as he is on the Wolves. He wants to win, and he doesn’t care if he’s traded to a different team. Dunn becoming better than him is not an issue as Rubio only cares about winning a championship. It’s in Rubio’s best interest for his backup to be as good as possible so he can make the playoffs and play in meaningful games.

  5. BounceBros22 says:

    I really liked that Philadelphia trade. Covington is a solid 3 that can score, Nerlens would have been a great defender at the 4 and the picks were just fluff. It isn’t that I hate dunn, but I know we are not going to get market value for rubio, and that makes me hesitate. If we kept the pick, I wanted murray, who has connections with both towns and Wiggins already and would have been a great combo guard off the bench. I know his defensive woes are there, but with a coach like thibs, I think he would have been about league average. Throw in the fact that the dude can get buckets and I believe he will be the 3rd best player in this draft.

  6. Bov says:

    Honestly any sort of trade would upset the growth that this young core put together in the final stretch of the season. Let them grow together and add pieces to strengthen the bench…why trade an asset like LaVine or Rubio who is a top tier PG in this league who both have obvious potential for Butler when we know has troubles in the locker room and injury. Let them be taught together and develop, believe me we will be fighting for championships in a few years instead of playoff spots.

  7. Mike says:

    Don’t trade Dunn will be a great start

  8. Colin says:

    We do already have a back up PG in Tyus, we do not need Dunn who is already another Rubio. People like Dunn because he can pass, defend, and a “shooter”; sounds like Rubio/Tyus.That 76ers trade would have made the wolves playoff bound. Nerlens Noel provides more upside and allows towns/gorgui someone to rotate in with without losing a beat on offense/defense. I trust Thibs but not a great start to his new direction. Question for everyone, is getting Dunn helping the wolves make the playoffs this year? I say no, not right now. In 5 years maybe, but I thought our goal was playoffs now not a rebuild PG for the future.

  9. gjk says:

    It’s understandable why they didn’t take the Philly deal. Noel is a restricted FA next season, Covington doesn’t shoot or defend well enough to be a 3-D guy, and those late 1sts are a roster obligation they don’t need right now (I know Luwawu and Korkmaz are international guys, but that doesn’t mean they want to stay overseas). Maybe the talks can be resuscitated with more teams getting involved to get the appropriate value for Dunn.

  10. Adam says:

    We don’t nessesarily need a ball dominant point guard who may be a superstar. We have two outstanding prospects in Wiggins and towns. I’m not saying to get rid of Dunn but Rubio is an absolute perfect fit for our team right now. We need someone to lead the team on the floor without dominating the ball Rubio goes a step further and makes the players around him better. I agree with this article especially when in comes to slowing down we really need to take a step back and really see what we have before we shake things up. And please don’t sign all these old washed up bulls players like Noah everyone’s been talking about.

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