Blazers 112, Wolves 100: It Tanks Two to Tango
The Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night by the score of 112-100, but the game was nowhere near as close as the score might indicate. The Wolves, who led for less than thirty seconds the entire game, were unable to hinder Portland’s dynamic trio of C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, and Jusuf Nurkic, who combined to score 67 points and tally 19 rebounds along with 16 assists.
The Wolves played an uninspired brand of basketball all night, allowing Portland to shoot 62.5% from the field and 50.0% (11/22) from three, which equated to a Blazers’ effective field goal percentage of 70.1%. They lacked energy, focus, and drive on both sides of the ball – three ingredients that make cooking up a victory very difficult to do. Basically, the Wolves sucked.
But let’s talk about something that’s perhaps a little more interesting than the Wolves’ latest implosion: Kris Dunn’s future.
Dunn has led a pretty mediocre rookie campaign, to put it lightly. He’s consistently displayed enough talent and promise on the defensive end to keep him intriguing as a prospect, but has fallen quite short of his rather limited expectations on offense. As was known prior to him entering the league, Dunn can’t shoot or score efficiently, but what has been perhaps most surprising is the degree to which he has struggled with playing under control and guiding the offense.
Maybe surprising is the wrong word; rookie point guards (and, really, rookies in general) rarely contribute anything of true merit. But, at the very least, ones that are destined to be starters show some signs of why their futures are so promising and what they will be able to provide when they become more comfortable in their roles. Dunn hasn’t really provided much evidence toward proving that he is on the track towards becoming a starting point guard someday.
He makes questionable decisions, both in the half-court and on the break, and his passes volley inconsistently between crisp and on-the-money and all sorts of terrible. His shot, with its high arc and sharply angled joints, needs work for it to be a consistent (or even semi-consistent) weapon and his athleticism hasn’t translated to the ability to finish around the rim. He isn’t a floor general and he hasn’t been able to harness his quickness and explosion to make up for that fact. To make a long story short, I’m not convinced that Kris Dunn is an NBA point guard.
However, what Dunn has shown is his ability to be an absolute bulldog of a defender who can guard three positions. He has the length and speed to bother ones and the strength and athleticism to switch between twos and threes. His 6’4” frame in combination with a 6’9” wingspan allows for him to disrupt passing lanes and block shots against larger opponents (it should be noted that while Ricky Rubio has nearly identical measurables, Dunn’s athleticism is what truly sets him apart).
When I watch Kris Dunn play, I don’t see a lesser version of John Wall, I see some version of Tony Allen or, if by some miracle his three-point shot takes a major leap forward in the very near future, Avery Bradley-lite; Kris Dunn’s best position is as a two-guard.
It may be reading into the tea leaves too far, but perhaps Tom Thibodeau is beginning to think along the same lines. Thibodeau has begun to flirt with lineups in which Dunn spends the majority of his time on the court off-ball. Over the last few games, Thibodeau has brought Dunn in to play alongside Rubio as the first player off the bench in place of Brandon Rush and has even trotted out a lineup that has all three of Rubio, Dunn, and Tyus Jones on the court at the same time (note: the Rubio-Dunn lineup has seen 55 minutes and the Rubio-Jones-Dunn lineup 12 minutes all season according to NBA.com, so we’re working with incredibly small sample sizes here). If one squints hard enough, they may be able to see what looks like Thibodeau testing to see what kind of production he can get with Dunn playing primarily off-ball.
It’ll be interesting to monitor Dunn’s role as the season comes to a close and the off-season begins. How Thibodeau utilizes Dunn over the final 10 games may be an indication of how he plans to utilize him next year and in the seasons to come. Or it may not. Having Dunn play off ball and within funky lineups may just be a faux experimentation that simulates the Wolves continuing to play meaningful basketball in an attempt to execute a more covert tanking operation, but who really knows.
The Wolves return to action on Tuesday at the Indiana Pacers. Tipoff is slated to 6 pm.