2016-17 Roster Review: Kris Dunn

Expectations, Expectations

When the Timberwolves picked Kris Dunn 5th overall in last summer’s draft, he was the odds-on favorite to win the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year award.

According to a survey of 38 of his first-year peers conducted by NBA.com, Dunn was selected as the most likely to be Rookie of the Year, and to be the best defensive player and the best playmaker in the rookie class.

If there were high – and, perhaps, unrealistic – expectations for Dunn as a rookie, he certainly failed to meet most of them. Firmly planted behind Ricky Rubio in the Wolves’ point guard pecking order, Dunn’s role was never big enough for him to be in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year award. (Even in a year when the winner will either have played just 31 games, or be some dude named Malcolm Brogdon.) There was endless speculation and rumor-mongering about whether the Wolves would repeal and replace Rubio with Dunn as the starting point guard. Circumstances dictated otherwise. After a strong showing in the Las Vegas Summer League, in which he was fourth in points per game with an average of 24 ppg (!!), Dunn was unable to to produce any consistent offense during the regular season, in which he averaged 3.8 ppg (7.9 points per 36 minutes). Kris was 12th on the team in points per 36, behind the likes of Adreian Payne, Belly, Lance Stephenson, Tyus Jones, and even Jordan Hill (Eds. Note: Small sample size alert.)

Dunn shot 37.7% from the field, and only 28.8% from three-point range. Put simply, he couldn’t score because he couldn’t make jump shots or finish around the hoop. Dunn’s shooting form is bad. Really bad. We’re talking, like, pre-2017 Ricky Rubio-level bad, or at least in the same ballpark as pre-2017 Ricky. Even when the shots go in—like they do in his videos on YouTube—you cringe a little bit when you see the windup and release. It isn’t good.

Can Dunn’s shot improve? It doesn’t seem imminent. It is difficult to fix a broken J, but it has happened before. Jason Kidd is probably the best-known example, but Ricky Rubio’s second-half of last season also seemed like a case in point. It didn’t happen for either overnight, however, and it seems unlikely that it will for Dunn, given that he will need to overhaul the mechanics of his form, which is usually a long process and not an event.

So while we can’t rule out the possibility that Dunn will become a serviceable shooter—which is damn near a prerequisite to be a league-average starting NBA point guard these days—it didn’t happen this season and it probably won’t next season. After watching Dunn all season, it seems like we’re in a “it is what it is” situation with regard to his jump shot.

What Dunn also is is long, athletic, and explosive. Oh, and the dude has wicked handles.

Physically, Dunn has most of the ingredients you want in elite point guard talent. The problem was Dunn’s inability to make efficient use of his god-given talent and the elite ball-handling skills he has worked hard to develop.

In hindsight, the rookies’ expectations of Dunn as the probable RoY, and “best playmaker,” are laughable. He finished 36th among rookies in scoring, 29th in field goal percentage, and 7th in assists (at 2.4 per game). Just among Timberwolves players, Dunn was 12th on the team in plus-minus, behind Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush and ahead of Lance Stephenson, Zach LaVine, and Omri Casspi.

But before the season, our expectations of Dunn might have been optimistic, but they weren’t laughable. (At least it didn’t feel like they were.) And at times this season, despite Dunn’s poor offensive play, he did show signs that he could become an impact player on defense. He has excellent instincts and a strong work ethic on that side of the ball. His defensive rating was about half-a-point better than the Wolves’ team average, but it wasn’t as stellar as his individual ability sometimes appeared to the eye-test. He’s one of the best shot-blocking point guards I’ve seen in a long while. It isn’t uncommon to see Dunn blocking shots like this.

The Elephant in the Room

In any conversation about Kris Dunn’s future, Ricky Rubio is the elephant in the room. Rubio had his best season as an NBA player last season. It remains unclear what Rubio’s future with the Wolves holds—he could remain in Minnesota for the rest of his career, or be traded in short order—but what is clear is that Rubio is currently light years ahead of Dunn in his readiness to be an NBA team’s floor general.

Tom Thibodeau’s bromance with Kris Dunn has been well-documented over the past year. But Dunn never played well enough to dislodge Rubio, and it seemed as if late in the season, Thibodeau finally embraced the notion that Rubio may just be good enough to be his point guard of the future. With Rubio on an affordable contract for two more years, there’s no real rush to move Dunn into the starter’s role.

Rubio’s command of the game, particularly in playmaking situations and as a game-managing point guard, is something Dunn could learn from. If Dunn decides to watch film of a player this offseason, he could do worse than to re-watch Rubio’s 2016-17, particularly over the final third of the season. What he might discover is what it looks like for a point guard who has overcome some of the same weaknesses that currently plague Dunn himself. While I wouldn’t encourage anyone who laces up high-tops to emulate Rubio’s (admittedly improved) shooting form, he could learn much about pace, timing, creativity, and leadership.

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12 Responsesso far.

  1. gjk says:

    Besides the normal, obvious reasons, I’m also rooting for the Wolves to get the #1 or #2 (though 2 would be dicey because it involves potentially having a Marbury-type situation with Lonzo Ball) because it would likely solve the PG situation once and for all, while making sure they don’t waste years of Towns’ prime trying to make Dunn an NBA-caliber starter and then having to overpay to get an actual starter. Any predictions of them making the playoffs go out the window if Dunn is counted on to start the majority of games at PG.

    • Patrick Johnston says:

      Interesting points, particularly the risk of a Marbury-type situation if Ball would fall into the Wolves’ lap.

      You make a point I should’ve in the post–the Wolves’ playoff chances are slim if Dunn is promoted to the starting point guard position. Standing pat with Rubio as starter and Jones/Dunn as backups is probably the best we can do for next year, short of lucking into Fultz or Ball.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. tom says:

    Sadly, I don’t know that Fultz or Ball have the scoring ability to be much of an upgrade from what we have. I also want to remind people that although Marbury was an electrifying talent alongside KG, we did give up a future HOF in Ray Allen to get him. Da Kid, Googs and Jesus Shuttleworth would have been a pretty good trio to build around.

    As for Kris Dunn, I think we have to look at him like so many draft picks the wolves have taken over the years. Not a terrible player, just not the best player when we chose in the draft. You look at Wes Johnson, Corey Brewer, Randy Foye, etc, etc, They are still in the league for teams and providing solid bench play. We just took them way to early and I think that is Kris’s problem. If he was taken at the end of the first round, we would look at his defense and say he may be a good defensive back-up to Rubio or LaVine. However, he was presented as another ROY for the wolves and that didn’t help his maturation his first year. I said many times that he should have been sent to the D-league to get his scoring drives to the basket down better and eliminate mistakes. Thibs didn’t do that, and so we have another PG that doesn’t score consistently and we may pass up a good scorer and potential star in Fox to address our stretch four or a bigger three. However, if Markkanen or Isaac end up being Dirk or Rashard Lewis , I would gladly put up with my PG issues and play ball. I just want the wolves to look back at this draft next year and say they got the best player left on the board.

    • Patrick Johnston says:

      I thought Dunn should’ve been sent to the D-League last season too. I didn’t make it a big deal, but it seemed obvious that he’d have benefited from the experience,. Especially before LaVine got hurt.

      In general, I hope the Wolves will be more aggressive and strategic in how they use (or don’t) the D-League now that they’re going to have their own team. We’ll see.

    • gjk says:

      Fultz was one of the best scorers in college and would be an immediate offensive upgrade with the potential to be a massive one down the line. Ball? I can see the point and the possibility that he’s not much different than Fox or Dennis Smith. There would be legitimate reasons to consider Jackson the 2nd best option for them. It’s possible they’ll regret passing on Fox or Smith just for the sake of addressing needs because it’s still more likely than not that Rubio isn’t here next season or maybe the season after that.

      Nobody forgets about Ray Allen, though it’s probably overrated how good the KG-Marbury tandem would’ve ended up being. Whether this is fair analysis or not, the assumption is just that the trade led to the kind of selfishness that turned a potential Hall of Fame career into merely a very productive career that was shorter than hoped for, followed by inexplicable god-like status in China. Marbury was still an All-Star in his other stops. Also, with the hypothetical game, Googs can’t really be considered part of the core when he had one good season after leaving for Phoenix and was 28 when he left.

  3. Gary Lee says:

    As I recall, when Rubio got hurt this year occasionally and Dunn replaced Rubio as the starting PG. He performed quite well. Much more impressive that he come out as bench player. I think the statistics this year may not reflects his real ability. He can play much better with the starting players.
    What comes to my mind is, for sure I absolutely love to see Rubio still be a wolf next season, is that we can trade him for another solid SG/SF starter? Then we have Dunn, Wiggins, Towns, Dieng in the lineup. Bjelica, Jones, Aldrich be the bench support, hopefully can be leaded by healthy Zach LaVine. I think it’s a more balanced roster than we have 3 PGs and LaVine with obviously weakness at Wing positons.

  4. pyrrol says:

    A lot of talk on here that the problem was that Kris was overrated and picked too high. This is true. When you find out that the PG you picked #5 is so bad at PG stuff that you mostly end up playing him as a SG at the end of the season there were some miscalculations, to put it mildly. There was a clear scouting failure here, not only by the Wolves but other experts. It makes one think twice about the accuracy of ‘expert’ opinions.

    On the other hand, I think the fact that Dunn was picked overwhelmingly to be the ROY by a variety of Basketball minds says something, though I’m not super apt to bow to authority. I think it says that Dunn should have been better based on ‘what god gave him’ and his experience in college. A lot of his failure this season was on his shoulders. I don’t think we should have picked him, and I agree that he was picked way too high and that context is difficult for Dunn and his lap full of shortcomings. That said, Dunn let us and himself down.

    Dunn’s ability to pass and run an offense are shaky at best. Across the league you see these two skills often missing to various degrees but covered up or helped by scoring ability (and other teams’ fear of that). Dunn does not have this counter punch. I’m shocked that Dunn shoots as well as he does given his mechanics. That’s almost encouraging on some level. But as stated by Patrick, his shot is unlikely to improve soon given the shaky mechanical foundation. I would say he’s getting about as much as he can out of his mechanics at this point and was unfortunately able to rest on other talents and skills at lower levels of basketball enough so that he didn’t have to address his mechanics in a rebuild of his shot. Now he’s in the NBA, close to capped out on what his shot can do at 37 and 28% and needing a rebuild of mechanics when there is much less time to work such things out.

    To some degree this isn’t a huge surprise or the worst aspect of his scoring, though. He was supposed to be a slasher. Dunn has no idea how to use ball handling to find a seam and score in traffic. For someone with average NBA guard athleticism and is 6’4″ with 6’9″ wingspan, Dunn is horrid at finishing. I can’t help but believe this aspect of his game has to improve. But what does it say that his learning curve on this is so slow given his physical gifts and age of 23?

    As for ‘wicked handles’ on occasion he has an ankle breaker highlight, but overall he’s a pretty sloppy ball handler for a PG.

    So what we are left with is his D. Yeah, that’s better. While D wins championships, this is an offensive league. You cannot totally rely on D as a player, particularly as a PG and particularly as a starter. Also, as Patrick mentions, his D isn’t as good as the eye test might suggest at times. It too is a work in progress, to a much lesser degree. I love D, but I find myself wondering what the point of having an elite shot blocker… for a PG… on your team really is. It looks like Dunn may soon be an impressive D player (right now he has a lot of weaknesses on D–guys blow by him, he doesn’t understand angles, he fouls too much and at bad times, he struggles with team D principals, he gambles shamelessly). Could we us a D specialist bench combo guard (without an ideal position)? I guess, situationally. But he’s not looking like a main building block.

    I’m ignorant of this draft so far, but I think staying away from Ball might be wise. It might be nice to pick a starting PF rather than worry about PG. Rubio is fine in that role and Tyus can back up well. We don’t even need Dunn at PG, and I think we should keep him more as a D SG on the bench or use him for trade bait. Perhaps Issac would be a reasonable pick for us.

    • banky74 says:

      “To some degree this isn’t a huge surprise or the worst aspect of his scoring, though. He was supposed to be a slasher. Dunn has no idea how to use ball handling to find a seam and score in traffic.”

      And this to me is the most disappointing aspect of Dunn’s rookie season. I knew from watching him in college that his shot was broken, but he was able to minimize that weakness by being so effective at getting to the basket (and the free throw line) in college and the D-League. Once the season started, it’s as if his strongest offensive trait literally disappeared.

      This is so inexplicable that I can only hope it’s a mental/confidence issue for him and consequently, an issue that can be overcome.

    • gjk says:

      They’ll likely have the option to not take a PG, and my guess is they’d be more likely to draft a wing like Jackson or Tatum than any PG besides Fultz and maybe Ball. The PF thing gets tough because there are stretchy guys that might be available, but it almost seems like a team’s 4 has to either be able to also guard 5s or 3s if they’re going to stay on the floor; otherwise, that might be a position worth having 2-3 interchangeable parts at who see their minutes fluctuate depending on the matchup. The only guy I couldn’t see them taking is Malik Monk.

  5. pyrrol says:

    I just wonder if they have room for a high pick wing on the roster… They have Wiggins and LaVine (when he comes back) plus Shabazz if we want to keep him. In the short term we need another wing until LaVine is back, and while Zach and Andrew are ‘our guys’ on performance alone technically we could use an upgrade at wing. So it is a need, but is it THE need? One you want to spend a high pick on? Maybe, I guess. I dream of matching Towns with a decent PF of the future. It is true that a lot of the PF’s in the draft are combo types or stretch types. But do we need a prototypical PF? Can we not do well with a stretch PF or long combo PF/SF type? Frankly, pure PFs in the old school sense are more rare and less useful. Just as Towns can dominate on the block but is varied in skill and places on the floor he can work, so are most PFs coming up. That’s not a bad thing, although it can cause problems. Issac is light and we need beef on the roster, so it would be a let down to pick him in that respect. But as a combo forward with PF length and major skill and talent he’d be one of the more useful picks for this roster. Starting two centers, even ones who can hit mid rangers well, just isn’t working. Gorgui would be amazing as a bench center/3rd big.

    I find myself extra annoyed we picked Dunn at this moment… I mean, we could possibly get a guy like Fox. Not to mention Fultz or Ball (at this point I honestly like Fox as much as any of the PGs). If we would have just waited until this year to pick a PG it would have made a lot more sense. I’m kind of sick of picking PGs and hope we don’t take another stab. Watching the Spurs take care of Houston makes me think of what an amazing coach Pop is, of course. But it shouldn’t be lost that the Spurs are several light years ahead of us on evaluating talent and acquiring good players at value. Their front office is amazing. I also like foreign players. I know it is a broad brush over simplification type thing, but I like how so many of those international guys play. They aren’t lazy. They are team guys. They are focused and look happy to just be here. They pass the rock. They have good fundamentals. They bring a slightly jazzy, improvisational flair to the game that you would think would be an American thing, but while we are busy producing the James Harden’s of the world the international community brings some of the freshest most interesting players. And international players are still often a bargain and undervalued. I guess what I’m saying is foreign scouting is extremely important and something the Wolves need to improve.

  6. jmndodge says:

    Didn’t want them to draft a PG – but I like Dunn. Good defensive instinct – and while not a big SG, his defense and ability to drive the lane makes him effective when playing with Jones – (or Rubio). Dunn may well become a starting PG, but it seems like it is 2 or more years away. Meanwhile it will take a good free agent SG or exceptional Draft pick at SG to take much playing time from Dunn . Using a healthy LaVine/Rubio/Dunn/Jones – as our guards Rubio/LaVine each will want 30+ minutes – (LaVine perhaps limited early as he comes back from injury), Dunn should want 30 minutes (likely limited to 25) and Jones 15+ we are about 5 or more minutes short of giving these players the floor time they want and the team needs. KAT/Dieng/Bjelica – each should be playing 30+ minutes, enough that without injury we have no one presently who would see floor time (we still require a C/PF for depth and likely another to develop in D-league), Keeping Wiggins/Bazz/Casspi – once again we are looking at 48 minutes available with Wiggins playing 32 – leaving Bazz and Casspi fighting for playing time. Hope we resign Bazz – let Rush go, and keep Casspi, but even so we need to draft and likely bring in a veteran wing backup – again D-league could give playing time to a young wing who will not see the floor under Thibs. Meanwhile – use Dunn – some at PG for the experience – mostly at SG, unless injury forces it, use him as backup (could start but will play less minutes) and hope everyone stays healthy, keeps getting better, and his opportunity comes when he is ready.

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