The Timberwolves have an impressive ability to draft point guards that vex the fanbase for one reason or another. Johnny Flynn was a scrub. Rubio has always been a schismatic player, and despite the fanbase’s loyalty (for the most part), his name has been in trade talks for much of his career. Kris Dunn is the just the latest in a string of point guards to drive fans a little loco.
And it’s not without reason. For a 22-year old 5th over all pick, the rookie has often looked utterly clueless as to how to run an NBA offense. His defense is tenacious and energetic and that effort has at times helped the Wolves’ stars clamp down, but he commits truly baffling turnovers, hacks everyone in sight (nearly five fouls per 36 minutes) and can get greedy and gamble recklessly for steals.
And through it all, often accompanied by fury and stone-throwing by the T-Wolf Twitter nation, Tom Thibodeau has stood by his guy. I mean, he kind of has to, seeing as Dunn was his first decision in his shiny new job, but Thibs has been resolute: Dunn is for real. Maybe not a superstar, but a good NBA point guard? Absolutely.
So I decided to look at Dunn based on some recent players I believe resembled him coming out of college: point guards who came into the league 20 years old or older that were known either for their defense or defensive potential and played more than half the first season as a bench player. Here’s what I came up with:
Age G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS Eric Bledsoe 21 81 25 1841 4.0 9.5 .424 0.6 2.3 .276 3.4 7.2 .470 1.9 2.6 .744 4.4 5.7 1.8 0.5 3.8 2.5 10.6 Kris Dunn 22 46 6 778 3.2 8.6 .371 0.6 2.0 .302 2.6 6.6 .392 1.3 2.3 .580 4.8 5.3 2.0 0.9 2.9 4.8 8.3 Reggie Jackson 21 45 0 501 3.7 11.4 .321 0.9 4.5 .210 2.7 7.0 .392 1.8 2.1 .862 3.8 5.1 1.8 0.1 2.6 2.2 10.1 Marcus Smart 20 67 38 1808 3.5 9.5 .367 1.8 5.4 .335 1.7 4.1 .410 1.6 2.5 .646 4.4 4.1 2.0 0.4 1.8 3.5 10.4
Now this comparison isn’t perfect. Neither Bledsoe (18th) nor Jackson (24th) were lottery picks, so they didn’t bear the same weight of expectations as Smart (6th pick in 2014) and Dunn, and Marcus Smart hasn’t proved himself to be an NBA starter yet (although if given a chance I think he could be). But the similarities are there, waiting to be seen. They all rebound well, assist decently, and don’t quite shoot the lights out. Smart, not exactly known for his sharpshooting, is the best three point shooter of the bunch at 33.5%. His 1.8 turnovers are also by far the lowest of the group.
In this comparison, Kris Dunn’s strengths show as much as his weaknesses. His 4.8 rebounds, 2 steals, and .9 blocks per 36 lead the group, and with 5.3 he’s second in assists. Somehow he’s the second in both field goal and three point percentage. On the other side, he scores by far the fewest points, leads in fouls by a mile, has the lowest free throw percentage and the second most turnovers.
PER TS% 3PAr FTr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% OWS DWS WS WS/48 OBPM DBPM BPM VORP Eric Bledsoe 10.8 .499 .239 .274 4.4 9.8 7.1 24.2 2.6 1.1 26.3 17.9 -1.3 1.6 0.3 .008 -2.6 0.6 -2.0 0.0 Reggie Jackson 9.2 .408 .390 .182 3.4 8.3 6.0 21.2 2.6 0.1 17.3 18.7 -0.4 0.5 0.1 .011 -2.6 -1.3 -3.9 -0.2 Kris Dunn 7.8 .433 .231 .269 2.4 13.3 7.7 20.7 2.9 2.1 23.0 15.4 -0.9 0.9 0.0 -0.002 -4.2 1.5 -2.7 -0.1 Marcus Smart 11.0 .491 .570 .266 3.6 9.9 6.7 16.3 2.7 0.8 14.4 15.1 0.7 2.2 2.9 .077 -0.1 1.3 1.1 1.4
The advanced stats still seem for the most part to show that he belongs in this comparison. Once again, the defensive stats jump off the page: Dunn leads the pack in Defensive Box Plus/Minus, Steal, Block, and Rebound percentage, and is second in Free Throw Rate and Defensive Win Shares. But he’s last in OBPM, Win Shares, Assist Rate, Three Point Rate and PER, and second to last in Usage, Turnover Rate and True Shooting, areas you’d really like your point guard to be good at.
So what can we take from all of this? The numbers seem to say that Dunn struggles with many of the headier (read: making others better) parts of the point job guard he’s gunning for, and tries to make up for it with top-tier defense and rebounding. Basically the physical stuff. He lacks the intuitive, uncanny passing ability of Ricky Rubio and Rajon Rondo, two non-shooting point guards who, at least for a time, found success in the NBA, although if this play doesn’t make you like him you have a heart of stone.
This is where I think the comparisons to Bledsoe and Smart really work — see, both players have had their most success playing off another playmaker. When Bledsoe was paired with Goran Dragic, the so-called “Slash Bros” (lame, not like Bounce Bros which is super cool right guys?) took a bottom-three team all the way to the verge of the playoffs. Even though that situation self-destructed spectacularly and Bledsoe is now the lone starting point guard, he actually has the exact same usage rate as Towns-bro Devin Booker. Marcus Smart has spent most of his career playing off-ball, hounding the primary defensive assignment in the backcourt, throwing himself around for rebounds and generally making a pest of himself, and it’s a role that has suited him well.
We’ve already seen Dunn have success alongside a playmaker like Tyus Jones, both in Summer League and the recent win against Denver. Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins aren’t strong enough playmakers yet to carry enough of the brunt off Dunn, though the longer the three get to play together, the more the dynamic will balance out. This is why it makes no sense to rush into a Ricky Rubio trade, at least not yet. Dunn clearly isn’t ready to be a full-time starter. Although…
While it’s taken Eric Bledsoe and Reggie Jackson some time, each have managed to at least get their shooting to a level where defenses mostly respect it. For Smart and Dunn, only time will tell. Kris Dunn doesn’t strike me as the type of dude to coast now that he’s gotten to the NBA, so I have some restrained optimism that he will put in the hours necessary this summer and every summer going forward to fix his shot, quicken his release, learn how to change speeds and stay in control and keep his head up while dribbling.
I know we all want the Wolves to win. We want it so bad. We want Thibs to #freeTyusJones and play Brandon Rush sometimes and for Bjelica to make a damn shot, but it’s good to remember sometimes that even 22-year old rookies need time adjusting to the league, and with good coaching and discipline, weaknesses can slowly be turned into strengths, or at least into not so terrible weaknesses. Dunn may become a vital piece to this soon-to-be-powerhouse or he may end up an energizer off the bench, but either way I’m excited to see it happen in Minnesota.