Free Agency Preview – Kris Dunn

By Andrew Lawlor

NBA teams looking for defense in the backcourt should be looking at Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn as a free agent. Although his offense has not progressed very much, the fifth-overall pick from 2016 has terrorized opposing ball-handlers throughout his time in the league. Unfortunately, he is a poor shooter who gives a lot of his value back at the offensive end, and is coming off a season-ending knee injury, though it looks like he has recovered by now. How much are teams willing to pay for a great defender who can not shoot?

Everything a Coach Could Want In a Defender

Kris Dunn is one of the best defensive guards in the NBA. He has the quickness to stick with the best ball-handlers in the NBA, the size to challenge them in the air, and great hands to poke away the ball. He’s an expert at jumping passing lanes and making help rotations. His on-court demeanor is best represented in this quote to Michael Pina: “From my perspective, I fear no one. That’s kind of my niche. I fear no one and I actually like the challenge.” Here are some of examples of his defensive prowess:

The Bulls played an aggressive style of defensive last season, often charging Dunn with pressuring ball-handlers almost as soon as they crossed half-court. This is an incredibly hard role for a defender to pull off, but Dunn excelled. He finished second in the NBA with 2.0 steals per game, recording a 3.4 steal percentage (98th percentile among point guards) and a 0.8 block percentage (86th), and leading all point guards in 538’s defensive RAPTOR (a catch-all statistic). 

The Bulls were 6.8 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Dunn on the court. He played a large part in them ranking 9th in defensive rating this season, despite some personnel deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. His defense was so impressive that Dunn received 31 points in the All-Defense voting, fifth among guards, despite only playing 1269 minutes, fewer than anyone who made either team.

Poor Shooting Holding Him Back

Unfortunately, Dunn is not nearly as good on offense as he is on defense. The biggest problem is that he can not shoot too well. This past season was his fourth in the NBA, and Dunn posted a career-high effective field goal percentage of 49.4, which placed him in the 33rd percentile among point guards. He shot just 25.9% from three on 2.2 attempts per game. Defenders play off him, cramping up the offense’s spacing.

While Dunn’s shooting hurts him, he is not all bad on offense. He took 42% of his shots at the rim and made 65% of them, both great marks for a guard. Some of this comes because a whopping 29.2% of his baskets come in transition, but he also does have the size and athleticism to finish at the rim, like so:

His defensive prowess also helps his teams get into transition; both Minnesota and Chicago ran more with him on the court. He is a decent passer, and he finished with an assist-to-usage ratio of 1.22 last season. But his strengths on offense are outweighed by his awful shooting; the Bulls were 3.9 points per 100 possessions worse in the half-court with Dunn playing last season, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Possible Fits For Next Season

Dunn is a restricted free agent, so the Bulls can make him a qualifying offer worth $7.1 million that would give them the right to match all offers (Dunn met the starter criteria for a higher value qualifying offer because of the shortened season). While he is a useful defender, he is probably not worth that much money for next season because of his problems on offense, especially given the possibility of a reduced salary cap. If he does not receive the qualifying offer, he will be an unrestricted free agent, and will probably be looking at a smaller deal.

Teams looking for defense at either guard spot would do well to have Dunn, but they will have to balance that with his offensive struggles. The best spot for him right now is off the ball in a lower-usage role coming off the bench, which is how he played for the Bulls this past season. That way, he can help out on defense while not hurting things too much on offense. He will hurt offensive spacing off the ball, but can gain some points back through cutting and driving when ignored. He can also serve as a secondary playmaker, and take advantage of his passing. Think of what Alex Caruso has been doing for the Lakers this season.

The Bulls could, of course, bring Dunn back. Billy Donovan has long liked to play defense-minded, offensively-challenged players like Luguentz Dort in Oklahoma City, and they can go over the salary cap to re-sign him. Another possible fit is the Clippers, who looked into bringing in Dunn at the trade deadline. The Orlando Magic seem to like players of Dunn’s archetype as well, and need backup guards, so he could find a spot there.

Some other good spots for Dunn may be places with track records of developing shooters. If Dunn could shoot, he would be a good starter. The Bulls and Timberwolves could not develop that aspect of his game, and Dunn is 26, so he may be what he is on offense. But Dunn’s shot is not completely broken (he did shoot 35.4% from three in 2018-19), so perhaps the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs, with their well-renowned shooting coaches and player development cultures, could fix it. Miami has cap space right now, though that may go away if they re-sign some of their own players. But if they elect to replace a backup guard, Dunn would fit in with their culture.

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