When the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Kris Dunn with the fifth overall pick in June, it raised questions among fans and analysts.
Most of them were centered around Ricky Rubio and the future of the point guard position in Minnesota. Will Dunn start right away over Rubio? If not, how long before he does? When will the Wolves get rid of Rubio? Many Wolves supporters — including myself — allowed their love of Rubio to blind them to Dunn’s potential.
In Dunn, newly-acquired head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau drafted a guy that perfectly fits his favorite mold of player. The rookie out of Providence is a tough, fiery competitor who possesses supreme athleticism and willingness to get after it defensively.
And while much of the fuss to this point has been about where Dunn will fit in the point guard rotation, the possibilities absolutely do not end there. The former Friar’s gifts make him the perfect candidate to play the shooting guard position alongside either Rubio or Tyus Jones.
“I think I could do both,” Dunn said on Wolves Media Day. “I don’t really have a solidified position, like a one or a two, so I see myself as a combo guard.”
Players are generally trying to be politically correct on media day. But this statement confirms the idea that Dunn may be in for a role off the ball as a rookie, which is something he hardly ever did at Providence.
Dunn briefly demonstrated his off-ball prowess during his two-game stint at the Las Vegas Summer League. Before a concussion ended his first Summer League, Dunn primarily played the shooting guard role while Jones handled point guard duties.
And Dunn was nothing short of impressive in those outings. Sure, it’s an extremely small sample size and against weaker competition, but he not only played the part of the shooting guard well, but he looked the part.
Dunn is so freakin' crafty when finishing at the rim. pic.twitter.com/sVcSvFUGLu— Drew Mahowald (@DrewMahowald) July 10, 2016
Kris Dunn makes quite an adjustment to finish the lob. He seems comfortable enough off the ball to me. pic.twitter.com/a2suxPfctJ— Drew Mahowald (@DrewMahowald) July 10, 2016
In two games, Dunn averaged 24 points per game on 54.3 percent shooting — compared to just 44.8 percent during his final season at Providence. He and Jones formed a solid rapport as a 1-2 punch in the backcourt. Specifically, Dunn came off screens like a seasoned veteran and filled a slasher role similar to the one Dwyane Wade has filled throughout his illustrious career.
On the defensive end, there is no reason to believe Dunn wouldn’t be able to defend most NBA shooting guards. His 6’4”, 220-pound frame already allows him to hold his own. Add in the fact that Dunn boasts a 6’9” wingspan, elite athleticism and the right mindset, and Dunn appears to be a player that will eventually be counted on to defend athletic shooting guards like Wade, James Harden, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan and C.J. McCollum among others.
Throughout media day, Thibodeau repeatedly expressed the significance of improving this team’s shooting from beyond the arc. This sentiment could be what derails the idea of Dunn playing off the ball — especially if it means playing with Rubio. Sure, the Rubio-Dunn backcourt would be an absolute joy to watch defensively, but the perimeter shooting department is severely lacking in that duo.
The purpose of Dunn playing off the ball is to allow him to flourish with Rubio, as well as simply to get him more minutes on the floor. Thibodeau is set on improving this team from the perimeter, which is absolutely a positive development. But Minnesota was also a poor team on the defensive end in 2015-16. In fact, the Wolves have statistically been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA the last two seasons (at least when Kevin Garnett was on the bench).
Dunn clearly has the physical attributes to play shooting guard — it’s part of the package of his potential as a combo guard in the NBA. For that potential to be realized, Thibodeau will have to give the Rubio-Dunn backcourt a hard look as a lineup that is included in the every day rotation, not just in situational instances.
Thibodeau clearly loved Dunn as a draft prospect, and with good reason. It’d be a shame if Dunn’s potential wasn’t fully maximized because Thibodeau was focused on one of the team’s weaknesses over another.