The Minnesota Timberwolves' opening game of the Las Vegas Summer League showcased the impressive talent of Kris Dunn, who was excellent in his debut but eventually lost his duel with Emmanuel Mudiay and the Denver Nuggets, 88-82. The Wolves led for most of the game thanks to poor Denver shooting (and some stellar defense), but the Nuggets shifted into another gear in the fourth quarter (which they won 21-12) and ended up with a comfortable win.
Entering the game, all eyes from a Minnesotan perspective were on Dunn. The Wolves generally knew what they had in both Adreian Payne and Tyus Jones, and while the rest of the roster features an interesting mix of prospects from the ranks of college and the D-Leauge, Dunn's debut and an interesting matchup against Mudiay would be the main spectacle of the evening.
The good facets of Dunn's game were extremely clear. His handle and ability to attack the rim at will are great assets and got him some easy layups throughout the game. He could easily draw contact and get to the line if he beat his man, which he often could. However, he sometimes became too focused on creating his own shot opportunity, leading him into well-contested midrange jumpers and sloppy turnovers that could have been avoided by simply passing the ball. His strength and ability to create are great, but the decision making can improve.
The real attraction, however, was Dunn's defense. He relentlessly attacked Mudiay at every opportunity, often reaping rewards (three steals, a block, and many uncomfortable possessions early in the game) but also being punished for his aggression (seven fouls and some easy plays when Mudiay shifted up a gear late). The Nuggets' offense functioned much better when Dunn was off the floor, a clear credit to his work disrupting Mudiay's comfort zone. Mudiay is no slouch, so this is quite an impressive start to his work.
Dunn had a few highlight plays, none more relevant than his crossover that sent JaKarr Sampson sliding across the Thomas & Mack Center floor on his behind.
Both Dunn and coach Ryan Saunders were asked about the play after the game, and they had the same response. "I liked it, but the shot didn't go in, right? I like the shots to go in," said Saunders. Several minutes later, Dunn said, "I missed the jumper, so it doesn't even matter." It was a great highlight, but Dunn, as one would hope any player would, prioritized the important result rather than the fun part.
Saunders saw the positives and negatives in Dunn's debut as well. "He did some things that were definitely impressive, but there are definitely things that we can all work from," he said. "It was good for him, for a lottery pick to come out and score like that and look that comfortable, I felt extremely good about it." Dunn's final line: 27 points (which led all scorers), 10-18 from the field (1-2 from 3, 6-10 from the line) 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and a block.
As for the other two Wolves that will probably appear in the regular season, one had a good day and one did not. Tyus Jones impressed in combination with Dunn in the backcourt, finding ways to create openings for Dunn and appearing in the right place at the right time, so much so that he managed a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, plus four assists on the side. Jones, as you might expect from a second-year player, often looked like he didn't belong in this level of game.
On the flip side, the first game of Adreian Payne's third summer league did not go well. Payne went 6-20 from the field, leading the Wolves in field goal attempts, and it felt like only the most ludicrous-looking of his shots went in, with every set shot, layup and tip-in seeming to miss. Payne finished with 17 points and five rebounds, but this was an ordeal for him, complete with knocking rebounding opportunities out of bounds and foolish, bad turnovers. Payne too looked like he didn't fit in, but in his case it was because he seemed to have no idea what he was doing on either end of the floor.
The Nuggets' comeback was made most possible by their putrid first half shooting (29%), and they were kept in the game by the Wolves' allowing them to get to the free throw line. Their shooting balanced all the way up to 43.5% by the end of the game, and their two leading scorers (Mudiay with 23 and Gary Harris with 22) were two veterans who both appeared a class above the other players on their team.
Dunn demonstrated that he belonged playing with and against Mudiay and Harris throughout the game. While Mudiay got the best of him late in the game, he made Mudiay absolutely miserable for much of the game. Dunn is a fearless, skilled competitor, and while there is plenty to improve about his game, the first impression he gave today was exactly what any team would want to see.