The Minnesota Timberwolves became the first team since the Buffalo Braves in 1974 to have back-to-back Rookies of the Year when Karl-Anthony Towns unanimously won the award this past spring. A season before, Andrew Wiggins took the crown.
The Timberwolves selected Kris Dunn with the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Can he make it a consecutive trifecta of Rookies of the Year in Minnesota?
To win the Rookie of the Year, a lot of things will have to fall in place for the former Friar. Whether it be by injury (hopefully not) or disappointing play, Ben Simmons will have to play his way out of the race. Even if that were to happen, Dunn would still face strong competition in Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield and others. Basically, the road to a Rookie of the Year award will be a lot tougher for Dunn than it was for Towns and Wiggins.
In comparison to the rest of the 2016 draft class, Dunn is the most NBA-ready guard. In his senior season at Providence, the 6'4", 220-pounder notched season per-game averages of 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists (16th in Division I) and 2.5 steals (4th in Division I). Additionally, Dunn shot 44.8% from the field, including 37.2% from beyond the arc and 69.5% from the free-throw stripe. Dunn also found himself ranked highly in Division I last season in a number of significant statistical categories. Particularly, those included 16th in Box Plus/Minus (11.3), 7th in steal percentage (4.3) and 3rd in assist percentage (41.8).
Outside of the stat sheet, Dunn flashed many traits necessary to succeed at the NBA level. He owns more than enough length and athleticism to thrive as a guard in the NBA, as shown by his 6'9" wingspan and 8'4" standing reach. At the NCAA level, Dunn terrorized opposing back court players -- whether they played the point guard position or shooting guard position. Given his length, tenacious mindset and elite athleticism, it seems inevitable that Dunn will eventually be a terrific defender at the highest level. Historically, however, rookie guards have experienced struggles on the defensive end. It's just what happens with rookies.
For Dunn to elevate himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation, he will have to solidify himself as Minnesota's sixth man. The 22-year-old rookie is more than capable of achieving this, and his versatility on both ends of the floor will be key in making it happen.
Dunn's offensive arsenal is one similar to Thibodeau's former starting point guard with the Chicago Bulls. Before the 43 knee surgeries and several other weird injuries that hampered his career, Derrick Rose put together an MVP season in Thibs' offense by utilizing his explosiveness and craftiness around the rim to attack the basket effectively. Also like Prime Rose, Dunn is excellent in transition both as a finisher and as a distributor.
Kris Dunn. Already not fair. https://t.co/EeWRO7Zaff— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) July 9, 2016
Unlike Rose, Dunn has shown the versatility to be a viable option playing off the ball on offense. This was especially evident during his short stint with Minnesota's Las Vegas Summer League squad before he sustained a concussion after just two full games. With Tyus Jones taking the majority of the point guard minutes, Dunn seized the off-ball role and appeared to be right at home.
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
Defensively, Dunn's aforementioned length and athleticism allows him to defend both guard positions and defend them well. He spent most of his Summer League minutes defending off-ball players and appeared more than comfortable doing so. His tenacity on the perimeter wore out ballhandlers while his underrated strength was a problem closer to the basket.
Outstanding defense by Kris Dunn here, on Emmanuel Mudiay, leads to the easy transition bucket by Tyus Jones. https://t.co/oobP8SnftN— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) July 9, 2016
In theory, this versatility should allow Dunn to function effectively alongside Ricky Rubio in the shooting guard spot. This will ultimately decide whether he plays a key role in Minnesota's rotation as a rookie because let's face it -- as long as Rubio is healthy, Dunn will not be a starter and it's foolish to think otherwise. Thibodeau is notorious for being very conservative in giving minutes to rookies and there is no doubt he wants to win now. Besides, Rubio is the better player and is a terrific fit with Thibs in his own right. So, at least for now, Dunn will need to be effective playing with Rubio to earn a prominent role.
Moreover, the fifth overall pick still has plenty of kinks in his game that need to be fixed. Namely, his high turnover rate, inconsistent perimeter shooting and frequent fouling will need to be improved upon as Dunn makes the transition to the highest level.
Three consecutive Rookies of the Year wouldn't just be a cool tab in the history books. It would serve as a token of the rebuilding process that was launched by Flip Saunders a few years ago and is being carried about by Thibodeau now. As far as bringing loads of talent to one team (a small-market team at that) in a short span, the rebuild taking place in Minnesota is unheard of. A third straight Rookie of the Year would just be the cherry on top.
For Dunn to have a realistic chance at winning NBA Rookie of the Year, a ton of dominos will have fall in his favor. But, he absolutely has the potential to put himself in the conversation by year's end -- er, when this season is Dunn.
(I'll show myself out.)
Best-Case Scenario: Dunn solidifies himself as the sixth man in Minnesota's rotation, filling a valuable 25ish minutes both at the point guard and shooting guard position for the Wolves. Most importantly, Dunn flourishes playing alongside Rubio and improves on his shaky three-point shooting abilities. He experiences struggles, as all rookies do (besides weird outliers like Karl-Anthony Towns), but they are minimal and the negative impact is minor. To top it off, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram both slightly underachieve, placing Dunn firmly in the discussion for NBA Rookie of the Year.
Worst-Case Scenario: Thibodeau brings the rookie along slowly and Dunn still struggles adjusting to the advanced athleticism and size of NBA guards on both ends of the floor. His limited perimeter shooting leads to difficulty playing alongside Rubio, resulting in a smaller role in the rotation. Additionally, Dunn's noted issues of high turnovers and injury proneness plague the Wolves' already lackluster bench, reducing his minutes even further. Furthermore, he is no exception to the traditional struggles experienced by rookie point guards.
Most-Likely Scenario: Dunn begins the season seeing less than 20 minutes per game -- a number slowly increases throughout the season due to injuries and development. The NBA Rookie of the Year discussion does not include Dunn, mostly because it only includes one guy (Simmons). He consistently shows flashes of being a star on both ends, but also succumbs to rookie struggles and mental lapses that all rookie point guards experience. And of course, the anti-Rubio (or uneducated) crowd will relentlessly clamor for Dunn to start over Rubio and it will get annoying.
Timberwolves fans, how do you think Dunn's rookie campaign will play out?