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Monday Musings: Kris Dunn

Examining how Kris Dunn is faring in his first NBA season

NBA: Utah Jazz at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

One of the ongoing debates this season has been the use of Kris Dunn, as he has fallen into perhaps the focal point of the Timberwolves roster, the point guard dilemma. This issue has been due to the overlapping skill sets and playing time of Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, and Tyus Jones. Recently, the Tyus Jones bandwagon has been in full effect, as he has demonstrably proved that he is simply a useful player on the court, providing different strengths than Ricky Rubio or Kris Dunn, primarily due to his shooting skills.

Ricky Rubio’s strengths and weaknesses are well known, and enough virtual ink has been spilled about his current situation with the Timberwolves.

Kris Dunn, if he were playing for another team, would likely be having a rather unassuming rookie campaign. He is playing backup point guard and having a difficult time with the transition to the NBA. However, he is obviously the golden child in the eye of Tom Thibodeau and several reports have claimed that he is viewed as the point guard of the future for the Timberwolves.

It is easy to imagine the possibilities in the future with Kris Dunn. He is lightning fast, seemingly built out of solid rock, and has the sort of hard-nosed intangibles that one would want out of a defense-first point guard that can facilitate to the heavy-usage offensive weapons that the Wolves already have in Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl Anthony-Towns.

Dunn got the start last night as Ricky Rubio was out for personal reasons and Dunn, while inconsistent, had one of his strongest games of the season.

However, Dunn is turnover prone, gambles frequently on defense and is out of position, and his shooting stroke is in a wild state of disrepair.

Funnily enough, those strengths and weaknesses are quite similar to a certain Spaniard, especially early in his career, that the Wolves already have on the roster.

These issues can make one despair somewhat when watching Dunn fail to quickly acclimate to the NBA, especially considering he is one of the now rarer rookies who played a full four years in College. This leaves much less room for error than the 19-year-olds who are now flooding the league.

But before we get too hasty in calling for Kris Dunn’s head, it’s important to remember just how hard it is to come into the NBA and play point guard. For example, in comparison to his rookie peers playing point guard, which are Isaiah Whitehead, Jamal Murray, Dejounte Murray, Wade Baldwin IV, and Tyler Ulis, Dunn is performing in about the middle of the pack, which you can see here.

It’s also worth mentioning that Tyus Jones wasn’t exactly shattering the record book during his rookie campaign.

Now, “adequate” isn’t exactly what one is hoping for with a top-5 pick and a heralded entrance to the NBA, as many coaches, players, and scouts had pegged Dunn as the sort of star point guard that could eventually lead the Timberwolves.

If we take a look at the rookie seasons of Point Guards that were drafted with high draft picks since 2013, so Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Elfrid Payton, D’Angelo Russell, and Marcus Smart, which you can take a full look at the comparisons here. The first thing that jumps out is the lack of minutes that Dunn is getting. Dunn’s 17.0 minutes per game are the lowest by a wide margin, Smart is next lowest with 27.0 minutes per game.

Dunn, Mudiay, and Payton are the worst shooters of the bunch, which is not comforting considering Payton has not been able to hold onto his wide-open starting spot and Mudiay is having another rough year. Smart was really the only useful player of the bunch in his rookie year, as he was already helpful on defense and was essentially a neutral offensive player, which if Dunn was able to achieve than he would already likely be providing tremendous value.

What is troubling to see is that Dunn has the second lowest assist percentage, while having the highest turnover percentage of the group, which is happening while he is playing the most limited minutes of these comparisons. This further lends credibility that he may be better suited for a more defensive-stopper type of role that serves as combo-guard, something of which Marcus Smart has been vacillating between during his time in Boston.

Moving Dunn to the shooting guard role off the bench was been a suggested solution to create playing time for both Dunn and Tyus Jones, not to mention this is how both played together in Summer League, but this seems rather unlikely to continue considering what we know about Thibodeau’s habits this season so far. Although we have been seeing this lineup combination more recently, which has brought some success, Thibodeau is more than willing to stay the course for his preferred development path. This was made exceptionally clear after Brandon Rush played nearly 40 minutes in LaVine’s absence a few weeks ago and managed to steady the Wolves’ starting five, but then played three minutes the following game once LaVine was able to return.

Regardless of where Dunn plays for the rest of the season, he should still be getting significant development minutes, likely the same amount of playing time that he is getting right now. The real benefit of moving Dunn to shooting guard with a few lineups is that Tyus Jones would also get to play, while removing some of the minutes burden that is on Zach LaVine.

Playing in the NBA as a rookie, regardless of age, is hard. Especially so for those playing point guard. Timberwolves’ fans were extraordinarily lucky last year to witness what an outlier rookie campaign looks like with Karl Anthony-Towns. Kris Dunn, at least for now, might just be normal, and that’s ok too.