The Chicago Bulls have had a remarkable year with several heroes stepping forward to help them compete for a No. 3 seed in a season that once looked like a lost cause. Most of them are getting recognized. However, the steady presence of Mike Dunleavy has been overlooked.
Joakim Noah looks increasingly like he’s going to be the Defensive Player of the Year and receive votes for Most Valuable Player, at least based on Fran Blinebury’s most recent predictions at NBA.com.
Taj Gibson is getting chatter for Sixth Man of the Year, per Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald.
Jimmy Butler has earned a reputation as arguably a top-five defender and should be a lock for the All-Defensive second team, per Scoop Jackson of ESPN Chicago.
Midseason pickup D.J. Augustin is getting featured by the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson and is in the conversation for Most Improved Player as far as Sekou Smith of NBA.com's Hang Time blog is concerned.
Dunleavy though, has no awards, no press and no limelight. He's just doing what makes him special and with no demands.
One thing epitomizes Dunleavy’s presence. It came in the game against the Houston Rockets with 7:55 left in the second quarter. He took a charge from Chandler Parsons and got a major gash over his right eye as a reward for his efforts.
Dunleavy went into the locker room, got 10 stitches and then surprisingly started the second half. One minute and 20 seconds later, he took a charge from James Harden with no regard for personal safety.
In the third quarter, he had 18 points, going 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from deep. He should have gotten a concussion test because he was clearly unconscious.
He’s not the Bulls’ first option. He’s not their best defensive player. But, he’s a constant whose toughness is appreciated. He and Gibson are the only two Bulls who have played every game for Chicago this year.
He produces steadily and across the board. He’s fourth on the Bulls in points, rebounds, assists and steals. He’s third in blocks and win shares. He’s second in effective field-goal percentage among Bulls who have taken at least 20 shots.
According to NBA.com/STATS, the Bulls have a better offensive rebound percentage, assist ratio and true shooting percentage when he’s on the court. In other words, they’re basically better at everything on the offensive side of the ball.
Their net rating is 2.5 points better with him. The team’s player impact estimate (PIE) is 3.4 percent higher (meaning the team plays better with him and has better results).
He’s also a solid team defender. He does little things, like the aforementioned drawing charges. Per Jeff Fox of Hoops Manifesto, he was tied for fourth in the NBA in charges drawn as of March 13.
His opponents have a player efficiency rating of just 11.2, according to 82games.com.
Based on efficiency, he wins his personal battle more than half the time, per Hoopsstats.com.
If a Swiss army knife were an NBA player, it would be Dunleavy. Its tools might not be perfect, but they're useful in any situation. Because of that, he's able to play multiple positions and has filled in minutes at shooting guard, small forward and power forward for the Bulls, according to 82games.com.
And, as C.F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets, Dunleavy seems happy to fill that role.
And, oh yeah, he’s come up clutch.
On more than one occasion.
And Dunleavy exemplifies the attitude that makes the Bulls special.
After the Bulls went 3-3 on a homestand that included games against five of the NBA’s elite teams, Dunleavy took proper measure of it, per Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald.
We were certainly challenged, no question about it. We would have liked to obviously have a better record. The competition level was high. Yeah, I think we learned some stuff, where we need to get to.
The response was fluent in “Bullese-speak,” not being too self-deprecating over the losses (San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder) or proud of the wins (Miami Heat and Rockets). He acknowledged what was true without making excuses and stayed forward thinking. It was perfectly balanced.
It was like Tom Thibodeau was talking with Dunleavy’s mouth.
What Dunleavy doesn't say speaks volumes too. When his name came up in trade rumors after giving the Bulls a discount in signing with them this summer, he didn't utter a peep.
Simply stated, he’s a team guy, doing whatever the team asks on a team teaming with team players.
Dunleavy is not a great player, but he’s the kind of player great teams need. His role is similar to Shane Battier’s for the Heat—taking charges, making threes and generally doing whatever his team needs him to do. Battier didn't “win” the title for the Heat, but his acquisition after the Heat lost to the Mavericks in the finals was arguably what put them over the top.
Players like that don’t win awards. If there were one, I don’t even know what it would be called. Most Selfless Player? But if there was, Dunleavy would be in the running for it this year, and that’s what makes him the Bulls' most underrated player.