Most prospects who generate NBA lottery buzz look to cash in quickly. Kris Dunn had the chance last spring after a breakout sophomore year. And given the consecutive shoulder injuries in 2012 and 2013 that practically wiped him off the radar, he had even more of a reason to strike while the iron was hot.
Yet, Dunn ultimately bet on himself and returned to school with arguably more to lose than gain. "He [Dunn] said, 'I don’t want to just be an NBA pick; I want to be an NBA player. I want to go and be able to contribute,'" Providence head coach Ed Cooley told Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy, referencing his star ball-handler.
It looks as if the bold decision will pay off. Dunn has led the Friars to a Top 10 ranking while showing individual improvement in areas that previously raised questions. And between the lack of can't-miss talent and big-name point guards in June's projected field, he has positioned himself to be among the first called on draft night.
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There aren't many college players more productive than Dunn, who seems like a routine triple-double candidate.
His 6.8 assists per game rank No. 8 in the country, while a 45.9 percent assist percentage is second, per Sports-Reference.com (he finished first in assist percentage last year). His 6.1 rebounds per game also highlight his nose for the ball and willingness to go after it under the boards.
And after making just 27 threes in 33 games as a sophomore, he's already matched last year's total through 20 games as a junior. Dunn still coughs the ball up too much, though his turnover rate is actually down (3.6 a game from 4.2).
The other notable number on his resume is 3.2 steals per game, which ranks second in the nation. Defense should ultimately be considered a core strength and key selling point to scouts.
Dunn possesses textbook physical tools for a point guard, as well as a potent blend of speed, power and agility. At 6'4", 205 pounds with a 6'9" wingspan, his measurements are right on par with Washington Wizards leader John Wall.
Dunn is terrific in the open floor, where he can weave through traffic and set up teammates for easy layups or open threes. In the half court, he's at his best working in ball-screen situations, where he freezes the defense with hesitation or change of direction. He uses space from the pick, as well as a mean handle and vision, to probe and find the open man.
But he's just as big of a threat to get to the rack with a spin move, side step or a line-drive burst through the lane.
He's also capable in the mid-range, though his pull-up and step-back game still needs work.
At the other end, Dunn's lateral foot speed, strength, length and anticipation translate to pressure and steals, whether he's defending the ball or jumping a passing lane.
Dunn has two glaring weaknesses that could potentially jeopardize his efficiency and overall NBA value.
He can be a bit reckless or careless. His 21.9 percent career turnover percentage (18.3 percent this year) is extremely high and betrays a tendency to force the issue with both the pass and the dribble. Improving his decision-making should be his biggest challenge and priority in the pros.
Though he's raised his three-point percentage each year, Dunn's shooting represents another concern. He's making fewer than 70 percent of his free throws for the second straight season, and he's only shot 32.9 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com.
Dunn has made his fair share of looks around the perimeter, both off the catch and the bounce. But some of his misses can be way off. And you don't get the impression he's comfortable shooting from too far behind the college arc.
The fact that he'll already be 22 years old in March may make some question the room for growth with his outside shot.
NBA Player Comparisons
His best-case comparison, Dunn lacks Wall's explosiveness around the hoop, but the Providence playmaker has the same size and a lightning first step, as well as the ability to break down defenses off screens or penetration.
Like Wall, Dunn makes the game easier for teammates by setting them up for quality scoring chances. And they will each have entered the league with shaky jumpers.
If Dunn can become more reliable in the mid-range and a threat to knock down open threes, we could be talking about one of the more complete point guards, given his scoring, passing and defense.
Dunn's physical tools also resemble Mudiay's, and like the Denver Nuggets rookie, Dunn is at his best working the pick-and-roll game and pushing the break in transition. But they both struggle with shooting and turnovers.
Their overall effectiveness will come down to just how much they can improve in these two areas.
In terms of natural talent and realistic potential improvement, Dunn should have the chance to develop into one of the top 15 point guards in the league.
He's already physically superior to most of them. Plus, his defense alone should hold value, regardless of how well his offensive game develops.
But if he continues to make strides as a shooter and eventually manages to operate with better control, Dunn can develop into a 15- to 20-point scorer and one of the top assist men in the league.
Dunn won't have trouble racking up the numbers, but inefficiency could cloud his production. Given his questionable decision-making and lack of shooting touch, he will be vulnerable to registering poor field-goal percentages and high turnover rates—a combination that could prevent him from earning the "untouchable" label.
If he struggles to adjust and clean up the messy aspects of his game, he'll likely find himself in a tier with middle-of-the-pack point guards like Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker.
While scouts put varying degrees of importance on a player's performance in the NCAA tournament, with the eyes of the nation on March Madness, playing well or poorly in the most critical games of the season can certainly sway one's opinions. Some players, like the Connecticut Huskies' Shabazz Napier, have used the tournament as a springboard to rise up draft boards in recent years.
By the time March rolls around, scouts will have already seen enough to get a good read on Dunn. But carrying Providence to postseason wins would only help strengthen his case as an NBA-ready guard. Top-10 teams considering him would likely only draft him if they thought he could take over as the new franchise floor general.
If anything else, coming up big in the NCAA tournament reinforces the idea that Dunn enjoys the big moment. He's already hit a couple of game-winners this season, including a buzzer-beater at Creighton.
He looks like a good bet to land somewhere in the No. 3 to 10 range. Dunn won't go before LSU's Ben Simmons or Duke's Brandon Ingram, but after that, teams looking to upgrade their point guard position should deem him fair game.
The Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans seem like strong suitors. The Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks could also think about replacing their current starter with Dunn.
All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.