Patience and perseverance pushed Kris Dunn into the 2016 NBA draft lottery. Elite physical tools, mental toughness and some Tom Thibodeau-approved defensive nasty made him the No. 5 pick and the latest piece of the Minnesota Timberwolves' highly intriguing puzzle.
"We think Kris is a great fit for us," Thibodeau, Minnesota's head coach and president of basketball operations, said, per Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune. "We didn't know how it was going to unfold. There were going to be some good options for us. We thought this was the best one."
But he returned to Providence for his redshirt junior year to fine-tune strengths and overcome his weaknesses. The final result was a second-team AP All-American campaign and the best resume for any backcourt player in this rookie class.
His minutes decreased from 34.0 per game to 33.0, but his scoring average still jumped by nearly a full point (15.6 to 16.4). He improved his shooting marks from three (37.2 percent) and the foul line (69.5 percent), while also trimming his turnover average by nearly 17 percent (4.2 to 3.5).
His skills looked NBA-ready, and his physical profile—6'4" with a 6'9 ½" wingspan—had long before aced the eye test. He made two NBA Summer League appearances in Sin City, just enough to push his hype train into overdrive, before getting sidetracked by a concussion. With per-game marks of 24.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals, he started his ascent up the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year ladder.
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On paper, Dunn and the Timberpups are a match made in hoops heaven.
He could quarterback a potent offense and spearhead a pesky defense on opening night. His explosive burst will elevate all aspects of Minnesota's attack: He can speed down the floor with Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine at his sides, work the pick-and-choose game with Karl-Anthony Towns and give Ricky Rubio another passing target should the Wolves keep both point guards.
At 22 years old, Dunn fits perfectly into Minnesota's short- and long-term plans. His floor sits high enough to contribute to a 2017 playoff push, and his ceiling is far enough away to rise with the rest of this core.
"There's a very young talented group there," Dunn said on the night of the draft, per the Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski. "There's so much you could go on about the Timberwolves. Thibs being the coach and me being a defensive guy, I can't wait to play under him."
The gravel-voiced coach might be even more excited about the partnership.
Thibodeau's high-pressure defense needs a strong presence at the point of attack, and Dunn might be the best stopper in his class. His combination of ideal size and quick-twitch mobility makes him a nightmare for opposing ball-handlers. He's instinctive enough in passing lanes to have pick-six potential on any possession.
There's little doubt he can log major minutes right now. There is, however, the question of how many minutes Minnesota will make available to him. Rubio is on the books through 2018-19, and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor doesn't see trading the Spanish floor general "as a likely possibility," according to Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune.
Could Taylor be posturing? Absolutely. It doesn't benefit the Wolves at all to publicly make Rubio available.
But could Taylor be telling the truth? Without a doubt. Rubio has struggled with his jump shot throughout his career, but he still had the fifth-highest real plus-minus among point guards last season, per ESPN.com. Not to mention, Dunn can wreak some havoc working off the ball.
Dunn won't hurt for playing time regardless of what happens with Rubio, but the rookie's role would balloon quickly if the incumbent is dealt.
As the Wolves' 29-53 record can attest, they weren't short on problem areas last season. Their defense leaked uncontrollably, and their offense was held back by bottom-third rankings in three-point percentage (33.8, tied for 25th) and turnover rate (15.3 per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, 23rd).
Dunn can definitely help with the first, but it's unclear how he'll impact the other two categories.
While he posted several personal bests from the perimeter last season, there are still concerns about his shot. He hit below 70 percent from the foul line over his college career and shot just 29.6 percent on two-point jumpers last year, per Hoop-Math.com.
"Watch Dunn play and the results are wildly inconsistent," Derek Bodner wrote for DraftExpress. "At times, he'll make shots that fall effortlessly through the hoop; at other times, he'll miss, wildly, to the left or right, shooting air balls that make you wonder how much progress he's actually made on his shot."
Dunn needs to be a shooting threat for this offense to function. If he isn't, he'll be squeezed for space alongside Rubio (career 31.8 percent from three) and Wiggins (30.4).
That could exacerbate Dunn's turnover woes; He gave away 6.3 per 100 possessions over his college career, according to Sports-Reference.com. For comparison, the NBA's worst offender last season was Russell Westbrook at 6.2 per 100 (minimum 1,000 minutes), per Basketball-Reference.com.
As good as Dunn's defense is, he's only so many empty offensive possessions away from Thibodeau's doghouse.
Nevertheless, Dunn will start the season with one of the longest leashes among NBA freshmen.
He'll be a rotation player on day one and perhaps the starter if Rubio's trade market heats up. Dunn's offensive transition will be rocky at first, as defenses test both his shooting stroke and decision-making, but he'll present his own problems at the other end, and his offense will get cleaner as the year goes by.
Assuming both stay in Minnesota and maintain their health, Rubio and Dunn should end the season with similar workloads. But the former will take the early lead, while the latter will chip away at it over the subsequent months.
The chemistry Dunn strikes with his fellow youngsters could be electric, and his numbers could easily outshine every rookie not named Ben Simmons. Dunn won't pack the heaviest scoring punch, but he'll leave his fingerprints all over the box score.
Complete 2016-17 Stat Predictions
- Minutes: 28.9
- Points: 12.8
- Rebounds: 3.7
- Assists: 5.9
- Field-goal percentage: 40.1
- Three-point percentage: 32.7
- Steals: 1.4