Will Kris Dunn follow in the footsteps of Stephon Marbury and Sam Cassell, becoming the Minnesota Timberwolves’ point guard of the future? Or will he struggle and bare a closer resemblance to Troy Hudson and Jonny Flynn?
Seven years after drafting Ricky Rubio and Flynn with the fifth and sixth overall picks in the draft, the Timberwolves hope they’ve found the point guard of the future in Dunn.
The former two-time Big East Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year discussed his transition to the league, playing for coach Tom Thibodeau and his career goals with Basketball Insiders.
“[Thibodeau and I] like to use the term rope,” Dunn told Basketball Insiders. “At Providence College, my rope was long. I was the number one option. We’ve got so much talent here that I don’t need to be the number one option. Thibs has established with me what’s my role, and I try to embrace it.”
The Timberwolves boast a young and talented roster featuring 12 former first-round picks, led by former No. 1 overall picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Towns, Wiggins and Zach LaVine are all averaging 20 or more points through the first eight games of the season.
Dunn filled the stat sheet across the board in his first three games as a starting point guard while replacing the injured Rubio. Dunn averaged 6.7 points, six assists, 4.3 rebounds and three steals in 29.1 minutes per game.
With Rubio returning from his injury, Dunn will return to his role as the backup point guard for now.
When asked which players he would compare himself to, Dunn thinks for a moment.
“That’s a great question,” Dunn replied. “You can say a bunch of people for different reasons. Some people would say Gary Payton because of defense, but that could be a stretch. Some people will say John Wall because of the length and the speed. That could be a stretch. But I think I’m just my own player and I think I’m just trying to define myself.”
Before the draft, many scouts and executives believed Dunn could immediately contribute as an individual defender thanks to his length, athleticism, quickness and timing.
“I think in this league it’s very hard to guard guys individually, everyone has to be tied together,” Thibodeau said. “Now whether it’s defensive transition, catch-and-shoot defense, pick-and-roll defense, isolation defense, whatever it might be, it’s five guys working together. If one guy’s not doing his job then it’s not going to look good, it’s going to break everything down. I think once you have a good understanding of what your team responsibilities are, it’s not only your individual responsibilities but also your team, there are opportunities to take advantage of whatever your strengths might be. Kris is figuring that out right now. There are a lot of opportunities where he can use his instincts to read the ball, reading the ball, moving on the flight of the ball. Those things are critical, and when you have great anticipation and you have an idea of what’s coming, you know where those opportunities will be.”
After developing Derrick Rose into a league MVP and Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler into All-Stars, Thibodeau hopes to elevate Dunn to that same status down the road.
“Like most rookies, he’s a little up and down,” Thibodeau said of Dunn. “I think defensively he’s fine. He’s ready to play NBA defense. He’s still learning the game. I think the first time around for any rookie is a learning experience, particularly when you’re going against starting point guards now for him. When you’re coming off the bench, you have a chance to watch and observe before you go in and now he’s out there, but he’s very aggressive. He’s an attacking player. He’s learning; he’s improving daily. We’ve just got to keep working at it.”
While Dunn learns Thibodeau’s vaunted defensive system, Rubio – one of the league’s most gifted passers – has offered tips on seeing the floor and becoming a floor general at the pro level.
“[Rubio says to] just take your time with the game. He knows what it takes to be a point guard because he’s been a point guard for a long time and what it takes to be a leader,” Dunn said. “You’ve got to know your personnel, what they do on the floor, what are their strengths and what are their weaknesses.”
The Undefeated profiled Dunn’s long and difficult journey to get to the NBA. In the profile, Dunn said there were times when he went to the middle school to take a shower, he didn’t have cable television, he used candles and flashlights to brighten his home, and he gambled by playing poker and challenging older kids to one-on-one games.
With that in mind, I asked Dunn where he saw himself in 10 years.
“Ten years from now, a successful basketball player, but someone who is successful off the court too,” Dunn replied. “Right now, I’m trying to be the best player I can be, but at the same time, I’m doing all this for my family so we can set ourselves up to be successful in life.”
While it’s way too early to predict whether Dunn will fulfill the high expectations that come with being the fifth overall pick in the draft, it’s hard to bet against a young man like him after he’s already overcome some of life’s most difficult obstacles.
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