Staying in School Paying Off for Kris Dunn

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If Providence point guard Kris Dunn would have declared for the NBA draft last year, his decision would have made sense. After all, he was projected to be a top-20 pick and appeared to be a solid option for teams.

In a time when prospects are quick to leave college as soon as the professional level becomes an option, Dunn surprised many with his decision to return for his junior year. By coming back to school, he was effectively betting on himself to improve even more. It was a risky move considering he could have suffered a serious injury or hurt his draft stock by underperforming.

While his play on the court has NBA teams excited about his potential, Dunn’s decision to return to Providence should have them equally impressed as well. He delayed the opportunity to earn an NBA salary to stick with his teammates and continue to his education.

“I’m really huge on education,” Dunn said this week at the NBA Draft Combine. “I think it’s because of my background and where I come from; there are not too many people from where I come from who graduate from college every day. I really want to be a good role model for New London, Providence, but mainly for my family.

“I wanted to come back and build my legacy at Providence. They showed so much love and support. We haven’t gotten past the first round of the tournament in almost 20 years. To achieve that goal, it was definitely an honor for me. For my teammates to help me achieve that, I really appreciated that.”

By his own admission, Dunn wasn’t ready for the NBA last season. He viewed his extra year at Providence as another opportunity to improve as a player and as a person. He was able to mature more, which is something he feels gives him an advantage over some of the other prospects in the draft.

His decision to stay in school has paid off big time. Some projected Dunn to be selected as a late-lottery pick last year, but that was the best-case scenario. Now, he’s now projected by most to be taken in the top 10 and possibly even top five. In Basketball Insiders’ latest consensus mock draft, Dunn is projected to go as high as the fourth pick, and his stock could rise even higher once the draft lottery determines where teams will pick.

Dunn averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game this past season at Providence. The highlights of his junior year included being named the Big East Player of the Year, Big East Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the All-Big East First Team among other awards.

Given his long list of accomplishments during his time in college, it should be a surprise that Dunn is even attending the Combine. It’s common for the top prospects to skip the week’s events, as players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Andrew Wiggins are among those that opted out in the past. This year, Ben Simmons skipped the Combine altogether. Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray attended the event, but chose to only meet with teams and sit out of everything else (on-court work, measurements and media availability).

“I’m here talking to [the media] because I have no problem talking to the media,” Dunn said. “Whatever questions you guys have, I’m going to try to answer to the best of my ability. The reason why I am here in Chicago at the Combine is to support my guys. The guys that I worked out with: Ron Baker, Damian Jones and Jakob Poeltl. We’ve all been working out in [Los Angeles]. I’m out here supporting those guys and my great teammate, Ben Bentil. I’m going to have his back throughout the whole process. I want him to do well out here. I’m just here to support my guys.”

For Dunn, it seems that attending the Combine and addressing the media can only help him. He said all of the right things too, as teams love players who put their teammates before themselves and it looks like Dunn did exactly that by showing up in Chicago. He sees the event as another chance to leave an impression on potential suitors.

Part of what makes Dunn such an attractive prospect is his ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor. At 6’4.25 in shoes with a 6’9.5 wingspan, he possesses the size and length teams look for in an elite defender. Those measurements are even more attractive in a point guard. Once he’s drafted, he’ll be one of the taller floor generals in the league and could become a match-up problem for teams.

Dunn has drawn comparisons to Washington Wizards point guard John Wall due to their similar playing styles. They were about the same height at their respective Combines (Dunn was just a bit taller), they both can dominate with their impressive athleticism and they enjoy getting their teammates involved. And like Wall, Dunn must improve his three-point shot as he continues to develop.

“I’m starting to see it more and more,” Dunn said of his comparison to Wall. “We’re both fast, we both could attack at the rim – that’s one of our greatest strengths. We could definitely get people involved; that’s what I like to do. John Wall is not a bad defender. He definitely works hard on the defensive end and that’s one of my greatest strengths.”

Each year, we often see college prospects being compared to NBA players. Fans want to know how a prospect could turn out, and it’s a fun way to project who these players could eventually play like. Comparisons can also prove to be difficult at times for prospects, especially if they bring about high expectations. Wall said the best way for players to deal with these high expectations is to just be yourself.

“Ever since I was in high school, they always try to find somebody to compare somebody to and that’s just a part of basketball,” Wall told Basketball Insiders awhile back. “They tried to compare me to Derrick Rose just because they saw him first. As a player, you can appreciate the compliments, but I think you also want to be yourself. Be known as yourself and build your character.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking something away from somebody’s game that they’re comparing you to, but you always want to leave your legacy. [I’m leaving a legacy] of being John Wall – not just being the next LeBron James or the next Derrick Rose.”

It seems as though Dunn is eager to get into the league and start his own legacy. Until the draft order is officially determined at the lottery on Tuesday, it’s hard to gauge where he’ll end up. So far, Dunn said he has interviewed with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans among others. He said he was really impressed by his meeting with the Sixers and would really enjoy playing with Anthony Davis if he was taken by the Pelicans.

Players can help their draft stock with strong performances at the Combine and, of course, team workouts. It definitely seems as though Dunn is on the right track and made a strong impression in his Combine interviews. He seems poised to be a huge addition for whichever team drafts him.