INDIANAPOLIS – During a season when their defense seemingly has capitulated with 10 games still remaining, rest assured that the Timberwolves are not Dunn yet.
OK, sorry about that …
In the three games since the Wolves returned from a 0-3 Eastern trip that all but ended their playoff aspirations, rookie point guard Kris Dunn’s playing time has more than doubled.
After he played an average of 12 minutes in March’s first nine games, Dunn has averaged 29.3 minutes in the Wolves’ past three games — including nearly 29 minutes in Saturday’s 112-100 loss at Portland — now that they’re once again playing for the draft lottery and next year.
He has done so paired more often with fellow point guards Ricky Rubio and Tyus Jones and, as was the case in Friday’s overtime loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles, occasionally with both of them in a three-point guard lineup.
“I like the way he’s played with Ricky and Tyus and as long as he’s playing well, he’ll keep getting more minutes,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It has been good. He brings some toughness, and he brings some defense that we desperately need.”
Once upon a time, the Wolves were one of the league’s top two teams in several defensive categories during an eight-game stretch during which they went 6-2 and held six opponents under 100 points. They’ve allowed 100 or more points in every game of their current six-game losing streak, three times giving up 123 points or more.
“We have to get back to playing defense,” Thibodeau said. “If you want to win, that’s what you have to do. There’s no easy way out. There are no shortcuts. It’s about discipline. It’s about having the ability to do your job so everyone can count on you.”
And those needs are what Thibodeau says have led to Dunn’s increased playing time.
“When I watch Kris and the things he is doing out there, he is making great effort, he is disciplined,” Thibodeau said. “He’s doing a lot of good things and giving us good energy, but we need everyone to do that. You have to be able to count on each other. You can’t pick and choose when you’re going to do something. It’s got to be every time. The good teams do that.”
Dunn has struggled to direct an NBA offense during his rookie season, uncertain often when he should create a shot for himself or for others. Some Wolves fans and pundits already have declared last summer’s fifth overall pick a draft bust after he has played 66 of 72 games.
It’s a premature notion for a player still learning those offensive decisions, as well as when his defensive aggression crosses the line.
His 17 points scored on 8-for-13 shooting Saturday at Portland and his 34 ½ minutes both were career highs.
“I’m trying,” Dunn said. “One of my goals coming out of All-Star break was to improve, to get more comfortable, get more confident while trying to play within the offense.”
He has 15 steals in his past 10 games and has blocked two shots in two of his past four games.
“I think I’m starting to learn the game a little more,” he said. “It’s all about learning the game, getting more comfortable and getting confident with yourself. I’m doing that each and every game. I feel like I’m learning a lot. It only can get better. I know I’m having an up-and-down season. That only makes me work harder and want to improve.”
Dunn said he is working to find that line where productive aggression goes too far and leaves him foul prone. It’s a balance he admits he always couldn’t find when he played collegiately at Providence.
“My intensity on defense is one of my greatest strengths,” Dunn said, “but in college it sometimes put me in bad situations and led me to the bench.”
Thibodeau credits Dunn’s ability to cover so much ground so quickly for his ability to block shots from the point-guard position. Dunn credits his high-school football career for developing such instincts. He played both sides of the ball, including wide receiver, running back and a little bit of quarterback on the offensive side and in the secondary on the defensive side.
“My anticipation skills definitely help me out on the basketball court,” Dunn said. “I was a D-back, safety. I’d say I was pretty good. I held my own out there.”