CHICAGO – Billed as the starting point guard for years to come from the moment the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick to the Timberwolves in June, Kris Dunn came off the bench for the first three exhibition games behind Jerian Grant.
Dunn suffered another setback when he gruesomely dislocated his left index finger during an Oct. 6 exhibition. After working diligently to stay in condition as the finger healed, Dunn made his season debut Oct. 28 — coming off the bench again.
Despite putting up better statistics than Grant in almost every area but ball security, Dunn didn’t start his first game until Nov. 15 and didn’t supplant Grant as the full-time starter until Nov. 21.
“I was fine with that,” Dunn said.
So Dunn is one of those guys content to go with the flow?
“I had to earn my spot. I like that. It’s a challenge. And I don’t back down from any challenge,” Dunn said. “I had to work hard and bring my game up. I’m very appreciative that [coach Fred Hoiberg] did that to me.”
This isn’t just cliché speak. Spend five minutes with Dunn and it’s easy to discern that not only is he a team-first guy, but he gets it.
Rattle off his December statistics to him — averages of 15 points, 7.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and two steals in 11 games — and he doesn’t blink.
“I need to put a little more work in and improve more each game. I’m not satisfied at all,” Dunn said. “I can do a little more.”
“Be a little better on defense. Be a better leader for the team,” said Dunn, the No. 5 overall pick in 2016. “My offensive game is getting there, but that can be polished too.”
There are plenty of reasons the Bulls’ recent seven-game winning streak — which ended with Thursday’s competitive loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers — has called into question whether the rebuild will stay on course for a top-four draft pick. Dunn’s rapid ascension to legitimate front-line starter is at or near the top of the list.
“It’s very important you have a guy you have confidence in who can make the right play down the stretch,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve trusted him and put the ball in his hands. And his willingness to learn is a great sign. He watches a lot of film.”
Dunn is serious about his craft. It’s why Hoiberg has placed him in game-closing situations since Nov. 30, the night the Providence product sank the go-ahead layup in Denver before a defensive breakdown led to Will Barton’s winner for the Nuggets.
“I’m in a whole better situation, from Minnesota to here,” Dunn said. “Just being able to play big-time minutes, I was fine with whatever role. But I appreciate the trust.”
Dunn’s absorption isn’t limited to film study. He said when he first arrived, he would pick the brains of dynasty-era players such as assistant coach Randy Brown and Executive Vice President John Paxson. He wanted to learn more about championship basketball.
“John’s willing to reach out with support, but he’s very stern and firm with me. He’s strict. I like that from him, especially since he’s higher up,” Dunn said. “When I got here, John and [General Manager] Gar [Forman] did a real good job of getting me comfortable and telling me what they expect from me and what they want from me.”
Dunn is delivering. But he’s not satisfied.