MEMPHIS – Seemingly out of sorts throughout his first NBA preseason, Timberwolves guard Kris Dunn found something of his old self in Wednesday night’s season-opening 102-98 loss at Memphis by finding his way to the rim.
After he struggled with his shot in six games that didn’t count, Dunn began the opener in front of a FedEx Forum sellout audience by making his first four shots, the first three of them dunks or layups. He finished with eight points on 4-for-6 shooting, four rebounds, one assist, one turnover and three fouls in a 15-minute debut that lacked the nerves he felt two weeks earlier.
“You know, I think that stopped after the first preseason game,” Dunn said of a game against Miami in Kansas City, Mo. “That’s when I had the jitters. But now I’m starting to get comfortable. I wasn’t really nervous. Playing with a crowd like that, it was great. The atmosphere was great. That’s the type of games I like to play in.”
The fifth pick in this year’s NBA draft, Dunn shot 22.6 percent (12-for-53) in the preseason, including 1-for-10 from three-point range. But he attacked the rim shortly after entering his first real NBA game and scored twice within a minute, first with a driving dunk and then turning Karl-Anthony Towns’ pass out of a double team into a reverse layup.
“Karl, he found me,” Dunn said. “It made it a lot easier for me, getting quick, easy buckets. That helped me get in a groove, helped me get comfortable. That’s the biggest thing for me: Try to get easy shots.”
Still, he calls the defense he plays his “main focus” for a team that lost its focus on that end Wednesday. The Wolves led 20-3 after only five minutes but lost the big lead and ultimately the game because they let a shorthanded Memphis team make 11 three-pointers, six of them in the rest of the first quarter.
“I don’t think we stayed as aggressive and disciplined,” Dunn said. “That’s the thing about the NBA: You have to be disciplined. There are so many great players, as you can see by them coming back from a 20-point lead.”
Dunn possesses a preseason’s worth of knowledge about the NBA. It’s a short amount of time that he found invaluable nonetheless.
“It prepared me a lot,” he said. “I think I learned a lot about myself: how to play in the system, with talented players around me, what’s my role on the team, going through the downs right away. It really prepared me. It shows me what I need to improve on.”
Wednesday, he played more efficiently in fewer minutes that he played in every preseason game. It’s just one regular-season game, but one that left Dunn sounding optimistic.
“Preseason, I was out there just trying to play,” Dunn said. “I was not thinking about the games, but now I’m starting to think the game more. I’m trying to watch a lot more film, trying to be a student of the game and trying to be the best player I can be. I try to improve every game.”
He was better Wednesday in Memphis than he had been in Lincoln, Neb., Oklahoma City or at Target Center against the same Grizzlies team a week earlier. He said he thinks he will be better yet the next time out, Saturday against the Kings in Sacramento’s new Golden 1 Center arena.
“I’m just trying to play within the system, trying to stay in my lane, trying to be as effective as I can,” Dunn said. “I try to bring that defensive intensity that Coach wants me to be and I try to improve every day. I feel like I’m starting to get more comfortable.”