By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — New Bulls point guard Kris Dunn addressed his underwhelming rookie season head on Tuesday as he and teammates Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen were welcomed with their introductory press conference in Chicago.
“I accept that I had a bad year,” Dunn said.
Such is the type of assessment that brings into focus the most crucial priority now for the rebuilding Bulls after last week’s franchise-altering trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves: player development.
As the Bulls have embarked on a new direction, it’s the progression of their youngsters that will be under scrutiny, not their win-loss record. Dunn will be one of several players who go a long way to determining whether the franchise’s new direction proves fruitful or disastrous.
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 draft, the 23-year-old Dunn averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in 17.1 minutes per game for the Timberwolves and Tom Thibodeau. Dunn shot 37.7 percent from the field and 28.8 percent from 3-point range, and his .432 true shooting percentage was one of the worst marks of anyone in the league.
He understands that his performance didn’t cut it. He also believes better days are ahead.
“My rookie season, there were a lot of ups and downs, basically like a roller coaster ride,” Dunn said. “Playing under Tom, he helped me become a professional. He loves players that love to work. He made sure all his guys are always in the gym working hard, attacking every day, trying to improve each day.
“What I can bring to the Bulls is my tenacity on defense. I really take pride in my defense. I’m going to try to bring that over here and just interact with my new teammates. Get to know a lot of guys, their personalities. Come out here and try to prove every day.”
The man tasked with nurturing the games of Dunn and other young Bulls is third-year coach Fred Hoiberg, who with a laugh pointed out that much of his group now is younger than the Iowa State teams he coached in college.
Hoiberg and the Bulls encountered outside criticism regarding their player development last season, chatter that only gained traction when vice president of basketball operations John Paxson in a season-ending press conference called for Hoiberg to be a better leader. While admitting there were “some frustrations” last season, Hoiberg remains steadfast in his belief that his staff will provide the proper tutelage for the young Bulls — also including Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, Bobby Portis and restricted free-agent-to-be Cris Felicio — whom the team is counting on to improve.
“I’m very confident in our player development department,” Hoiberg said. “You look at last year, there were only five teams that played five players in their first and second year. The other four were Phoenix, Philadelphia, New York and Miami (none of which made the playoffs). We developed our young guys and made the playoffs and that was our goal last year was to develop our younger players and try to get into the postseason, which we did accomplish.
“It’s fresh start. It’s a young group of guys that I know are going to come out here and compete and play hard. I’m excited about that.”
Like Hoiberg, Dunn also views this as a fresh start. He spoke of the importance of earning the trust of his teammates with hard work and referenced his past trials and tribulations, which included he and his brother fending for themselves for a time when Dunn was nine years old and their mother was in and out of jail at times.
“Don’t ever give up,” Dunn said. “Throughout my whole, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my personal life. The reason I got here was because I never gave up. I have a great family who’s here today. I have great friends, and they always push me, no matter what. My personal mentality it to never give up.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.