By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — Bulls point guard Kris Dunn arrived in Chicago last June coming off a disappointing rookie season in Minnesota, one that shook his confidence at times but never his will to improve.
As he settled in to unfamiliar territory with his new team that was in a transition itself with a ground-up rebuild, Dunn focused on his on-court work. He wanted to find the rhythm that eluded him in 2016-’17, when he averaged 3.8 points and shot 37.7 percent.
Now as the Bulls have reached the week-long All-Star break with a 20-37 record, plenty of struggles and flashes of hope for the future, the 23-year-old Dunn is headed to Los Angeles to take part in the Rising Stars Challenge and averaging 13.5 points and 6.3 assists. The experiences of his first seven-plus months in Chicago have also caused Dunn to set his sights on a task that goes beyond basketball.
“It’s time to be a leader,” Dunn said after the Bulls were crushed by the Raptors on Wednesday night. “I think the first half, I kind of stepped back, because we had so many veterans — RoLo (Robin Lopez), Justin (Holiday) and other players to be the leader. I just went out there and was just doing it with action, but now I’m going to start trying to be more of a vocal leader in order to carry on to the second half and let it carry on through the summer and for the next season, we can start to get it clicking.”
Dunn’s proclamation comes with a notable parallel. After the trade of then-leading scorer Nikola Mirotic on Feb. 1, Bulls management publicly stated the final two months of the season would feature younger, unproven players receiving more playing time as the organization evaluates what exactly it has. When that comes to fruition, veteran center Robin Lopez and wing Justin Holiday will likely see their minutes reduced.
While Lopez and Holiday plan to be vocal whether they’re on the court or off, it would only be natural in that situation for Dunn to step forward too. After all, he’s a foundational piece, while Lopez and Holiday don’t project in the team’s long-term plans.
“It’s great,” teammate Zach LaVine said of hearing that Dunn expressed a desire to be more vocal. “He’s the point guard. He’s got to be out there and lead the team. For him to take that responsibility, we all got to be collective leaders on our own. Him being the dude with the ball, we always got to be able to hear his voice too.”
Some in the game subscribe to the theory that a team is best off when its point guard — or perhaps its lead ball handler, depending on the situation — is the go-to leader. The merit of that can be debated. What’s more clear is that Dunn has displayed the disposition and characteristics needed to blossom into a leader in due time.
Dunn has taken accountability since childhood. He overcame a rough upbringing, one that found him at age 9 and his teenage brother on their own for long stretches while their mother served jail time. Upon being traded to the Bulls, Dunn immediately acknowledged his rookie season was subpar. He absorbs coaches’ instructions well, becoming the first point guard to push the pace to coach Fred Hoiberg’s liking. Dunn addressed his early season propensity for committing turnovers head on and, in minor-but-telling scenes, has refused to take issue with controversial officiating calls late in games when questioned about it.
Dunn and his teammates know this will all be a process, one that can only happen naturally and gradually. They also believe they’re on the right path so far.
“For all of us, just getting to know each other still — I’m 13, 14 games in with this team — just getting to know everybody, me, him and Lauri (Markkanen) getting to know each other and just meshing together and being competitive,” LaVine said.
“We put the work in. We don’t take anything for granted. I think for a lot of us, things are on the up and up. We’re going to make that happen. We’re going to turn this thing around.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.