Pecking Order: What should the Bulls do with Kris Dunn?

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No matter how rocky things get, we can always count on the Atlanta Hawks to make us look good. On the second night of their back-to-back following a crushing overtime loss to Miami, the lifeless Hawks arrived in Chicago, then promptly rolled over and died. That was nice of them!

It gave the Bulls a much-needed blowout victory at home on Wednesday night, 136-102.

Zach LaVine's extremely efficient output of 35 points on 12-for-16 shooting, including hitting all seven of his 3-point attempts, was the biggest headline. 

Lauri Markkanen added to his recent stretch of 20-point performances and Denzel Valentine continued to earn his minutes with another solid night off the bench. (Give up, NBA defenders! That Valentine floater is unguardable!)

But the other big takeaway from Wednesday night's victory was the defensive dominance of forgotten (and now remembered) man Kris Dunn. In a season with confusing plot lines everywhere, perhaps no character is more perplexing than Dunn.

It's the Kris Dunn Conundrum. It's the Pecking Order.

1) Don't knock Dunn's defense

For a former fifth overall pick who was once touted as a rebuilding team's point guard of the future – not to mention the trade rumors last offseason – Dunn deserves credit for blocking out the noise and embracing his role as a defense-first backup this season. That is, of course, until multiple injuries flung him into Jim Boylen's starting lineup. 

Whether starting or supporting, Dunn is bringing the defense.

His 102 defensive rating leads the Bulls and would be a career-best mark for Dunn. Only Ben Simmons (2.2) and Jimmy Butler (2.1) are averaging more steals, and Dunn (2.0) is producing his in nearly 15 fewer minutes per game. Look no further than Wednesday's victory for the latest example of Dunn's elite defense. Trae Young, currently the NBA's fifth leading scorer, finished with just 15 points on 4-for-14 shooting and turned the ball over seven times.

Kris clearly takes pride in his defense and welcomes the challenge of slowing down the best guards in the league. In these NBA days of teams scoring at will, it's nice to see somebody still give a damn about defense. 

Call me old fashioned, call me a meathead Chicago fan. I like defense.

2) There's such a thing as being TOO aggressive

While Dunn's stealing ability is elite, so is his propensity for unnecessary fouls. He's committing a whopping 5.8 fouls per 36 minutes. That's the fourth highest mark among NBA players with 400+ minutes this season and eighth highest among ALL players. Yikes.

Kris has fouled out of four games already and had five fouls in three more. You can't be an elite defensive asset for your team if foul trouble keeps you off the floor. Kris can fix this problem by eliminating unnecessary fouls when he's guarding between half-court and the three-point line.

But that aggressive style leads to all the steals. It's a fine line.

3) For the love of god, red light!

Boylen gave Dunn the green light on shooting open 3-pointers this season. While Dunn has always been a reliable midrange shooter, that part of the court is essentially off limits in this offensive system. That doesn't mean Dunn should chuck 3-pointers if he can't find that range, though.

There's a reason Dunn finds himself wide open behind the arc. 

Defenses are daring him to shoot. It hurts the spacing for the rest of the Bulls offense as opponents can ignore Dunn's weak side of the court, sagging into help coverage to contain Zach, Lauri and others.

Here's a fun stat for you, courtesy of 670 The Score's Jeff Mangurten: Kris is down to 18.3% on 3-pointers this season on 60 attempts. No player has attempted more than 105 threes and shot under 20% in a full season in NBA history. 

I think it's time for the red light, Jim.

4) Back to the bench?

Denzel Valentine is proving he deserves minutes and he brings more than accuracy from downtown. He has a crafty midrange floater and provides some high caliber passing the Bulls are sorely lacking. These are the reasons Bulls fans are calling for Denzel to replace Dunn in the starting lineup.

It's a fair question. Starting Denzel would help the spacing issues in place of the brick-chucking Dunn. However, we all know Denzel's defensive limitations. With Zach and Lauri's defensive issues, that starting unit is already at a disadvantage. 

Replacing Dunn with Denzel could really sink that unit defensively. 

It's also worth noting that of the six different five-man lineups with at least 50 minutes this season, the current starting lineup of Satoranský, LaVine, Lauri, Wendell Carter Jr. and Dunn has the highest net rating of +9.3. 

Maybe the idea of starting Denzel over Dunn isn't such a no-brainer after all.

5) Still trade bait?

It was widely reported the Bulls shopped Kris last summer but found no takers. With the additions of Sato and Coby White, and Dunn's apparent lack of chemistry with LaVine, the writing was on the wall.

Now that Dunn is playing well – 18.3% from beyond the arc aside – his trade value has risen from below the basement to a non-zero quantity. 

Will Bulls management look to trade him as we approach the February deadline? 

Some of that likely depends on whether the Bulls can get back into the playoff hunt between now and then, and how important they view Dunn to be reaching that goal.

But if we remain on this current trajectory, they might decide it's in their best interest to gauge the Dunn market again. I suppose it's possible they've reconsidered the idea of signing him to a modest extension, but all subtext points to the Bulls and Dunn parting ways during or after this season.

Hopefully Kris continues to show his value on the defensive end while the Bulls brain trust ponders that decision. Getting that three ball above 20%? That might be asking too much.

Thanks for reading. See red, be good.

Pecking Order: What should the Bulls do with Kris Dunn? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago