Kris Dunn is hoping his ‘beautiful, ugly’ NBA journey leads to long-term deal with Jazz
The former top-five NBA draft pick has bounced around the league since 2016, but he’s looking for something more permanent. Will it be in Utah?
For Kris Dunn, the most important day of 2023 could be March 14.
That’s the day Dunn’s second and final 10-day contract with the Utah Jazz will expire and the Jazz will have to make a decision — move forward with Dunn, or let him walk.
“No matter what happens I’m very appreciative of the Jazz organization for giving me this opportunity to showcase my game,” Dunn said. “I feel like I’ve been doing a good job.”
“I’ve learned a lot through my experience and that’s the beautiful thing. … And then there’s the ugly parts. I’ve been through the G League, I’ve been waived, I’ve been traded, I’ve had injuries. ... I’ve come to understand that it is a business and how to be a pro, on and off the court.” — Kris Dunn
“A good job” might be understating things a bit. Dunn has showcased all of the strengths that got him to the NBA as well as the skills he’s refined in recent years and it’s that foundation and growth that is going to make the Jazz’s decision interesting.
A beautiful, ugly journey
Dunn has not had an easy road in the NBA. The one word that comes to mind to describe any aspect of his professional career is “inconsistent.”
He was the fifth overall pick out of Providence in 2016 and spent a single season in Minnesota before being traded to Chicago. He spent three seasons with the Bulls but dealt with numerous injuries — from foot, knee, back and ankle injuries to a concussion after falling face first into the court after a dunk and cracking his front teeth.
Ultimately the Bulls decided not to extend Dunn’s contract and he signed with the Atlanta Hawks, but again, injuries prevented him from finding his footing. So, he was traded, then traded again and eventually ended up with the Memphis Grizzlies, who waived Dunn before the start of the 2021-22 season. A year ago Dunn signed multiple 10-day contracts with the Portland Trail Blazers before they inked him for the remainder of the season, but his tenure in Portland ended there.
Now, after spending the majority of the 2022-23 season in the G League, Dunn is hoping that the work he’s put in will lead to a legitimate shot with the Jazz.
“It’s been a beautiful, ugly journey,” Dunn said. “I’ve learned a lot through my experience and that’s the beautiful thing. … And then there’s the ugly parts. I’ve been through the G League, I’ve been waived, I’ve been traded, I’ve had injuries, so I’ve seen what the league as a business is about and throughout it I’ve come to understand that it is a business and how to be a pro, on and off the court.”
The thing is, Dunn is no stranger to fighting through adversity and proving to be resilient despite less than favorable circumstances. And if his past is any indication of how things will pan out, Dunn is poised for another comeback.
A tough childhood didn’t stop Dunn from excelling and getting a chance to play college ball, and back-to-back shoulder surgeries that upended his first two seasons at Providence had many believing that he was going to just fizzle out. Well, cut to Dunn being named Big East Player of the Year and Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and then again in 2016 before being drafted into the NBA with the fifth overall pick.
“I’m a dog, I’m resilient,” he said. “No matter what’s thrown at me, I got the right people around me. I gotta give a lot of credit to my family and my close friends.”
But, Dunn deserves a lot of credit, too.
A new approach
In addition to the injuries and the multiple stops across the NBA that has made finding consistency in opportunity, Dunn’s NBA career has been clouded by a reputation as a defensive phenom who is inconsistent on the offensive end.
There’s absolutely no denying Dunn’s defensive abilities. He’s an incredible on-ball defender and at 6-foot-4 with a 6-10 wingspan, he uses every inch of his body to play passing lanes and deny any opponent he’s guarding.
On offense, Dunn has struggled at times. Prior to this season, Dunn’s 3-point shooting efficiency in the NBA has fluctuated between 25% to 35% and at times he’s seemed too sped up to be a primary ballhandler. He knows that he’s struggled in those areas and he’s been intentional in trying to revamp his game.
During the last couple of years, and especially over this last summer, Dunn worked on making his shooting form more fluid and more consistent, and he’s done so by asking some of the natural scorers he’s been around.
During his season in Atlanta, despite being sidelined for the majority of the year, Dunn worked with teammates Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari and asked them questions about mechanics, timing, hand placement, footwork and form. He also reached out to former Providence teammates LaDontae Henton, Ben Bentil and Bryce Cotton for pointers and advice.
“I would ask them, ‘What are some of the things that make you a good shooter?’” Dunn said. “They’d give me their tips and I tried to take pieces of it and try to build a masterpiece out of it.”
It seems as if that work has paid off. This season with the Capital City Go-Go of the G League, Dunn shot 41% from 3-point range and since joining the Jazz on March 4 he’s shot 43.8% from deep.
A chance with the Jazz
Through all of the ups and downs of his career and despite all of the questions about his overall game, Dunn has maintained a belief that he belongs in the NBA and that his chance will come so long as he continues to put in the work.
“He came in with a tremendous competitive fire,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “You see that on the defensive end of the floor. He really is engaged on that end. That part, he came in with. He’s getting more and more comfortable on the offensive end, understanding our system, where his opportunities to score are, what the reads are that he has to make as a primary ballhandler to get his teammates involved, and I think he’s done a better job every game.”
Dunn has tried his best to maximize his time with the Jazz by taking advantage of the fact that he has a preexisting relationship with Lauri Markkanen, who he was teammates with in Chicago. He picks Markkanen’s brain and talks with him every day, doing as much as he can to get up to speed on the Jazz’s schemes and sets — another effort that has paid off.
So where does all of this leave Dunn with the Jazz and the decision they have to make?
While the team isn’t worried about what happens as far as wins and losses are concerned this season, it is trying to identify building blocks for the future.
Dunn has shown flashes of offensive consistency from a shooting standpoint, but also as a playmaker and facilitator. And of course, there’s the defense, where Dunn hangs his hat.
The Jazz could sign Dunn for the rest of the season and also add in a team option for next season or sign him to a multiyear deal, and considering his injury history and his lack of an NBA home, they would probably be able to do so for a relatively low price.
If they don’t sign Dunn for the rest of the season, Dunn could once again be back to trying to fight his way into the NBA. If the Jazz do sign Dunn, but don’t add in an option or additional years in order to leave their options open and maintain ultimate roster flexibility, the Jazz could potentially miss out on a good thing.
The Jazz are going to be looking for a starting point guard this offseason, whether that’s through the draft or in free agency and on the trade market. What the Jazz have to decide is who and how they are going to be moving forward. Once they add that starting point guard, are they are going to be keeping Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Ochai Agbaji, Talen Horton-Tucker and Juan Toscano-Anderson long term? And if so, is there room in that equation for Dunn?
Very soon, we’ll know the answer as far as Dunn is concerned. Until then, at least we know what Dunn is and what he wants to be.
“I’m a hooper,” he said. “I guard my (butt) off. I hang my hat on that. … I feel like I can help run a team — scoring the ball, getting to the rim, passing, a little bit of everything. That’s what I’ve tried to show in my game. I can do a little bit of everything. But the main thing is that on and off the court I know how to be a professional.”