Grading the Jazz: Luka Samanic and Kris Dunn showed some definite upside
They started out the year in the G League, ended up on 10-day deals with the Jazz, and proved they deserve a spot in the NBA
Editor’s note: Third in a series evaluating and grading every player that was on the Jazz’s final 2022-23 roster.
The Utah Jazz experimented a little by the end of the 2022-23 season with the remaining roster spots they had open by trying out guys on 10-day contracts.
When all was said and done, they ended up converting two of those players — Kris Dunn and Luka Samanic — to regular contracts through the end of the season, and both are nonguaranteed deals for next season, which will allow them to compete for a roster spot when training camp begins in September.
Jazz coach Will Hardy has expressed his desire for the Jazz to be a team that doesn’t judge players too early and is willing to give them a second chance. There’s a fine line with a philosophy like that, but in the cases of Dunn and Samanic, it’s easy to understand why it’s a beneficial approach to have.
If you’re the team that is willing to put in the time to polish and support a player, you could end up being the team finding a diamond in the rough.
Kris Dunn — Grade: A
It’s hard to imagine Dunn having had a better outing than he did with the Jazz this season. He came in hungry to prove that he was worthy of an NBA deal and did absolutely everything that was asked of him while exceeding any expectations that might have been held either internally or from those who had seen him play before.
Dunn was nearing the possibility of disappearing into basketball obscurity. After being the No. 5 overall pick in 2016, he was out of the league, playing with the G League’s Capital City Go-Go and just hoping to get another NBA opportunity.
There are two main reasons that Dunn ended up in that position: injuries and reservations about his offensive limitations. Though Dunn has always been considered an elite defender, especially on the ball, he wasn’t a reliable shooter and he wasn’t the kind of creator that an NBA point guard needs to be.
Fast forward to the 2022-23 season — Dunn played 20 games with Capital City before being called up to the Jazz, where he played in 22 games. While 20 games might not seem like a lot, 42 games of combined data is just a hair over half an NBA season, and that’s a pretty substantial sample size.
Dunn shot the lights out last season, and while he was with the Jazz he showed patience and wisdom with the ball in his hands. He displayed improved finishing, highlighted his ball handling skills, showed a willingness to involve the team, and searched for the right action off reads and screens. And did I mention the shooting?
With the Jazz, Dunn finished the year shooting 53.7% overall, 47.2% from 3-point range, and did so while averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 assists and just 1.6 turnovers per game.
He immediately impressed the Jazz coaching staff and front office and had many within the organization wondering how in the world he hadn’t been picked up by another team.
There’s no doubt that Dunn deserves a high grade for the season and I’d be surprised if the Jazz don’t take a flier on him and guarantee his deal for next season to see if his improvement is sustainable.
Luka Samanic — Grade: B
Once there was a player who was drafted in the first round and then fizzled after a few years only to find that his dream of playing in the NBA was on the verge of being taken away. Rather than take offers to play overseas, he decided to play in the G League and hoped that an NBA team would see his hunger, his fire, and his understanding of the things he needed to improve.
Dunn wasn’t the only player who got a second chance with the Jazz. Samanic was on an incredibly similar path before his call-up from the Maine Celtics this season.
Samanic was picked 19th overall in 2019 by the San Antonio Spurs, but they eventually waived him. That leads many people to jump to the conclusion that if Gregg Popovich and the Spurs didn’t think Samanic had what it takes, then he probably isn’t worth the time.
But, I asked Popovich about this and he said that’s a false narrative. He came back with Danny Green as an example, whom the Spurs waived and then signed and then assigned to the G League multiple times. He later won a title with the Spurs and has had a 13-year NBA career.
Pop’s point is that some players don’t figure it out right away and they need to face having it all taken away from them.
It seems that the biggest shift for Samanic has been his maturity. He echoes the sentiment that he didn’t understand the work ethic and the commitment and the sacrifice that was necessary to maintain an NBA career and that him being waived was a blessing in disguise.
On the court, Samanic is an incredibly intriguing prospect, who is still just 23 years old with a ton of upside. Earlier this year Hardy detailed the importance of having a player like Kelly Olynyk, who offers size and a range of skills. Connective tissue, do-it-all, jack-of-all-trades players are necessary for every team and that’s what Samanic’s potential ceiling is.
He showed some athleticism and some impressive passing and rebounding that I don’t think many people expected from him, and he showed that he could be a good backup four with room to grow. Not a bad way to end the season.