Kris Dunn

Not long ago, Kris Dunn was an afterthought. Now he’s playing like the point guard everyone expected to arrive in the NBA after he tore up defenses at Providence and went fifth overall in the 2016 draft.

The Bulls’ seven-game winning streak ended with Thursday’s loss 115-112 loss to the Cavs, but the franchise possesses a renewed optimism, largely because of Dunn’s recent performances. After a double-double against Cleveland,¬†Dunn is averaging 13.2 points and 5.6 assists, and 15 points and 7.2 assists since Thanksgiving.

Defensively, he’s averaging 2.1 assists during that stretch. In the last 12 games, he’s posted a 107 offensive rating and assisted on 37 percent of the Bulls’ buckets while he was on the floor, according to Basketball Reference.

As ESPN’s Zach Lowe noted, the way Dunn has changed how he attacks pick-and-rolls has made him an exponentially more dangerous player:

Dunn is launching with confidence when defenders give him the Rondo treatment. He’s getting better at leading his defenders into picks — a must-have bit of craft. He fakes away from screens with a cruel shoulder shimmy, gets his defender leaning that way, and then zooms back toward the pick — with his defender trailing, flat-footed, about to get slammed.

Once he’s established the threat of that crisscross, Dunn hits opponents with the opposite counter — feint toward screens, and then jet away from them.

He’s threading nifty pocket passes, and reading defenses with a new sophistication.

Dunn’s success is giving him a new level of confidence. Check out this clutch stepback jumper in the final minute of last week’s game against the Jazz, and the choice words Dunn had afterward, presumably directed at his defender Alec Burks.

And this nasty, buttery pass from Wednesday’s win over Orlando.

While this has been a small sample in the grand scheme of things, it’s a huge turning point for Dunn and the Bulls nonetheless. Even though Dunn was “old” for a lottery pick after spending four years in college, he’s still only 23 years of age. He’s looked like a legitimate point-guard-of-the-future for Chicago, carving up defenses while staying tenacious on the defensive end himself.

You can’t blame the Timberwolves for dealing Dunn away. The Wolves want to contend for a title, and acquiring a top-20 player like Jimmy Butler gives them as good of a chance as anyone else to meet the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

In a larger context, Dunn is yet another example of why NBA fans shouldn’t judge a player’s career based on his rookie season. Or even his second or third season. Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who’s enjoying a breakout year and is still only 22 years old, is more recent proof of this.

Sure, when the Timberwolves spent a high lottery pick on Dunn, they expected to draft a player who could contribute immediately and eventually become the starting point guard on a playoff team. Dunn was pretty much useless. But he was also a 22-year-old playing in the NBA for the first time.

That didn’t stop fans from talking crap about him nor Deadspin from putting him on their list of the NBA’s young players who suck. (Along with some other very respectable talents such as Bobby Portis, Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle.)

Dunn is proving that, in the era of one-and-dones and historic rookie seasons, patience — if that’s even the right word for only year of waiting — can still pay off. And maybe, by blowing everything up at the time they did, the Bulls struck gold.

About Jesse Kramer

Jesse is a writer and editor for The Comeback. He has also worked for and runs The Catch and Shoot, a college basketball website based in Chicago. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Follow Jesse on Twitter @Jesse_Kramer.