Kris Dunn on the shelf hurts, but Zach LaVine needs to be better for the Bulls

SHARE Kris Dunn on the shelf hurts, but Zach LaVine needs to be better for the Bulls
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The Bulls are 3-7 without point guard Kris Dunn.

So the built-in excuse for their four-game skid is obvious: Dunn is the pace in coach Fred Hoiberg’s space-and-pace offense.

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Look at the previous seven games before Dunn smashed his face on the United Center floor and went into the concussion protocol. He had at least eight assists in every game during that span and averaged 13.4 points. The Bulls’ record was only 4-3, but that was a nasty part of the schedule in which they faced six teams with playoff potential.

Without Dunn, the ballhandling has been a problem late in games when opposing teams apply pressure and the offense has bogged down. Dunn’s 2.1 steals per game also have been missed on the defensive end.

From a value standpoint, Dunn is winning even when his team isn’t.

Hoiberg said Monday that Dunn is improving and will make the upcoming three-city road trip even though there’s no timetable for a return.

But there’s more behind the team’s rut than simply Dunn’s absence.

Hoiberg can have all the boot-camp-style practices he wants, but until guard Zach LaVine finds a consistent rhythm, as well as better shot selection, the offensive struggles won’t go away.

“We gotta get better shots,’’ Hoiberg said about LaVine’s recent play.

LaVine’s 5-for-28 shooting in the last two games stands out, but his dry spell goes back even further. In his last five games, he’s 22-for-67 (33 percent) from the field, including 7-for-25 (28 percent) from three-point range.

The last time LaVine was this bad over a five-game span was in his second year, when he went 14-for-47 (30 percent) from the field from March 26 through April 3 in 2016 with the Timberwolves.

“I just have to get more into the game from the jump,’’ LaVine said. “I feel like it’s a work in progress with me trying to get that rhythm back. I just have to be better. I’ve been two games good, two games bad, three games good, two games bad. I just have to work my way through that.’’

Obviously, missing 11 months after having surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee is a big factor in LaVine’s struggles, and that’s why Hoiberg has simplified things by taking the backup-point-guard duties away from LaVine and letting Denzel Valentine handle them.

“Denzel is a guy that you can put the ball in his hands, and he’s going to make plays,’’ Hoiberg said. “He did it in college, and it’s something that we’ve done quite a bit this year.’’

Almost lost in the four-game losing streak is the effect Dunn’s absence and LaVine’s struggles have had on rookie Lauri Markkanen.

Before Dunn went down, he and Markkanen had a nice two-man pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game going, and it was supposed to get even more lethal with LaVine on the floor because of LaVine’s ability to create his own shot and shoot from outside.

Instead, the domino effect has Markkanen shooting 6-for-23 (26 percent) from three-point range and getting fewer attempts from outside — from 6.3 attempts per game to 4.6 in the last five games.

“We’ve got to have that confidence back,’’ Hoiberg said. “You have to have that in this league if you want any chance of winning.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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