Bulls guard Kris Dunn has to walk it and talk it for his teammates to follow
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Underneath all the talk about the Bulls’ shaky defense, Lauri Markkanen’s elbow injury and Jabari Parker’s integration into the mix, point guard Kris Dunn quietly has been playing to rave reviews from coach Fred Hoiberg.
Dunn has averaged 11 points (on 8-for-13 shooting) in the Bulls’ first two preseason games and, more important, has emerged as the vocal leader Hoiberg has been calling for him to be in practices at the Advocate Center.
Hoiberg challenged Dunn in the offseason to step up his leadership, and he has done so. That will be a major storyline in the second year of the Bulls’ rebuild, especially if Dunn can recapture the hype that surrounded him when the Timberwolves selected him fifth overall in the 2016 NBA Draft.
‘‘Kris has been phenomenal,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘Going back to the weeks he’s spent here over the summer and when we started in September, he’s been very vocal and played with a lot of confidence. That’s where it starts with Kris. I’ve been pleased with how he’s played.
‘‘The big thing we’re talking about is when things are getting tough, as the point guard, pull the group together and rally them. He’ll get better at that. I’m confident. To see the growth in Kris Dunn from where he was a year ago, when we got him [as part of the trade for Jimmy Butler], to where he is now, it’s fun to see the progress he’s made.’’
Especially in Hoiberg’s system.
Every coach has to be synced up to his point guard. After all, that’s the quarterback of the team, the on-the-floor coach. In Hoiberg’s pace-and-space offense, however, the relationship is even closer.
Hoiberg preaches playing with ‘‘thrust,’’ a high-paced, high-velocity push that relies on Dunn keeping his foot on the gas pedal. With that comes being loud with his teammates and making sure they keep up with him.
Dunn admitted he wasn’t comfortable taking such a vocal role early last season, his first with his new organization. That isn’t the case anymore.
‘‘I think you need more than one leader,’’ Dunn said. ‘‘There are all different types of leaders. You have a vocal leader, an action leader, and for this young group you are going to need multiple leaders. You can’t listen to just one guy, and I feel we have a couple of veterans who have been here — RoLo, [Robin Lopez], Justin [Holiday] . . .
‘‘For me, I just take it and soak up what information I can to become a better leader for the group because I am a point guard. But if anyone steps up and wants to be the leader, we all have to be respectful.’’
And Dunn’s importance isn’t limited to the offensive end. On a defensively challenged roster, Dunn also has the added responsibility of being considered the Bulls’ best defender.
That’s why his growth this season is so important: He carries the weight on both sides of the ball, like it or not.
‘‘Everybody wants to be a scorer,’’ Dunn said when asked about the importance of his teammates following his lead on defense. ‘‘It feels good to score the ball. And some people didn’t have to play defense. Some people on their team, all they had to do was score the ball. They had other people to play defense.
‘‘It’s no knock to them. [But] when it comes to the NBA, there’s just some great scorers that we have to lock in as a team defensively. We’ve all got to take pride in our defense.’’