The conventional wisdom heading into the 2016 NBA Draft was that the Timberwolves would select one of the sweet-shooting guards, either Kentucky’s Jamal Murray or Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. In a stunning turn of events, however, Jaylen Brown jumped to the top of the Celtics’ draft board and allowed the Timberwolves to have their shot at Providence’s Kris Dunn, a hyper-quick point guard, and the best defender in the class. He is probably the most NBA-ready athlete, although there are some questions about his shooting. The rumors began circulating immediately about Ricky Rubio’s future in Minnesota. Both Dunn and Rubio were reportedly pieces in trade talks with the Bulls (in which the Wolves would receive Jimmy Butler, but would probably have to give up Wiggins as well), the Celtics (#ValuableAssets), or the 76ers (probably Noel and Covington). Ultimately, none of these deals came to fruition and new Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau seemed content to let Dunn learn under the tutelage of the much maligned Rubio.
The Jim Souhans of the world rejoiced when Dunn fell to the Wolves at #5, while it threw the Rubio apologists of Wolves Twitter into a tailspin, talking themselves out of Thibs before they even knew what would happen. It’s not always the case that the answer is somewhere in the middle, but in this case, it rings true. Ricky has one, very obvious, flaw that draws the ire of casual NBA fans. He’s one of the worst shooters in NBA history, yet he’s so good at other aspects of the game (passing and defense) that everyone’s numbers, especially Zach LaVine’s, were dramatically better when he was in the game. The Wolves’ offensive rating was 8.3 points higher when was on the court, and he was ranked 5th among all point guards in Real Plus Minus. Rubio’s ability to be a good starting point guard in the NBA is not in question, but since the Wolves haven’t made the playoffs in 12 years, it’s unclear if Rubio would get exposed in the playoffs when opposing teams have more time to gameplan against every deficiency.
If Thibs thinks defenses going under every screen against him would ruin the team’s spacing and bog down the offense, then grooming Kris Dunn to take the reigns would be the obvious path. Rubio suffered an elbow injury in the 4th Quarter of the Wolves loss to the Kings, forcing Thibs’ hand earlier than expected. Rubio’s injury history probably played a role in Dunn’s selection, as he’s only played 70+ games twice in his five years in the NBA. The Wolves can’t afford to have such a precipitous drop at the point guard position when Ricky sits. They are 114-164 when he plays (not great), but 28-88 when he sits (much, much worse).
Dunn basically came into the league with the same scouting report as Ricky Rubio, except he’s more athletic. Defense is his calling card and he looks to set up others on offense. Where Rubio has only made marginal gains in his outside shooting ability in his 5 years in the league, Dunn declared his intent to become a shooter on par with Klay Thompson. Given that he was a 35% 3-point shooter at Providence, it’s unlikely he’d be able to make a jump to 41% (Klay Thompson’s career 3FG%) from a deeper 3-point arc. The promising part is that he, along with Zach LaVine especially, seems to be realistic and knows what parts of his game need improvement. LaVine committed to taking better shots and improving his defense and so far this season (super small sample size), his shooting percentages is 54/50/92, up from 48/39/79. He’s been making rotations on defense that would’ve resulted in wide open dunks last year.
Kris Dunn is probably going to give up a lot of turnovers this year; that’s what rookie point guards do. It was his biggest weakness at Providence, and something he will need to get better with, but the Wolves will take the good with the bad because Dunn is going to force the other teams to turn the ball over a ton as well. In his first NBA start, against an undermanned Grizzlies squad, he had five steals and only three turnovers, along with two made 3’s. Dunn is actually the second-oldest player in this version of the starting lineup. Gorgui Dieng, who just signed a 4-year $64 million extension, is the old man at 27. The timelines for the young Wolves are lined up nicely, and if they continue to progress as they have already, they’re setting themselves up to be a real force in the Western Conference. For now, though, it’s time to enjoy the (Kris Dunn) show.