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In Praise of Mike Dunleavy, Jr.

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The small forward does seemingly everything right on the court. He keeps the ball moving, hits open shots, and, yes, plays great defense.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Let me get this out of the way at the start: I love Mike Dunleavy Jr. He's really, really good. You should love Mike Dunleavy Jr., too. Here's why:

1. He's a dead-eye shooter from deep.

Dunleavy is shooting 40.4% from three on the season so far on 5.2 attempts a game. For his career, he's a 37.3% from behind the arc, but since the 2010-11 season his percentages from distance are 40.2, 39.9, 42.8, and 38% last season. Teams must respect Dunleavy's three point shooting, which gives the Bulls guards more driving lanes, their big men (Pau and Taj especially) more room to operate in the post, and generally makes the offense hum better because the defense has nothing but bad choices to make. This is a positive article so I don't mean to take shots at the departed, and awesome in his own way, Luol Deng, but having a wing at the 3 spot who can consistently hit the three point shot just makes everything so much easier for the Bulls offensively.

2. He's a willing passer and good decision-maker.

Dunleavy's assist percentage (11.3% this season, 13.5% for his career) might not seem like a good indicator that he's a good passer, but my man moves the ball about as well as anybody. Dunleavy rarely hesitates with the ball in his hands. When he gets the ball, a shot is going up, he's putting it on the deck against a close out, or he's swinging it to the next open guy on the floor. Those quick decisions don't always result in assists, either because the ball keeps swinging and someone else racks up the assist or because the shot doesn't go down, but keeping the ball moving side to side and moving the defense is one thing that you see a lot more from watching than from reading a stat sheet. One way to tease out Dunleavy's quick decision-making is that in his 31 minutes per game so far this season, he's averaging 39.8 touches per game, but those touches only sum up to 1.1 minute of actual time with the ball in his hands, per the SportVU tracking data. Basically when Dunleavy gets the ball he does something that takes it out of his hands in under 1.7 seconds, whether that's to shoot or pass. Given that Dunleavy only averages 8.4 shots attempted and a couple of free throws a game, most of the time that quick decision is for him to swing the ball to the next open guy on the floor.

The above play is a great example of Dunleavy's combination of shooting threat and quick decision-making being death for an opposing defense. On the play, Dun uses a double screen by Taj and Joakim to pop free of Jamal Crawford momentarily, but Blake Griffin recognizes that he needs to close out on him. This, of course, leaves Taj Gibson open in one of his favorite spots along the baseline. DeAndre Jordan cuts off Taj's path to the basket, but Taj and Dunleavy are able to execute a quick handoff and screen to get Dunleavy a clean look. Credit should go to Taj for recognizing that all that stood between Mike and an open shot was his screen of Griffin, but you can also see Dunleavy put his hands up and call for the ball and start to come toward Taj for the pick. I should also credit Noah for his dive to the basket which pulled Jamal Crawford away from the action. Joakim noticed that with Jordan rotating to cover Taj's drive, he should have an open path to the basket. This is all beautiful, simple offense and really I can't remember the last time I could say that about the Bulls. But a lot of this starts with Dunleavy using screens and making smart decisions off of them, which leads me to my next point.

3. He moves really well off-the-ball.

One of the more under-talked about aspects of a good floor spacer is that they must typically be in motion to maximize their effectiveness. It's the reason Kyle Korver never stops moving on the floor. Dunleavy isn't quite on Korver's level when it comes to never-ending movement on the offensive end, but he does keep the defense chasing him. He also uses screens really, really smartly to free himself up to rain threes down on the defense.

Here, Noah sets a simple down screen on Jamal Crawford for Dunleavy and Mike is able to use a quick head fake and then explodes around the screen to get a wide open look for three. The Bulls have arguably the best screening big men in the league and Dunleavy makes great use of them. Sometimes basketball is a really simple game and the play above is a great example. But you've got to have players that can take advantage of their opportunities and Dunleavy does that as well as anyone.

4. He's a really good defender.

Dunleavy, like most white spot-up shooters, often gets a reputation as a bad defender. It's stupid and wrong and based on what amounts to some pretty racist stuff, but it still happens. For instance, a lot of people still think Kyle Korver isn't a good defender because these stereotypes exist, despite Kyle Korver being a quite good defender going all the way back to his time with the Bulls. Dunleavy is good in different ways than Korver, but he is just as effective. So far this season, on shots in which Dunleavy is within 3 feet of the shooter, guys are shooting just 34.48%. That ranks him 12th in the league amongst the 181 players with 25 or more shots they've defended that closely so far this season. Lest you think that's just small sample size noise, last season, amongst players with at least 100 shots where they were defending within 3 feet, Dunleavy was 28th out of 299 such players, forcing opponents to shoot just 40.85% when he was in the area.

There are a couple of reasons for Dunleavy's strong shot defense. First, he's very smart about positioning his body and taking proper angles. Second, dude is big. MDJ has incredibly long arms and at 6'9" he's tall for a wing. Just getting a shot over him is more difficult task than it is against other wings. His wingspan also helps him in slowing dribble penetration, which he needs as his lateral quickness isn't elite. It's not bad, either, but his length helps make things easier for him.

There are other things Dunleavy does really well. When he's the last man back in transition, he seems to have an innate skill for playing the drive and stripping the ball handler with this cool swipe-down move he does. I couldn't find a video of it, but he's done it several times already this season, so keep an eye out for it. He is also very good at taking charges. Last season, Dunleavy was 4th in the league in charges drawn at 20. Dunleavy's charge drawing ability speaks to his understanding of angles and positioning on defense. It is also a testament to his defensive fundamentals. Combining fundamentals, smarts, and great length for his position adds up to a very solid defensive player to go with an efficient offensive role player. It shouldn't be surprising then that...

5. The Bulls are a LOT better with him on the floor than when he's off.

According to basketball-reference, 11 games into the season, the difference between the Bulls plus-minus per 100 possessions when Dunleavy is on the court versus when he sits is a whopping +31.5. Now, some of that is because Doug McDermott has been kind of a trainwreck whenever he's seen the floor and Doug is Dunleavy's primary backup. Still, some of this is good stuff that Dunleavy is doing. He's sporting a 60.9% True Shooting percentage on his 11.5 points per game. He's defending really well, as I mentioned, and he just seems to make the right decision pretty much always on either end. Seriously, it's hard to find plays where Dunleavy makes an obvious mistake.

Oh, also...

6. He can throw sick lob passes across the whole court.

So here's to Mike Dunleavy and his awesome, awesome start to the season. Keep it up!