It’s hard to win games in modern basketball without 48 minutes of quality point guard play. It should be obvious, especially for a team like the Chicago Bulls, whose best days this century were only possible because of a superstar at that position.
Somehow, such a thought has seemingly become obscure. After losing the real Derrick Rose forever in 2012, a revolving door at point guard has followed. Kirk Hinrich was meant to be a temporary stand-in, the Thibs-dust sprinkling on D.J. Augustin and Aaron Brooks were short-term fixtures as well. Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jerian Grant, and a cast of others have come and gone.
So dire has the situation been at point guard over the last five seasons, that only Nate Robinson - a scrapheap-signing on a veteran’s minimum deal - owns the sole season with a player efficiency rating above 17.
It appears that deficiency will still be the case heading into this season, definitely in terms of depth. And this is why the starter, Kris Dunn, is the most important Chicago Bull heading into the season.
Cameron Payne, now firmly entrenched as the team’s backup point guard, showed signs of improvement last season (in the tank-time), but is hardly ready to be called upon for 20 or more minutes against starting-level competition and likely will have the looming specter of foot injuries throughout his career. The upcoming training camp competition between Ryan Arcidiacono and Derrick Walton Jr. is more to setting a level of them being NBA players, let alone reliable third-string PG options.
So while Lauri Markkanen may be the surest chance at a centerpiece on a young and unproven roster, don’t confuse importance simply as best. As the Bulls tend to do, the roster has been constructed with four or more big men worthy of significant minutes. In a scenario without Markkanen, though clearly weakened, the Bulls can make it work. Bobby Portis is a ready-made replacement and even on some teams would be a capable starting option. More minutes could also be poured into rookie Wendell Carter Jr., plus Jabari Parker is a more naturalized four than small forward.
The same can’t be said at point guard, and that’s what makes Dunn such an invaluable cog to this squad. Losing Dunn for an extended period time is problematic, and something the Bulls haven’t prepared for. This, after Dunn only played in 62% of the team’s games last season due to various injuries.
Perceived-depth alone isn’t the sole reason for Dunn’s enhanced worth. Should he remain injury-free, the skillset of the rest of the roster has also heightened Dunn’s importance to the team.
There’s clear potential in building a an offense through Markkanen. Flanking him on the wings are Parker and Zach LaVine, two players who have shown – prior to significant knee injuries – they can be efficient scorers. In theory, building a dynamic, up-tempo offense that features all three is possible. Though it’s hard to deny their individual potential, it’s also hard to ignore the possible flaw in funneling your offense through players who innately like to finish possessions for themselves rather than starting them for others. LaVine and Parker have never been instinctual playmakers, and Markkanen, though a willing passer, is a big man at risk of being lost in the shuffle should the ball stick on the perimeter.
To ensure that doesn’t happen, someone above all three will need to dictate the offense and shot distribution. As the team’s point guard and lone natural playmaker, Dunn should control the ball, and it’s on him to make ensure everyone eats, most notably in pick-and-roll with Markkanen.
This reality, by design or chance, has increased the relative importance placed upon Dunn, arguably to a level greater than any other Bulls point guard has had to own since Rose. Certainly with higher expectations than the rotation of replacements since.
For this rebuild to work, with the cohesion of LaVine, Parker, and Markkanen, much of it hinges on the progression of Dunn. As he goes, so do the Bulls. If he can continue to add and improve on his much-better sophomore season, all while orchestrating the offense and being a force defensively, the Bulls will surprise teams. Conversely, should injury strike, or his play stagnate from levels witnessed last season, the Bulls will be losing a lot.
In this way, the range of possible outcomes surrounding the Bulls can be directly attributed to Dunn and his continued emergence. That makes him this team’s most important player next season. Here’s to hoping he can figure it out, and the point guard carousel finally ends with him.