Go-Go’s Kris Dunn hoping journey leads back to NBA, the right way

Kris Dunn rebuilding his jumper with Capital City Go-Go originally appeared on NBC SportsWashington

WASHINGTON — There was a time when Kris Dunn says he would use three or four different shooting forms in a single NBA game. Long in search of consistency from three-point range, that struggle unraveled his mechanics. He was lost.

So, he rebuilt his jumper. Dunn entered the NBA in 2016 as the fifth overall draft pick, selected out of Providence by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was the two-time Big East Player of the Year, but as he tells it, he was never taught the mechanical nuances of jump shooting.

Over the last few years, he has been studying that process himself by watching films and by consulting other players. He collected shooting tips from Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Heurter and Trae Young when he was on the Hawks. Dunn also reached out to his college teammates like Ben Bentil, LeDontae Henton and Bryce Cotton. All of them helped with the finer details like footwork and hand placement.

His jump shot is just one element Dunn has focused on in his journey through the G-League, which now has him serving as a key contributor for the Wizards’ affiliate, Capital City Go-Go. Dunn hopes to be back in the NBA and once he gets there, he wants it to go differently than his previous stops which also included three years in Chicago and a cup of coffee in Portland.

“I want to get back to the NBA the correct way,” Dunn told NBC Sports Washington.

Paramount to that goal was getting healthy. Dunn has had an unfortunate run of injuries throughout his career, most notably to his knee and ankle. His bad luck di lui includes an infamous fall in 2018 when his teeth di lui left a mark on the hardwood floor of the United Center.

Dunn played only 18 NBA games across the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, largely because of injuries. This summer, he took an invite to the Wizards’ Summer League camp. A few months later, Dunn said he had opportunities to join other NBA teams in training camp or go overseas for more money, but he and his agent felt the Go-Go were the right place for him at this time.

Dunn wanted to stay close to home and near his son on the East Coast. He also sought somewhere he could get healthy, recalibrate his game and hopefully factor into that team’s needs at the NBA level.

That last part has yet to materialize, but Dunn is on the right trajectory on the court. This season with the Go-Go, he is averaging 14.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.2 steals per game. He is shooting 58.5% from the field and 41.0% from three, the latter an indication his efforts to revamp the jumper are paying off.

Defense, though, remains the biggest selling point in Dunn’s game. That has always been the case, as he was the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year. At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, he has excellent size for a perimeter defender.

This year with the Go-Go, he can already count games of six and seven steals.

“Defensively, he’s got some of the best hands I’ve ever seen,” Go-Go head coach Mike Williams told NBC Sports Washington. “He just anticipates dribbles, he’s counting the guys’ dribbles, he knows when to swipe to get it.”

Against the Greensboro Swarm on Dec. 31, he sealed a victory for the Go-Go by soaring through a passing lane to nab a steal and finishing with a dunk on the fastbreak. It was a game-winning play, as the G-League uses a target score for overtime.

“It was almost like he was a safety in coverage. He was reading it, reading it, reading it. Then, he broke on the ball and the game was over,” Williams said.

Dunn insists he is 100% healthy now after years of dealing with various injuries. Some of the numbers he’s putting up suggest he’s not just saying that, either.

On Dec. 21 against the Santa Cruz Warriors, Dunn had eight rebounds and seven steals. That doesn’t happen unless a guy is moving well.

Dunn also benefits from experience, having seen many different scenarios in the game both on and off the court. Williams says that is part of the value he brings to the Go-Go, as a veteran presence for the younger players to lean on.

Williams marvels at how much NBA experience Dunn can pull from. He was a top draft pick, he’s been traded, injured, played on a 10-day contract, started, been out of a rotation, demoted to the G-League and promoted back to the NBA.

Dunn brings that wisdom to the Go-Go and also what Williams describes as “unbelievable energy every single day.” He is outgoing and positive, and consistently so.

“That’s just me,” Dunn said.

Dunn, though, admits things haven’t always been great for him behind the scenes. That lone season with the Hawks, in 2020-21, was one of his most trying years of his career. He played only four games due to injuries and had to watch as his teammates made it all the way to the conference finals. He considers it a major what if personally, as he could have complemented Young well as a defensive guard.

Injuries took their toll on his body and his mental health. He found solace in his family, his close friends and his religious faith.

“If you bring a good spirit to what you’re doing no matter the hard times, you’re going to find your way out,” he said.

If Dunn’s tenure with the Go-Go goes according to his plans, it will lead to a contract with an NBA team, whether that be in Washington or elsewhere. Longtime NBA veteran Greg Monroe was in his shoes one year ago, paying his dues with the Go-Go. He played his cards right and turned it into a deal with the Timberwolves. Monroe ended up playing for four different teams last season, including the Wizards.

Maybe Dunn will get his chance, too. And when he does, he feels he will be better prepared than he was in the past to make this time truly count.

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