The NBA trade deadline is fast approaching, one month from today on February 8th. Between now and then, we’ll be bringing you several features about potential Milwaukee Bucks trade targets. Today we begin with Kris Dunn, currently on the Utah Jazz (who happen also to be tonight’s opponent).
It has been no secret that the Bucks’ perimeter defense has been sorely lacking this season. They have lost three of their last four and gave up a season-high 142 points to the Pacers on January 3. From these last four games, they carry a defensive rating of 119.8 (23rd), As has been said hundreds of times by me (and a whole host of others), the loss of Jrue Holiday and Milwaukee’s point-of-attack defense has made life easier for opposing guards to penetrate the paint. It has made life harder for Giannis Antetokoumpo and 35-year-old Brook Lopez when ball handlers blow by Damian Lillard, Malik Beasley, or anyone else on the perimeter. It also doesn’t help when head coach Adrian Griffin decides to run Cam Payne and Beasley together (editor’s note: and Dame too). Of the 60 two-man lineups that have played over 100 minutes together this season, that pair has the fifteenth-worst defensive rating at 112.1.
Here’s a potential deal that the Bucks could make with the Utah Jazz to try and fix that problem.
Kris Dunn, 6’3” 205 lb, guard
Season averages: 4.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .437/.341/.688
A former top-five pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dunn has bounced around the league, playing for three teams in four seasons, the last two years with the Jazz. Despite being 29 years old, Dunn hasn’t seen the same mileage as some of his peers, playing in just 69 games in the last four seasons. He’s already played 29 this year for Utah, which would be his highest total since his final season in Chicago when he played 51 games for the Bulls. In that same season, Dunn was nearly named to the All-Defenisve Second Team, finishing 29 points behind then-Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (31 to 60). Though the days of Dunn reaching those heights might be gone, Dunn is still a contributor on the defensive end, averaging just shy of one steal per game.
The Cam Payne experiment comes to an end in this trade. Payne seems to be beyond his near-Sixth Man of the Year caliber play when he was with the Phoenix Suns. His minutes and scoring are down from last season, going 20.2 MPG to 15.5 and from scoring 10.3 PPG to 6.1. His efficiency is up this year, but that comes with his volume of attempts being cut in half. His net rating is also the worst on the team from anyone playing more than 10+ minutes per game at 0.5. While Fanspo doesn’t have this capability, I would place a top-45 protection on the second-round pick. The main reason the Jazz do this deal is to acquire a young player in Livingston, despite his limited upside, and to get more draft capital for a player on an expiring contract. The Jazz would also cut Luka Samanic to make room for their roster, as the addition of Payne and Livingston would put Utah at sixteen players. The former Spurs first-round pick has only played six minutes per game in his sixteen games with the Jazz.
While Milwaukee’s bench scoring will drop a bit without Payne, the defensive improvement from Dunn should make up for that. Outside of taking Payne’s spot as the backup point guard, he adds a veteran defensive presence that has been missing this season. Going into the season, the hope was that Crowder would bring the edge and energy off the bench, but with him still recovering from left adductor surgery, the Bucks need someone who can attack perimeter players and set the tone off the bench.
While not as fiery and loud as Crowder is, Dunn’s play on the court can still bring an edge alongside the young guys in MarJon Beauchamp and Andre Jackson Jr. Once Crowder returns (which could come as soon as this week), the combination of those three off of the bench would help boost a bench unit that currently sits at seventeenth in the league in defensive rating at 56.6 (for reference, their net rating is tenth at 1.1; the Wizards’ reserves are last in DRtg at 67.4, and the Bulls’ are first at 50.3). The Jazz have been better since placing Dunn into the starting lineup, posting a record of 7-2, while Dunn has been averaging 5.0 points, 6.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
It feels like Kris Dunn will be an unsung hero in most games he plays— Jazz Lead (@JazzLead) January 8, 2024
He doesn't jump out on the box score, but his defense on Maxey was very good last night
He also makes good decisions over and over again on the offensive side pic.twitter.com/VuvACiTcuq
Dunn will be a sizeable downgrade from the style of offense Cam Payne provides with his three-point shooting. However, he is serviceable in distributing the ball, averaging 3.8 APG, and with the shooters on the Bucks roster, you need someone like Dunn who can run the offense. The concern with Dunn will always be health, and he won’t single-handedly solve all the Bucks’ issues on defense, as Giannis rightly pointed out after the game against the Rockets. However, Dunn will provide a steady defensive presence off the pine, plus some ability to keep the offense stable with the ball in his hands. With where the Bucks sit at 20th in defensive rating, they need all the help they can get on that end.
Check back later in the week and next for more Bucks trade candidates, but until then, let us know what you think of this trade. Is it too much/not enough to give up? Does Dunn not interest you at all? If so, who does? We likely have a piece on them in the works too.