Partly due to the early season injuries to Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, as well as the mid-season trade involving Luol Deng, Mike Dunleavy Jr. ended up starting 61 games for the Chicago Bulls this season, the most starts for Dunleavy since his first full year with the Indiana Pacers during the 2007-08 season.
Although Dunleavy was brought in with the intention to provide outside scoring with the second unit, the before mentioned circumstances forced the 11-year veteran to step into the starting rotation, accruing 31.5 minutes per game this season for the Bulls.
At 31 years of age, the former Duke Blue Devil, not known for his defensive skills, was tasked with defending some of the league’s best wing players. Although he is certainly no Deng or Butler on that end of the court, the veteran performed admirably on the defensive end, recording his highest Defensive Win Share (DWS) total of his career (4.1).
But the more telling stat line for Dunleavy and the Bulls was how important his ability to score was to the team this season. When Dunleavy scored 10 or more points, the Bulls earned a record of 32-18 (.640) while only earning a record of 16-16 (.500) when he failed to break double digits.
Even more relevant was the team’s performance in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The Bulls lost in the first round to the Washington Wizards in five games, with the only victory coming due to a 35-point performance from Dunleavy. In the other four losses, Dunleavy averaged 7.75 points per game.
Although most aren’t expecting that Dunleavy will have to carry anywhere near the scoring load he did last season, we have to remember that he was brought in to be a second unit player, but was forced into a starting role last season due to injuries and a front office decision. The Bulls got a lot of production out of Dunleavy, but to expect that level of performance from him again at age 32 in his 12th season in the NBA is unfair.
Dunleavy is the ultimate role player and locker room leader. He is a great fit for this team when the roster is fully healthy. But he can’t serve as the only scoring option from the wing for the Bulls. That’s not his role.
I fully expect Dunleavy to be a key factor for the Bulls next season, but only with him coming off the bench with the second unit like he was brought in to do. It’s better for both Dunleavy and the Bulls when he is performing and producing in that role. Unfortunately, if the Bulls don’t address their roster issues this summer adequately, Dunleavy may be forced again into a starting role in which expectations may be too high for the veteran.
Dunleavy overachieved for the Bulls last season and helped the team secure a playoff birth when many thought the team would tank after Rose’s injury. But expecting him to overachieve for a second straight season in a role that isn’t in the best interest for either party is a bit ludicrous.