DEERFIELD — Quietly, Mike Dunleavy Jr. has lived up to his billing, and then some.
The veteran sharpshooter, in his first season with the Bulls after agreeing to a two-year deal early in last July’s start of NBA free agency, is averaging 10.6 points, four rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, while shooting 38.3 percent from three-point range and 44.1 percent from the field. In general, that’s what was expected of the 12-year pro, but it’s the manner in which he’s doing it that might be a little surprising.
Dunleavy was pegged by many as an outside-shooting specialist, more Kyle Korver and less Marco Belinelli — though the San Antonio version of Belinelli is playing a lot like the record-setting Korver for the Spurs, leading the league in three-point percentage early in the campaign — and his spot-up marksmanship was viewed as a perfect complement to Derrick Rose’s penetration and drive-and-kick game.
Then, Rose was lost for the season to a knee injury. Jimmy Butler, the team’s starting shooting guard, actually got hurt the game before Rose and missed a month to a right turf-toe injury, forcing Dunleavy into the starting lineup for a bit. All-Star small forward Luol Deng’s left Achilles’ injury has thinned out the squad’s wing corps even further, meaning Dunleavy has had to take on even more of a scoring role, not to mention sometimes being tasked with more formidable defensive assignments than planned.
But the 33-year-old veteran has taken everything in stride, and with his optimistic approach to things, Dunleavy can see the bright side in the Bulls’ adversity-filled season manifesting itself in the team gaining chemistry as of late, particularly on offense, as evidenced by their last two wins.
“I think we’re all being asked to do a little bit more. We’ve got to make that adjustment, but I think lately, the last couple games, we’re starting to get into a rhythm offensively,” Dunleavy explained after Friday’s practice at the Berto Center. “With D.J. (Augustin)’s dishing, he’s really pushing the ball. He likes to penetrate, he can space the floor by shooting it and he finds open guys, and we’re getting Kirk (Hinrich) back, so it’s just one of those things where it’s not what you expected, but we’re adjusting on the fly and we’re finding an identity for ourselves.”
As far as having to make his presence felt in a more versatile way than expected when he was signed, the Duke product actually prides himself on being more than just a shooter.
“Obviously you’ve got to be able to contribute in more than one aspect of the game, and when shots aren’t falling, you look to do other things. Defend, rebound, pass, look to make plays for other people, screen. There’s millions of things you can do to help the team,” he said. “I’ve always kind of been taught that, leaned on that and not really worried about my shooting. My shots, they’re either going to fall or they aren’t. You just keep working on it, but don’t judge performance by your shots.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has been especially pleased with Dunleavy’s professionalism this season.
“I think his experience has served him well. He’s done just about everything in this league and I think he has a great understanding of the league, and he knows injuries are part of it. It’s how quickly you can adapt, so whatever you ask him to do, that’s what he tries to do and I think those guys are invaluable to a team,” the coach said. “He always rebounds, you can count on that and then, people say he doesn’t have great speed. He runs the floor great. He’s always out, I think he got three buckets in transition from just flying up the floor, and those easy baskets for us are huge. I think his team defense is outstanding. He understands what our opponent’s trying to get to. He communicates well, he’s a multiple-effort guy and he just fits in. You can start him, you can bring him off the bench, you can play him at the two, you can play him at the three, you can play him at the four. So, he’s played very well.”