MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves are not big into hazing their rookies. If they were, it would be a little awkward for some of the team’s “veterans” to give Kris Dunn a hard time.
At 22 years old, Dunn is older than four of his teammates, all of whom have been in the league for at least one season. So if 20-year-olds Karl-Anthony Towns or Tyus Jones wanted a beer on the road, they might need Dunn to buy it for them.
If fourth-year pro Shabazz Muhammad started to razz Dunn, all that the No. 5 overall pick in the June draft would have to do is remind him that the two of them were in the same high school graduating class.
“They try to call me rook. The guys that are younger than me, I tell them it doesn’t faze me because I’m older than you are. It’s kind of irrelevant you guys saying that,” Dunn said with a chuckle. “We’re all just joking around.”
After overcoming shoulder injuries early in his career at Providence to win the Big East Player of the Year award in his final two years in school, Dunn declared for the draft as a fourth-year junior and surprisingly fell to the Wolves, who boast one of the league’s best young rosters. He is the third-oldest player drafted in the first round.
The “Baby Wolves” include Towns and Jones, 21-year-olds Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, and the 23-year-old Muhammad.
New coach and president Tom Thibodeau grabbed Dunn to address one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season — a physically ready backup to starting point guard Ricky Rubio. And one of the things that appealed most to Thibodeau was Dunn’s experience in college. On a team with so much youth, Dunn’s polished game fits well for the present and the future.
“I like guys that have played in college a long time,” Thibodeau said. “With Jimmy Butler in Chicago, he played four years. Some people you look at and say, ‘Well there’s not a big upside.’ Those guys, you look at Jimmy, you look at Draymond Green, those guys have proved a lot of people wrong.”
Dunn will make his NBA debut on Saturday when the Wolves play the Miami Heat in an exhibition game in Kansas City, Missouri. The Wolves are one of the last remaining teams to have yet to play a preseason game, getting a full two weeks of training camp to absorb Thibodeau’s system, and Dunn has made a strong first impression.
“He knows how to lead a team. He’s aggressive. He wants it. He goes after it,” said Wiggins, who added that Dunn is far more ready for the league than he was when he came in as the No. 1 overall pick after one year at Kansas three years ago. “He knows what to do. You can tell he knows what he’s doing. College teaches fundamentals and he has all of that.”
“Kris coming in as the rookie and he’s older than me, Zach, KAT and Wiggs,” said Jones, who won’t turn 21 until May. “It’s different. You don’t see that every day.”
So far Dunn has been running the second unit, along with Muhammad, Brandon Rush, Nemanja Bjelica and Cole Aldrich, giving the Wolves a balance between starters and bench that they did not have last year. Long term, he could eventually supplant Rubio as the starting point guard, or morph into a combo guard that can play — and defend — both spots in the backcourt.
“He’s ready for this league,” Rubio said. “You can tell.”
Dunn credited the NBA-style system that Friars coach Ed Cooley runs for getting him ready for what Thibodeau is teaching in training camp.
“I feel like I could adjust to the plays a lot easier. I’m learning the game a lot easier because I know so much through college,” he said. “The people that come out their first year, I don’t think they get to be as knowledgeable as they can be doing it all four years.”