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Utah is one of the NBA’s hottest teams, and Kris Dunn is a major reason why

Utah is one of the NBA’s hottest teams, and Kris Dunn is a major reason why

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Making a change at point guard set the Utah Jazz back on a winning path.

No NBA team has enjoyed greater success in January so far than Utah. The Jazz have rattled off six straight victories and have a league best 12-2 record over their last 14 games. Utah has not trailed at any point during the fourth quarter through its six-game winning streak.

Since mid-December, the Jazz have ranked in the top 10 among NBA teams in offensive rating and in the top 15 in the league in defensive rating.

One factor quietly keying the surge has been the steady play of point guard Kris Dunn.

The Jazz are 13-3 with Dunn starting and have lost just twice in 14 games since he supplanted Talen Horton-Tucker in the starting lineup. Dunn has been highly effective over that stretch, averaging 5.1 points, 6.1 assists, and 1.5 steals in 22.4 minutes per contest.

His court vision and veteran leadership have been a steadying influence for a Jazz team with several younger players in major roles.

“Kris Dunn’s voice is more prominent now because his role is different,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “Kris has always talked a lot. He’s always been a great presence in our locker room and a great presence at practice with our team. But now that he’s starting, his voice is heard in a different way and at different times.”

For the 29-year-old Dunn, this season is a sweet reward after battling to prove he still belonged in the NBA.

Minnesota selected Dunn with the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Injuries plagued him during stints with Chicago and Atlanta. Ankle surgery limited Dunn to four games with the Hawks before he was eventually traded to Memphis before the 2021-22 season and waived after appearing in one preseason game.

Utah signed Dunn to a pair of 10-day contracts a year ago before adding him to the roster for the remainder of the season. He averaged 13.2 points, 5.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds over 22 games.

The 6-foot-3 Dunn has settled into a comfortable role as a distributor and defender this season.

“I’ll be doing myself a disservice and the team a disservice if I try to go out there and try to go get 20,” Dunn said. “I got to play my role and I understand my role and I have no problem playing it. Go out there and guard and distribute the ball. The main thing is keeping that energy alive.”

Dunn’s willingness to involve his teammates on offense has helped Utah start strong and build early momentum in many recent wins. His unselfish attitude has earned their trust.

“He’s not looking to score every time he gets the ball,” Hardy said. “He just kind of takes what’s in front of him.”

Dunn’s future looked to be in football before he switched to basketball full-time at New London High School in Connecticut. He played at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver while also playing snaps on defense. His speed, toughness and athleticism made him dominant on the gridiron.

“I could do a little bit everything,” Dunn said.

Switching to basketball proved a wise decision. Dunn flourished during four seasons at Providence. He earned Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in his third season with the Friars. Still, it took his father some time to warm up to Dunn’s decision to abandon football. Dunn’s father had played Division I football and envisioned his son following in his footsteps.

“That was a battle,” Dunn said. “He probably didn’t talk to me for like a month at the house. I felt like we were in jail.”

Dunn’s persistent nature paid off in reviving his NBA career. He had stints with two different NBA G-League teams before finally drawing interest from the Jazz. Staying healthy aided him in creating a second chance to prove himself.

Dunn credits improved health to learning what works for his body in terms of treatment and nutrition between games. He slimmed down from 210 pounds to 203 along the way, changing what he can do on the court.

“I’m just moving out there. I feel like a Ferrari,” Dunn said. “I feel like I was dragging people at 210. I was sluggish each and every game. I couldn’t be that high energy player that I am (now).”