Mike Dunleavy Jr: The Unsung Hero

Mike Dunleavy Sr. had a dream of his son, Mike Dunleavy Jr., making it to the NBA someday. It's most, if not any, father's dream to have their son play in the National Basketball Association, the highest level of competitive basketball in the world. Mike Dunleavy Sr. is no stranger to the NBA, having played and coached for some time. Dunleavy Sr. played as a point guard/shooting guard, and was drafted as the 13th pick in the 6th round of the 1976 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, playing there, in Houston, San Antonio, and Milwaukee throughout his career. However, Dunleavy Sr. is more remembered for his coaching career (spanned from 1990-2010), having coached for the Los Angeles Lakers (coaching them to the 1990-91 NBA Finals), Milwaukee, Portland (where he won Coach of the Year in 1999, ironically the same year his son, Mike Dunleavy Jr., won the state championship with Jesuit High School in Oregon), and the Los Angeles Clippers.

It's worth noting that when Dunleavy Sr. accepted the head coach position in Portland in 1997, the Dunleavy family relocated to Oregon. Dunleavy Sr. taught Dunleavy Jr. a lot about basketball at a young age, and under his guidance, Dunleavy Jr. led his high school team (Jesuit High School) to the Oregon state championship. Basketball runs in the blood of the Dunleavy's. Dunleavy Jr.'s father and uncle both played college basketball for the University of South Carolina. His brother, Baker, played college basketball at Villanova University and his other brother, James, played at the University of Southern California.

Dunleavy Jr. himself played college basketball for Duke University and even won a national championship with them in 2001. He decided to attend Duke University to earn his degree in History (which he earned in 2005) and to continue to hone his basketball craft under one of the most iconic coaches in basketball history: Mike Krzyzewski. When asked about Coach K's ability as a coach and how Krzyzewski helped form Dunleavy Jr. into the person and player he became, this is what Dunleavy had to say:

Coach K prepares you for everything. You learn how to deal with success and also how to cope with failure. There were times he believed in me more than I believed in myself. He can be tough and demanding. He pushes you to reach your potential, but his players know he'll treat you fairly and he's always going to be supportive. I don't know of anyone who hasn't loved playing for him. There’s no question in my mind that I wouldn’t be the player I am today if it weren’t for Coach K and the rest of the [coaching] staff at Duke.

His best season at Duke was actually the year after they won the national championship, when he averaged 17.3 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. He was a consensus second-team All-American as well as first-team All-ACC. Dunleavy Jr. was then selected 3rd overall in the 2002 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. As soon as he was drafted, questions started surrounding both Dunleavy Sr. & Jr. The question lingered in the back of a lot of people's minds: would the Dunleavy's ever be on the same team? Dunleavy never let his father's shadow cast over him though.

Dunleavy Jr. has never been one to look for his own shot. He's been the man that has always accepted his role in whatever scheme he's in. In his first three seasons, these were Dunleavy Jr.'s averages:

Mike Dunleavy Jr. 2002-2005 Averages

Minutes per game: 26.5

Points per game: 10.3

Rebounds per game: 4.7

Assists per game: 2.3

Steals per game: 0.8

Field Goal Percentage: 43.4

Three-Point Percentage: 36.8

For a third overall pick in a very weak draft, those stats aren't bad. People knew that he wouldn't be as effective in the NBA as he was at the collegiate level. Dunleavy Jr. excelled in college at working to get open off the ball to get his looks. He's got great length for his position, standing 6'9" as a small forward, so he never had an issue shooting over his opponents. He was touted as the best shooter of the draft, and someone who could hold his own on defense. He was still pretty raw on the defensive end, but with each season that passed, he made massive strides on that side of the ball. His shooting statistics prove that he has a lethal shot and he's someone opposing defenses should not leave open.

Now the time comes for the Golden State Warriors to make a decision on Mike Dunleavy Jr.'s future. Was the 3rd overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft worth keeping around, given these statistics? Perhaps not based off statistics alone, because as you'll read later on, Dunleavy's importance goes way beyond statistics. There are intangibles that Dunleavy Jr. possesses on and off the court that make him the consummate professional he is.

It's November of 2005 and Dunleavy Jr. is playing in the final year of his rookie contract. Chris Mullin, the general manager of the Warriors at the time, decided to offer Dunleavy Jr. a five-year, $44 million contract extension, a contract that received backlash at the time for various reasons, including the fact that Dunleavy Jr.'s statistics as a third overall pick underwhelmed some fans and the fact that the Warriors were handing out some other big contracts at the time. When asked about the extension, Mullin stated:

The way Mike [Dunleavy] performed, the way he conducted himself and the way we run our organization, we both felt it was something we wanted.

Even as a young athlete in the NBA, a place where some young guys don't know how to act in such a professional environment in the public eye, Dunleavy Jr. was heralded for how he conducted himself on and off the court. Dunleavy Jr. was always talking to his coaches, seeing how he could improve and seeing what he needed to work on.

From the get-go, he's been a consummate professional on and off the court. It certainly helps when you've had someone like Mike Dunleavy Sr. as your dad, guiding you (especially in basketball) your entire life as well as having a coach like Mike Krzyzewski guiding you through your last pit stop before you hit the pros. Dunleavy Jr. understood at a young age that once you hit the NBA, basketball stops being a game. It becomes your life and it becomes a business.

After his hefty extension, Dunleavy again, in the eyes of fans, failed to live up to the contract extension. His stats didn't really progress higher and his shooting statistics regressed a bit. Due to various factors, he found himself jumping in and out of Don Nelson's starting lineup over the course of the next two seasons. As it turned out, all Dunleavy Jr. seemingly needed was a change in scenery. On Jan. 17, 2007, Dunleavy Jr. was dealt (along with three other teammates) from the Warriors to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Stephen Jackson (along with three of his teammates). Over the next two and a half seasons, these were his statistics:

 Mike Dunleavy Jr. 2007-2009 Averages (Pacers)

Minutes per game: 33.0

Points per game: 16.1

Rebounds per game: 4.9

Assists per game: 2.8

Steals per game: 0.9

Field goal percentage: 44.4

Three-point percentage: 35.4

Comparing these averages to how he performed in Golden State, it's easy to see that a change of scenery breathed new life into his career. His stats improved in every category except for his three-point percentage. He was able to get more playing time, and as a result of that, his workload and performance increased on the court. Out of the 143 games he played within that time period, he started 139 of them. He wasn't shuffled in-and-out of the lineup like he was for the latter part of his tenure with the Warriors.

During his time with the Pacers, the questions that followed him for the beginning part of his NBA career resurfaced: Will the Dunleavy's team up? The questions popped up so frequently in the media, Dunleavy Jr. actually answered the question on if he would like to play for his father in the NBA:

Not really. There could be a lot of issues with it. If it were to happen, you'd make the most of it. But it's not something that I'm trying to do. If you were on a great team and you're winning, to do it with your dad, that would be great. But when things aren't going well, it could be kind of like hit or miss. There just could be issues. I'd prefer not to play for a family member. But if it happens, it happens. It's not something that I don't think either one of us is trying to make happen.

In light of recent family occurrences (like Austin and Doc Rivers in Los Angeles and Markieff Morris being pissed off and demanding a trade away from the Phoenix Suns organization after the franchise decided to trade away Markieff's twin brother, Marcus), it makes it all the more impressive looking at the dynamic between the Dunleavy's. When asked about potentially coaching his son, Mike Dunleavy Sr. said:

My conversation with him, if he really wanted me to coach him, would be, 'If we do this, I would have to hold you to a higher standard than the other guys because of all the perception possibilities.'

Before he said that, Dunleavy Sr. also stated:

I've had a great relationship with my son, and the only way to screw it up was to coach him.

After those seasons, however, as the Pacers acquired more and more talent, Dunleavy Jr. gladly accepted a smaller role with the team. Now a seasoned veteran surrounded by promising young players, Dunleavy was looked at as a locker room leader. With his role smaller, he looked to help his teammates get better while Indiana looked to make the playoffs. The playoffs was something Dunleavy Jr. had yet to get a taste of in the NBA. With his reduced role with the Pacers, Indiana managed to make the playoffs in the 2010-11 season. Dunleavy Jr.'s playoff drought lasted 624 games.

After Dunleavy's role shrunk even larger in the playoffs (he only averaged 14.4 minutes per game and five points per game in five games), his party and Indiana agreed to mutually part ways as the Pacers were looking to shed some cap. Dunleavy then signed with the Milwaukee Bucks on a two-year, $7.5 million contract. Before signing the contract, the Bucks let Dunleavy know that he would be playing a sixth man role, bringing offense off the bench and wouldn't be relied on as heavily as he was in other places, like Golden State and Indiana. There would not be any high expectations.

For Dunleavy, Milwaukee was a hometown. He had lived in Milwaukee in three previous instances in his life, due to his father's employment with the Bucks. When he went to high school at Homestead High School, he went to as many Bucks games as he could. Being able to actually play for his adopted hometown team, Dunleavy was thrilled.

It is amazing to me now, playing games for real here... We've been pleasantly surprised with how well everything has turned out.

Dunleavy Jr. went through a humongous playoff drought. He finally got a taste of the playoffs with Indiana, but it was merely an appetizer. With Milwaukee, he saw the opportunity to eat the entire meal. He saw a young, solid core, in need of only a few pieces to be ready-set for contention in the future. Building around Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, Dunleavy saw what a lot of others saw in Milwaukee.

This is a team that, when healthy, having all its parts together, is a playoff team. And we've have some injuries but we're capable of it and I definitely wanted to go to a situation where we could win.

After a couple of seasons in Milwaukee, including getting swept by the eventual-champions, the Miami Heat, Dunleavy re-entered free agency and had to re-decide what was in his best interest. Winning was still important to Dunleavy, and there was mutual interest between him and Milwaukee. What ultimately led to their downfall was Dunleavy's interest in a larger role. Scott Skiles, the coach for the Bucks at the time, loved Dunleavy. He thought Dunleavy provided a great option off the bench. He refused to start Dunleavy because he thought the bench would lose the offense it needed. Enter Chicago.

Chicago contacted Dunleavy as soon as the free agency period began. Missing some outside shooting since Korver left, Chicago's interest in Dunleavy was obvious. They didn't have a lot of money to offer Dunleavy. They had to use part of their mid-level exception and offered him a 2-year, $6 million contract. Dunleavy's interest in Chicago was obvious, however. The return of former MVP Derrick Rose surely intrigued him. The growth of Joakim Noah along with Tom Thibodeau's impressive coaching technique surely intrigued him. What ultimately sold him was the large role he was promised. Not only was he going to be the obvious starter, but he was not going to be an afterthought on both ends of the floor like he was a lot of times in Milwaukee.

Dunleavy has proven to be worth more than he is getting compensated, but you will never hear him complain about it. Dunleavy is a consummate professional. A lot of the things he does goes unnoticed by the box score. He doesn't get a lot of assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, or anything, really. Other than three-point percentage, Dunleavy Jr. doesn't really excel in any category. He doesn't have a flashy play-style and he doesn't have an outgoing personality. He's not a household name, but he has been an arguable x-factor for the Bulls during his tenure with them. What Dunleavy provides is simple. There is no stat that can track what he brings night-in and night-out. Simply put, Dunleavy brings reliability and stability to a franchise that has lacked that since the golden-era glory years that Michael Jordan bestowed upon Chicago.

Floor-spacing is something that often gets overlooked. Starting two guys like Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah next to each other tends to clog the paint. While both can play back-to-the-basket on the block or at the elbow, they aren't guys who will stretch the floor by ridiculous amounts each night. Gasol hit a good percentage of his 15'-18' jumpshots last year, which made him a deadly option in the pick-and-pop game. Joakim Noah can occasionally step out and hit a 13-foot shot. However, most of their offensive opportunities will come within the paint.

That doesn't bode well for Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, who are primarily slashers that like to penetrate the paint and attack the rim. On defense, you want to force Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler to settle for threes. Throw Dunleavy out there, however, and you get the one thing that the offense needed to operate like the well-oiled machine fans expected them to be: floor spacing. Running Dunleavy off back-screens and back doors, the defense has to keep one eye on him at all times. That opens lanes up for Rose & Butler to attack. That frees room for Gasol and Noah to operate on the block without getting quickly double-teamed.

The most underrated part of Dunleavy's game is his defense. He's obviously not the greatest, quickest, and stingiest defender, but he doesn't get any recognition for what he brings to the table. He's a 6'9", decently agile small forward; he generally has the size advantage in his matchups. His wingspan helps him keep himself between his opponent and his basket. He doesn't get buried in screens; he knows when to pick his spots. He knows when to go under or through a screen. He is dependable in help situations. He doesn't block many shots or jump passing lanes or strip the ball. He is, however, more than serviceable.

When Dunleavy did not play last season, the Bulls struggled. Over a stretch of 19 games, the Bulls went a measly 9-10. New coach Fred Hoiberg knows the value Dunleavy adds to the Bulls. When talking about Dunleavy's recent back surgery and what he brings to the table, Hoiberg said:

When Mike Dunleavy was on the floor, good things happened. You look at the offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency. Mike was as good as anybody on our roster.

With Dunleavy sidelined for 8-10 weeks following successful surgery on his back, the Bulls will once again try to find a way to replace Dunleavy. No player brings the intangibles that Dunleavy brings to the table. He isn't a stat-sheet stuffer or someone who utilizes flashy-plays to bring attention to his game. Dunleavy is a laid-back, selfless guy who grew up with basketball in his life. In many ways, basketball is and has always been his life. He knows basketball is a business. That's why you will never hear Dunleavy complain about a lack of minutes or a lack of media attention. Dunleavy is as professional as they come. He is, in many ways, still that laid-back, down-to-earth little boy who grew up idolizing basketball, honing his craft at a young age under the tutelage of his father. Sure, the unsung hero may be a tad extreme, but the point is still just as relevant. Dunleavy's worth goes far beyond the new three-year, $14.5 million contract he signed in the offseason.