Theodore Roosevelt Dunn was not drafted by the Nuggets but played a majority of his NBA career with the franchise. He played a total of 10 seasons in 2 stints with the Nuggets and made his mark as the best defensive guard the franchise has ever had. Dunn was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers out of the University of Alabama in the 2nd round (41st overall pick) of the 1977 NBA Entry Draft. He played 3 seasons with the Blazers before he was traded to the Nuggets in August of 1980 in exchange for a draft pick that eventually became Clyde Drexler. Donnie Walsh was the Nuggets coach with Doug Moe as his top Assistant on the 1980 team. Walsh was let go during that 1980 season and Moe took over as coach. Moe was a huge fan of Dunn because he was a tenacious rebounder from the guard position and that was a critical component to Moe’s “Passing Game” offense. The positions were often inverted in the passing game with guards down low and the Nuggets smooth shooting front court out by the top of the key. This made having rebounding guards very important in the offensive system.
Dunn was such a good defensive player he usually got the unenviable task of guarding the opponents best player whether they be a guard or small forward. In his career with the Nuggets Dunn checked such NBA Luminaries and Hall-of-Famers as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins among many others. Magic Johnson was once asked who the best defensive player he ever faced was and he didn’t hesitate to say T.R. Dunn. He was named to the All-NBA defensive 2nd team 3 times during his career in Denver following the 1982-1985 seasons. He was also a very durable player as he had 6 seasons in his career in which he played in all 82 of his team’s games. Statistically, Dunn does not overwhelm you in the scoring or assist categories but his rebounding numbers look more like a forward than a guard. His best season rebounding was in 1982-1983 when he averaged a remarkable 7.5 rebounds per game from the 2 guard spot. He also averaged close to, or more than, 7 rebounds a game in 1981-1982 and 1983-1984. Dunn was a major part of the 1985-1986 team that took the Lakers to 6 games in the Western Conference finals. His job during that series was to guard Magic Johnson in his prime and he did a very commendable job keeping Johnson from going crazy in all but one of the games.
Dunn ranks in the top 10 in 6 categories in Nuggets history. These are listed below:
- 4th in games played with 734
- 5th in total minutes played with 18,322
- 6th in offensive rebounds with 1,359
- 10th in total rebounds with 3,496
- 2nd in steals (to Lafayette “Fat” Lever) with 1,070
- 8th in personal fouls with 1,652
Dunn was released by the Nuggets after the 1988 season and signed with the Phoenix Suns. He had a very brief career with the Suns before returning to Denver as a Free Agent before the 1989 season. He played one more year for the Nuggets before retiring in 1990. Dunn went on to become a long time NBA Assistant Coach with the Charlotte Hornets from 1991-1997 and had other coaching stints in his career including a head coaching job with the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting. He was also an assistant coach for the Nuggets under Jeff Bzdelik from 2002-2004.
My best recollection of T.R. Dunn was watching him frustrate the best 2 guards and small forwards in the league with his fast hands, quick feet and instincts on the defensive end of the floor. When the Nuggets had both Dunn and Bill Hanzlik on the floor at the same time, the stars of the league would turn into frustrated schoolboys and fights could break out on the court. His jump shot was one of the ugliest in the history of the NBA but he could get offensive rebounds and put them back with “Bunny Hop” layups as the Nuggets legendary broadcaster, Al Albert, called them. T.R. Dunn was not a flashy player but his value to the Nuggets could never be disputed during the 1980’s.
There you have my pick for the 13th greatest Denver Nugget of all time, Theodore Roosevelt Dunn. Photo Credit to NBA Archives.