Only a year ago, Ayo Dosunmu was leading the Fighting Illini to a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Today, he has made himself an indispensable member of the Chicago Bulls, a team fighting to hold onto the top spot in the Eastern Conference. In a few short months, Dosunmu has seen his role on the team transform from spot substitute, to back of the rotation player, to essential rotation player/spot starter, and finally, to full-on NBA Starter. His rise, while relatively quick, has been steady, and necessary for the continued success of the Bulls.
A lot has been written about Ayo this season, and this past week the internet exploded with pieces on his development. I’m not sure I have a lot more insight to add to the conversation, but when I say Dosunmu has been necessary for the Bulls success, you only have to look at the last 10 games to see how true that is.
Best of 10
Over the last 10 games, Ayo has led the starters in per game +/-, with an average of 5.8. DeMar DeRozan is right behind the rookie with 5.3, but he has only played in 9 of the last 10 games. If fact, injuries have been so common for the Bulls that Nikola Vucevic is the only other player that started all of the last 10 games for the Bulls, and his per game +/- was 3.1. Frequent starters, Javonte Green and Coby White, both posted negative +/- averages in the games they participated in, and Zach LaVine (6 games) had a 2.8 +/-.
What does all this data mean? To me, it points to Dosunmu’s ability to make winning plays. When he is on the court the Bulls click. They are able to turn defense into offense with turnovers and fast-break points. On offense, Ayo can break down his defender with his dribble, collapse the defense in the paint, and find open teammates on the perimeter or under the basket for easy points. He is a very competent 2-way point guard.
For years, I, and many many other Bulls fans, have screamed for a competent point guard in the Bulls backcourt. We just wanted a player that could make a basic entry pass to the post, break down the defense a little and pass to open teammates, all while not being a complete dud on defense. Ayo Dosunmu is the answer to those prayers. Please don’t read this as some sort of condemnation of Lonzo Ball or Alex Caruso. Both veterans have their flaws, but all the success Ayo has had this season has come while trying to fill the void left by those two talented players. Perhaps that’s what has made Dosunmu’s ascendance so quick, the necessity of the circumstances, and the gaping void in talent he had to cover.
Cooking Under Pressure
Dosunmu has grown and refined his game in the crucible of this highly competitive Bulls season. Even during his time as a spot substitute, Dosunmu showed a proficiency in making critical plays. Whether it was hitting a timely shot, or forcing an important turnover, Dosunmu has made winning plays all season long. It was his ability to make those plays, especially on defense, that earned him the minutes he is currently playing. Over the last 10 games Ayo is averaging 37.6 minutes per game, with 11.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and a whopping 7.1 assists. He is shooting over 50% from the field, over 40% on 3 pointers, and 82.4% from the free throw line. His efficiency as a rookie during a difficult portion of the season, while the Bulls come to grips with the injury loss of several key players, has been astonishing.
There is no ceiling in sight for Ayo and his talent. He is a worker, a doer, a straight up winner. When we first started to see Dosunmu emerge on the scene earlier this season, I thought to myself, “Oh, good! We have a long, plucky, defensive stopper being groomed for the time when Alex Caruso moves on from the Bulls.” After the growth he has shown through 2/3rds of a season, I’m seeing fans claim we have the next Kobe, and I’m not going to correct them. Ayo’s growth has been that incredible, and he is now integral to the Bulls success.
Which leads us to the Bulls victory on Friday night against the Indiana Pacers. It was an ugly game, a game in which the Pacers had no right to be anywhere close to knocking off the Bulls, yet with 7:38 left in the 4th quarter it was a 2 point game. Injuries had decimated both rosters, but the Pacers only had Caris LeVert and rookie Chris Duarte to lean on, the Bulls were rolling with DeRozan, Vucevic, Green, Troy Brown Jr, and Dosunmu. Somehow the Pacers made it a contest, keeping the score close all game long, and pulling to within 3 points (115-118) with 36 seconds left in the game. But just as the Bulls have come to expect, it was Ayo Dosunmu that brought the hammer down, ending any chance of Indiana winning the game…
…And it’s been those types of plays that Dosunmu has made all season long. Whether it’s a dagger 3, a momentum stopping defensive play, or a sprinting hammer dunk, Ayo has sparked not only the recent success of the Bulls, but also the fervor of Chicago fans everywhere.
That does it for this week’s post. The Bulls will role into the NBA Trade Deadline (this Thursday, February 10th) with an injury depleted roster and a need for more defense. We’ll see if Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley have anything up their sleeves. If any news breaks I’ll be sure to get a post up with my reactions (it might be a week after the fact, but it’ll happen). Until then, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!