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Ayo Dosunmu Is The Goods
From Second Rounder to Rising Star, Ayo Dosunmu is making waves for his hometown Chicago Bulls.
Kirk Hinrich is my all time favorite basketball player. I loved watching him lead Kansas to back-to-back Final Four runs alongside Nick Collison; but as a die hard Bulls fan, I loved watching him jump start the Chicago Bulls cultural turnaround in the mid-aughts even more.
I know what you’re thinking. How does a 35-year-old Bulls fan have Kirk freaking Hinrich over Michael Jordan as his favorite player? The truth is that I’m old enough to have watched Jordan win multiple championships, but not old enough to have appreciated him for what he was doing in real time. I was like 6 years old during the first three-peat man, ease off! Jordan was more of a deity than a hooper to a young kid.
When I finally reached the age to appreciate what was happening on a basketball court at a slightly higher level, the Bulls were going through one of the worst rebuilding efforts in NBA history. They were the Process before the Process. Only they didn’t really hit on any of their draft picks during the post-Jordan Krause rebuild.
When Krause got the boot, his successor John Paxson (of GarPax fame), decided that he needed to reboot the franchise’s identity. Paxson and the Bulls missed out on the generational talent at the top of the ‘03 Draft, pivoting to select Hinrich, the scrappy senior point guard with the 7th overall selection.
Drafting Hinrich was the start of getting the post-Jordan stink off the Bulls. He played with so much heart, toughness, and dare I say…grit. He became Captain Kirk and is to this day one of the most beloved players that ever adorned the red and black.
Hinrich never became an all-star level player, and despite what he meant to the franchise, never achieved the team success that would lead to a jersey retirement. Still, I always felt that there was some unsaid rule that new players wouldn’t touch the number 12. When Daniel Gafford took over the number in 2019, I knew he wasn’t long for the franchise.
But when the Bulls drafted Ayo Dosunmu in the 2021 draft and he choose to don Captain Kirk’s number 12, it felt…different. Ayo grew up watching the team every day. He played college ball at Illinois. The kid is Chicago through and through. Ayo’s fearlessness this season has brought me back to the culture that Kirk helped cultivate when he joined the franchise in 2003.
It isn’t often that 2nd round rookies make an impact on an NBA roster, but due to a swarm of injuries to their new look backcourt, the Bulls were forced to throw Ayo directly into the fire.
From taking on the responsibility of guarding the opposing team’s star to orchestrating Chicago’s offense, Dosunmu has far exceeded expectations. The maturity of Dosunmu’s game is apparent in the confidence in which he plays. No challenge is too big and no task is too small.
Dosunmu’s emergence as a legitimate rotation player for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference does make you wonder why he was so slept on during the pre-draft process. Dosunmu had the size, the athleticism, and the production. He improved every year of his college career. Were teams really scared off by the age?
It’s easy to look back with the benefit of hindsight and realize Ayo is a “G”, but the signs were there. As soon as I edited his film session with Mike Schmitz I moved him into the first round of my board. Ayo’s understanding of the game and self-awareness of what he needed to improve upon, impressed me more than any other prospect in the series.
That self-awareness that Ayo plays with has been key to his early NBA success. While lottery picks may have the benefit of experimentation without consequence, Donsumu has simplified his game so that he can limit mistakes and complement Chicago’s stars.
Dosunmu has nearly doubled his 3PAr from college to the pros, spacing the floor on the weakside ready to let it fly when Chicago’s playmakers kick him the rock.
By connecting on over 40% of his attempts, teams now have to respect the threat of the shot. Ayo takes advantage of defenders hard closing to him for the three by using his quick first step to ease into one or two dribble pull-ups. It’s a simple but decisive move to get to a spot on the floor that he feels comfortable in.
While Demar DeRozan handles a lot of the playmaking duties for Chicago, Dosunmu has taken on more of an on-ball role as of late due to the absence of Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball. You can see Dosunmu’s confidence growing by the game as he figures out how to manipulate NBA defenses. Dosunmu has reached double-digit assists four times since January 15th, including a career-high 14 assists (to just 2 TOs) against Indiana. Still, simplicity has been key to Ayo’s playmaking development. Ayo rarely forces wild passes between multiple defenders in tight spaces; instead, he focuses on making easy reads out of ball screens, attacking closeouts, and in transition.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dosunmu has been a dog. He'll hound ball handlers full court and make them work for every inch they get. He gets skinny on ball screens to get over and stay connected to his man. He positions himself well off the ball, where he’s been great at playing the passing lanes and creating opportunities for himself and his teammates. He’s skinny right now and he gets bullied by bigger wings, but he competes. Added strength will come in time.
Drafting a prospect like Ayo in the 2nd round may be an outlier result, but there’s something to be learned from his success. The league is shifting towards multi-tooled players with plus positional size that can play in different lineup contexts. Prospects of Ayo’s ilk are a good template for the type of prospects that teams should target post-lottery, especially when they bring winning intangibles to the table. Sometimes those players are hidden in plain sight at different parts of the draft. Very rarely does consensus get it perfect. Don’t let age deter you from believing in a prospect’s potential, especially when said player shows consistent improvement.
It’s been a minute since I’ve been this confident in a Bulls rookie getting consistent rotation minutes. Shit, it’s been a minute since I’ve been this excited about a Bulls rookie. Watching the growth of Ayo Dosunmu this season has been inspiring. It’s clear that he wants to be great. I can’t put a cap on what the kid from Chicago could one day be. Ayo Dosunmu is a rising star. Ayo Dosunmu is the goods.