Nearly three months ago, as the NBA season was just getting underway, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan told reporters that rookie Ayo Dosunmu was “fearless.”
“He’s got a certain kind of makeup that I think is really special,” Donovan said. “He’s ultra-competitive and he has unbelievable confidence and belief in himself. But it’s not cross-the-line arrogant. That’s really a hard combination.”
Dosunmu had just scored 14 points without missing a shot in merely his sixth NBA outing. It was clear to Donovan then that the 6-5 guard, who fell to the Bulls in the second round of the 2021 Draft, was already worthy of a spot in the rotation. After three years at Illinois, in which Dosunmu led the team in scoring every season and was a finalist for the Wooden Award and the Naismith Trophy as a junior, the Chicago native came in ready to contribute right away. Throughout the month of November, he averaged 6.8 points on 52 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent from three.
In December, as more and more players began testing positive for COVID, Dosunmu stepped into a bigger role. He made his first career start on December 6th, recording 11 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in a 109-97 win over the Nuggets. Coach Donovan reiterated the same message about the rook afterwards: “For me, so much—and I said this way back when—it’s his makeup. It’s who he is as a competitor. There may be guys that shoot it better than him. There may be guys that are faster than him. There may be guys more athletic than him. But he’s got a big heart and he competes and he impacts winning.”
Over the past week, with several key guys sidelined due to injury or COVID, the Bulls have struggled to find consistency. Dosunmu has been a massive bright spot, however, continuing to make significant strides with an increased opportunity. On Saturday, he got the starting nod again and notched a career-high in points (21) and assists (10). He shot 9/10 from the field as well, becoming the first rookie in NBA history to have at least 20 points and 10 assists while shooting 90 percent. Though the Bulls narrowly lost to the Celtics, 114-112, Dosumnu did a little bit of everything, including defend Jayson Tatum for much of the night. According to NBA tracking data, in two matchups against Boston, Dosunmu has held the former All-Star to just 4/13 shooting.
Two days later, on his 22nd birthday, Dosunmu put up another ridiculous stat-line in a nationally-televised game against the Grizzlies: 15 points (on 7/12 shooting), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks. He also accepted the challenge of guarding superstar Ja Morant, blocking his shot once and forcing him into multiple turnovers.
The Bulls were in desperate need of a win on Wednesday, and Dosunmu delivered yet again. He tallied 18 points (on 7/8 from the field and 3/4 from three), 8 assists and 3 rebounds, helping Chicago grab a 117-104 victory over Cleveland. That string of three games, beginning in Boston, is about as good as it gets from a rookie.
Dosunmu doesn’t play out of control on offense, but he isn’t tentative, either. He attacks off the bounce, navigates to the paint and kicks it out to open shooters. When his teammates do the same (mainly DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine), he spots up behind the arc and lets it fly without hesitation. His three-point percentage (45.7) ranks first among rookies who have attempted more than 12 this season (Dosunmu is 32/70). He looks comfortable as a playmaker out of pick-and-rolls, using a little floater in the lane or pulling up for midrange jumpers.
On the other end, he hasn’t backed down from guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player. He defends with high energy and does whatever he possibly can to disrupt his matchup’s rhythm. So far this year, he has done an impressive job on elite scorers such as Bradley Beal, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Caris LeVert, Cade Cunningham and the aforementioned Tatum and Morant. With Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball expected to miss 4-6 weeks after a procedure on his left knee, Dosunmu should continue to get big minutes and take on tough defensive assignments.
Of course, the major reasons Dosunmu has thrived in his increased role have been obvious to the Bulls organization from day one: he is ultra-competitive, extremely confident in his abilities and utterly fearless. Now those things are becoming obvious to everyone.