Bulls

Dosunmu Shattering Already-High Expectations

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When it comes to the NBA Draft, there are two sets of players for fans to consider: the players who their team could plausibly draft and should target, and the players who they want their team to have.

Depending on draft positioning, there isn’t always overlap between the two categories. Sure, most everyone would want the best player in the draft to join their team.

But it’s not always realistic. So fans need to consider likely scenarios.

As a Chicago Bulls fan and Illinois alumna, I didn’t think Chicago had much of a chance at drafting the player I wanted them to get: Ayo Dosunmu. According to NBC Sports Chicago, executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas didn’t expect Dosunmu to still be available in the draft that late either.

The Bulls had no first-round picks in the 2021 draft. While there was talk about it, they didn’t end up trading up to land one.

Dosunmu led the Illini to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and he was the reigning USA Today National Player of the Year and Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year. He may not have been projected to be a lottery pick, but he was still projected to go in the first round. To think he wouldn’t have given the success he’d achieved and potential he’d shown while at a Big Ten school would be strange.

But draft night came, the first round ended, and Dosunmu was still available. Then the second round started, and he still wasn’t picked as the mid-30s rolled around.

It was weird, and I couldn’t understand it. But my hope that he’d somehow fall to the Bulls — his hometown team — grew with each selection.

Then, somehow, the Bulls were on the board for the 38th pick, and Dosunmu was still undrafted. So Chicago selected its hometown, homegrown kid.

“I know I’m a first-round talent,” Dosunmu said following the draft, as reported by Bulls.com. “But you can’t (ever know) what God has planned for you. And God wanted me to play for my city. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m embracing it. I’m grateful. I’m thankful to be in this position I’m in now.”

Dosumnu’s Career Already a Tale for the Storybooks

When Dosunmu was drafted, it marked a new chapter in an already-fantastic narrative.

A Chicago native who led Morgan Park High School to back-to-back state championships. A five-star high-school basketball recruit who chose to stay in-state for college at Illinois, where he would play a significant role in making the Illini a legitimate college-basketball powerhouse for the first time since 2005. A Chicagoan who got drafted by his hometown team in spite of its unexpected nature.

But Dosunmu’s story is more than that. It’s a reality that keeps getting better.

Dosunmu is one of several guards in a deep Bulls backcourt. In the offseason, the discussion centered around how he would fit on the team. Coby White was injured as the season opened, which gave the rookie a role to fill for the time being.

After that? That had yet to be seen. But the defense he could provide with his 6-foot-8 wingspan would help him earn minutes early on.

He wasn’t a key player in the rotation when the season began, but he’d make the most of what minutes he was given.

Need wing defense? Dosunmu can handle it. Need a guard to play off the ball? Dosunmu can do that. Need someone to run the point? Dosunmu is a combo guard with ball-handling and playmaking abilities.

When Dosunmu has made understandable rookie mistakes, he has learned from them and moved on to the next play. He doesn’t let errors err his confidence. In fact, Washington’s Bradley Beal learned the hard way that the first-year guard is eager to learn and apply his lessons.

It’s the Chicagoan’s own mentality that has helped set him up for success.

“My motto is stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” Dosunmu said on November 1, after scoring 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting, via Bulls.com. “So whenever my number is called, I just want to go out there and play as hard as I can and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Ayo Answers the Call and Then Some

This season for the Bulls has been about making a return to the playoffs. Led by Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, the roster they’ve assembled is equipped to do just that. But for a team that already has plenty of talent in the backcourt, all the Bulls have really needed from their rookie this season is for him to learn and contribute when he gets the chance. They didn’t need him to develop, expand and grow his game this soon or this quickly.

Until they did.

On December 6, the rookie made his first career start in the midst of the Bulls’ COVID outbreak. Dosunmu flirted with a triple-double, posting 11 points, six rebounds and eight assists. Shortly after, he tested positive with COVID himself, so it wouldn’t be till the new calendar year that he returned to the starting lineup.

But it offered a glimpse at what to expect.

With injuries to key guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, Dosunmu has found himself as more than just a key member of the rotation, but the starting point guard.

At least for the time being. He’s not just holding down the fort while he has the opportunity to be the starter. He’s putting his name into the Rookie-of-the-Year conversation (not to say that he should be a shoo-in for the award).

Since joining the starting lineup in mid-January, Dosunmu has been averaging 11.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.8 rebounds in 38.1 minutes per game while shooting 52.8% from the field.

He’s done well as a point guard, proving he can be an effective playmaker. His two-man game with Nikola Vučević, in particular, has been a highlight. Vučević has had his struggles being a consistent scorer this season. But Dosunmu has shown he knows how to get the veteran big-man plays and set him up for success.

Dosunmu has even had moments where he looks like anything but a rookie. The guard, who turned 22 in January, has, on a few instances, used his calm demeanor to steer his veteran DeRozan away from potentially technical foul-inducing situations.

It’s a situation where you’d expect the roles to be reversed. But it’s just a testament to the maturity and experience Dosunmu brings — even as a rookie.

Whether luck, fate or a bit of both, Dosunmu looks to be a big part of the Bulls’ impending success– both this season and in the years to come.

About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a Filipina American writer and Illinois journalism graduate based in the Chicago suburbs. She has a decade's worth of sports writing experience, having been published in several online publications. She writes about the Bulls, the Sky, and general NBA content for The Lead.

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