The Chicago Bulls have been one of the NBA’s ultimate surprise teams. An aggressive offseason has paid major dividends toward their 17-8 start, as Chicago has gone from playoff outsider to legitimate Eastern Conference power. Yet as stars like DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine earn the headlines, rookie Ayo Dosunmu has quietly emerged as one of the team’s go-to role players.
Ayo Dosunmu fell to his hometown Chicago Bulls in the second round
Fresh off of a disappointing 31-41 season, the Bulls didn’t even have a first-round pick to soften the blow. In a surprising trade deadline deal for Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic, Chicago parted with its first-round pick, which wound up being the eighth overall selection in the draft.
So instead of landing a top-10 pick, the Bulls had to sit pretty until pick 38. Yet the six-time NBA champions still found a way to win the night.
With the 38th selection, the Bulls took Dosunmu. The 21-year-old guard was born and raised in Chi-Town, starring at Morgan Park and earning first-team All-State honors in his senior season. He then went to play at Illinois, when in March he led the Fighting Illini to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013.
Across three seasons in Champaign, Ayo averaged 16.7 points on 47.0% shooting. He was named All-Big Ten twice and became a consensus All-American before declaring for the draft.
Dosunmu’s college career made him one of the most decorated prospects in the 2021 draft class. Yet due to concerns about his size and shooting ability, the 6-foot-5 guard fell out of the first round. But it all worked out for Ayo, who earned an opportunity to play for his hometown team.
“I grew up watching Chicago every day,” Dosunmu told NBC Sports Chicago after the draft. “Every day, every game, I watched the games. Stacey King, all the announcers, I really enjoyed watching the Bulls. So now me being a part of this journey, it’s just another step in the road.”
Dosunmu has become a major contributor on the Bulls
No one would have batted an eye if the Bulls decided on their second-round rookie riding the bench or earning reps in the G League. But Dosunmu has gradually earned more playing time, as well as the respect of his peers.
After averaging anywhere between 16 and 23 minutes a night, Ayo slotted into the starting lineup Monday night against the Denver Nuggets. The rookie was tasked with replacing the NBA’s fourth-highest scorer in DeRozan after he was placed in health and safety protocols earlier that day. The All-Star joined Coby White and Javonte Green in protocols, leaving the Bulls thin at guard. Yet Dosunmu delivered.
In a team-high 42 minutes, the 6-5 shooting guard scored 11 points for the second game in a row on 4-of-6 shooting. But he also dished out a career-high eight assists to go with six rebounds. Though his biggest contribution came on defense, where he played a massive role in Chicago’s 109-97 victory over the Nuggets.
After the game, head coach Billy Donovan was effusive when discussing Ayo’s performance (h/t: The Athletic).
“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 faster than him. May be guys more athletic than him. But he’s got a big heart, and he competes, and he impacts winning. And he, I think in a lot of ways, makes a lot of timely plays that impact winning. There was a lot on his plate tonight, and he did a great job not only starting but playing the number of minutes he played.”Billy Donovan
“He got that swag to him. He’s very confident when he’s out there,” point guard Lonzo Ball also told NBC Sports Chicago. “We put 100% trust into him.”
Ayo is giving the Chicago Bulls much-needed depth
Led by the elite scoring duo of DeRozan and LaVine, the Bulls entered the season with serious playoff expectations. Though depth remained a major concern, especially when second-year starter Patrick Williams was lost for the season with torn ligaments in his wrist. But Dosunmu is one of the players who has helped Chicago continue to truck forward.
Ayo’s strengths as a plus-defender with efficient scoring ability have helped Chicago overcome absences from the likes of DeRozan, Williams, White, and Green. Now, as Alex Caruso nurses a hamstring injury, the rookie will be getting more and more minutes to prove himself as an NBA-caliber guard.
Even when the guard rotation starts to fill up again, expect Dosunmu to retain a fair share of playing time. When the former Illini receives 18 or more minutes of action, the Bulls carry an impressive 11-1 record. While some of those instances have come when the game is already long decided, others (like Monday) have relied on Dosunmu to take the court during crunch time.
Ayo getting the draft call from the Bulls was a great story in itself. But seeing the hometown kid play a sizable role in the quest to bring a title to the Windy City is almost too good to be true.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.