It's official: Ayo is awesome. How good can he become?
The Bulls rookie guard has been a revelation this year. He has already transitioned from offensive engine to 3-and-D star off the bench. Now the question becomes: what is his ceiling?
In a season full of pleasant and unexpected surprises, here’s one that really stands out: Ayo Dosunmu, “star in his role”.
The Thibodeauism fits. The 38th pick from Chicago has stepped into what has become a massively important part of the Bulls success and has quickly become one of the league’s most impactful rookies and he’s finally getting some well-deserved national recognition.
Dosunmu does it on both ends, but the defense is what makes him stand out. Few 22-year-old rookies have stepped up to the challenge of guarding some of the league’s elite across multiple positions and not only held their own, but thrived.
Dosunmu has seen a massive increase in playing time over the past month-plus with all the injuries and COVID illnesses ravaging the team, and he has taken on the new responsibility and smashed our wildest expectations. With Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso missing 7 and 14 of the last 15 games respectively, Dosunmu has stepped into a 28 minute-per-night role, being tasked with guarding some of the league’s elite.
Trae Young, Bradley Beal, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum and Ja Morant have all stepped into the Ayo vortex over the past month and come out on the wrong side.
According to NBA.com’s matchup tracking data (an admittedly imperfect measurement), Morant went 2-5 from the field while guarded by Dosunmu. Tatum went 3-12 with 3 turnovers. Doncic went 1-3. Beal went a combined 2-8 in two games and Young went 2-10 with Dosunmu as the closest defender in a two-game set with the Bulls in late December.
Despite his youth and inexperience, the Bulls officially have three lock-down defenders at the guard spot, all of whom are capable of switching, guarding point-of-attack and taking on big wings and offensive hubs. That dramatically changes the outlook of the Bulls defensive potential.
His 6-10 wingspan has gotten a lot of attention, and though his physical attributes are certainly tantalizing, his awareness stands out. He seems to understand rotations, positions and floor geometry all while being able to communicate and quarterback a defense.
This is incredible rare for a perimeter player, let alone a rookie.
Monster performances against the Grizzlies and Celtics have me thinking big things are in his future.
Before putting the cart ahead of the horse, there are a few key areas I would love to see him improve upon to upgrade his potential from role player to secondary or tertiary offensive option: his ball handling and touch.
I believe that ball handling is the single most important skill that can elevate a perimeter player from bad-to-good and good-to-great.
Dosunmu’s handle can be loose at times. The ball can tend to squirt out of his possession on drives and he turns it over 18.9 percent of his possessions which is in the 2nd percentile among guards.
As his usage has ramped up over the past ten games, his turnover percentage has risen. In some ways, it is to be expected. A high turnover percentage is actually a good thing for young guards — it’s better to see if they can expand and test the limits of their passing rather than be too conservative. Even though, it significantly above both his season average and against his positional average over the last ten games for the type of playmaking he is taking on.
He’s also shooting only 63 percent at the rim, which is in the 56th percentile among guards. He’s mostly a below-the-rim finisher and though he has improved, he has to settle for a lot of tough floaters and scoop shots to avoid getting blocked, which hurts his foul drawing ability.
He is definitely improving — shooting 73 percent at the rim since December — but getting to the basket and finishing through contact will unlock a new level to his offensive arsenal.
Touch doesn’t only encompass finishing, it also includes shooting and given his low 3-point shooting volume, it’s still a question mark in my mind whether he can continue converting above 40 percent from deep. As a sophomore at Illinois, he shot 29.6 percent on 3.3 threes per game. On similar volume, he jumped up nearly 10 percent to 39.0 his junior year. Now with the Bulls, he’s up to 43.9 percent on 1.7 attempts per game.
It’s beyond nit-picky to point out massive improvement, but on only 246 attempts between his last three seasons, I’m holding out for a larger sample to see if he’s really this good.
I want to emphasize that these are not criticisms, but areas for improvement that will unlock even greater potential. Dosunmu is on track to provide invaluable depth for the Bulls in year one. His track record in college to suggest he has a level up when it comes to offensive potential.
When I posed the question, I got a lot of Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart comparisons. It remains to be seen what his ceiling can truly be, but we know one thing: Ayo is awesome.
I can’t wait to see how he progresses.