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Everybody loves Ayo

the 2nd round pick is now your emergency starting PG

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls went into this season without the ‘purest’ or most ‘traditional’ point guards. Lonzo Ball can dazzle in transition but doesn’t really break down a defense in the half-court. Alex Caruso has a very low usage. We saw what Coby White did with the starting role last year. It didn’t exactly matter much because the Bulls have Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan to run the offense, and the PG spot was needed more for a defensive-first player.

Another addition to the roster preseason was Ayo Dosunmu, a 2nd round pick only officially, as he was a very productive college player but perhaps also not in the stereotypical mold for point guard in the NBA.

But now, with the Bulls starting and backup options out for the next month and a half, Dosunmu has propelled his rookie performance as a role player into the starting lineup.

And it’s getting noticed. On January 4th, The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie already had Dosunmu, the 38th pick, as his 9th ranked rookie. By January 26th, NBA.com has Ayo as the lead story on their own rookie rankings and have him 8th, and you’d have to think in the time since he’ll raise a couple spots (hey, it’s a good class). John Hollinger had Dosunmu as his “rookie of the week - ‘the one I’ve been watching’” around this time as well.

As a starter in 11 games this season, Dosunmu is averaging 11.8 points in 37.7 minutes per game, shooting 57% from the field and nearly 44% from three (67.4% True Shooting on 12.3% Usage). As one of the primary ballhandlers in this time he has 3.35 assists to every turnover.

But Dosunmu’s calling card - and what’s needed in this starting lineup especially with Ball+Caruso out - is point of attack defense. Last week, BBall Index rated Dosunmu best in the league at their On-Ball Defense metric, among players with 500+ minutes played & in the top 10% in Matchup Difficulty.

And in the spirit of going mainstream, here was Zach Lowe on Dosunmu’s defense:

Need him to guard Trae Young? Sure. Want to toggle him onto a bigger wing? He’ll nod, and slide over. Dosunmu is one of those defenders who is somehow impossible to screen. It’s uncanny. The screen is set. Dosunmu is heading right for it. And then you blink, and Dosunmu has somehow dodged it unscathed. Part of it is his wiry frame. Dosunmu doesn’t have to “get skinny” to skirt screens; he’s already skinny.

But there are plenty of blah defenders with similar builds. Dosunmu has good instincts, and tenacity you can’t teach. He is already one of the league’s best ball deniers — a skill you don’t notice until some pest like Dosunmu blows up a dribble handoff, or prevents you from swinging the ball as the shot clock dwindles.

For visual evidence of Dosunmu’s work against Trae Young, old friend of the blog Will Gottlieb pulled highlights:

Will went into the follow-up question of just how good Dosunmu can be, fairly assessing remaining weaknesses and deficiencies while acknowledging he’s been a godsend in this role for this season. Those would include his handle (“can be loose at times”) and skepticism over the sustainability of his distance shooting.

Hollinger noted the same, there:

With a below-the-shoulder set shot that requires time and space to deliver, he’s made 43.4 percent of his 3s so far as a Bull, but his low loom (only 4.1 triple tries per 100 possessions), college history and 60.5 percent mark from the line cast some doubt on whether he can continue at such a rate.

As did Lowe, noting that especially in recent games Ayo has been loathe to pull the trigger at times at the end of possessions. But ultimately finished with more praise:

Eventually you’d like Dosunmu pulling that triple — he has taken very few non-corner 3s — but it’s impressive that he can amble into a tricky in-between shot with such ease. Dosunmu is shooting 52% on long 2s and 56% from floater range, per Cleaning The Glass — absurd numbers.

All of this evaluation is in the context of it already being determined that the Bulls got themselves a steal in the 2nd round this past offseason, huge for a team that has sent out a lot of assets to upgrade their veteran talent. The Bulls shouldn’t need this much, this soon from Ayo, and it’s been huge that he’s been able to take on this load and not only hold his own, but thrive.

And it’s been a great ‘story’ too, as Ayo has what has to be one of the highest approval ratings of any Bull in recent memory. He’s local, he went to UofI (like yours truly and Jason here), teammates seem to love him , as does the local media. The national media is learning now, too.