As the Chicago Bulls head into a new season, one of the big questions about this team will be how they’ll fare without their starting point guard Lonzo Ball.
Not having Ball on the court is a major loss for the Bulls. He does so much for them: three-point shooting, aiding their ability to switch on defense, playmaking in the open court that’s second to none.
With Ball sidelined, the pressure will be on Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu. Both guards had fantastic first seasons for the Bulls, and helped fill the void when Ball was out then.
Both Caruso and Dosunmu will be once again tasked with playing heavy minutes, let’s take a look at what both of them have to do to try and step up in Ball’s absence.
The defensive drop-off from Ball is the relatively lesser concern. Caruso and Dosunmu showed last year that they are more than capable perimeter defenders. Especially Caruso, who wrecked havoc for opposing guards averaging He averaged 2.2 steals per 36 minutes. His ability to not only effectively stay in front of his man but also knock the ball loose and cut off passing lanes really aids Chicago’s defensive scheme.
Same goes for Dosunmu, who quickly showed he was an NBA level defender right out of the gate. While he didn’t generate as many turnovers, he still was great at slowing down sets that the opposing teams ran, particularly against the pick and roll. Dosunmu is great at getting through picks and not allowing himself to get walled off by the screener. This helps eliminate the threat of mismatches for the Chicago defenses via switches and closes the space the ball handler has whenever the Bulls decide to use drop coverage (which they did a lot last season).
Another thing Ball brought to the table defensively was his ability to switch onto multiple players, sometimes all in the same possession. Him constantly helping out and switching onto players who were open helped Chicago when their defense was scrambling to disrupt the ballhandler. Luckily, both Caruso and Dosunmu are adept at switching too. Caruso has even held his own in the post due to his positioning.
The only thing which may be a bit hard for Caruso and Dosunmu to approximate is the bit of rim protection that Ball didprovide. While Caruso does have a chase down block in him and Dosunmu does his best to contest every shot, Ball is taller than both and can use his length to his advantage. It was always a big boost for the Bulls defense that one of their better rim defenders was also their point guard, but now that is not case. While it may not be noticeable at first, the Bulls will miss Lonzo’s rim protection. Both Dosunmu and Caruso will have to try and do their best to contest shots at the rim even if they are coming for help on a drive.
This is where things may start to get a bit complicated.
Lonzo offers a unique skillset in terms of being both a playmaker and someone who leads the charge for the Bulls three-point efforts.
Ball was second on the team in terms of three-point percentage and led the Bulls with an average of 7.2 three-point attempts per game. While Zach LaVine also likes to launch it from deep along with bench options like Coby White, the Bulls don’t have a lot of players who take a lot of three point shots.
With LaVine and DeMar DeRozan commanding the attention of defenses when they operate in the mid-range in isolation situations, it’s key that the other Bulls are ready for the ball for catch and shoot opportunities. Ball was one of those guys who benefitted from that, which helped in turn space out the floor for LaVine and DeRozan.
It’s on Caruso and Dosunmu to take more shots from deep. Last season, Caruso attempted 4 threes per36, while Dosunmu even less at 3.2. Both Caruso (33.3 3P%) and Dosunmu (37.6%) will have to improve their percentages slightly this upcoming season, though while actually making those attempts are a different beast, taking those shots will stretch out defenses even a little bit.
Then there’s the playmaking. Lonzo has great court vision, and was awesome at finding open guys and making just the right pass to them for an easy basket. Everyone remembers the early season alley-oops during the Bulls hot start to start the campaign.
While DeRozan is now the Bulls biggest per-game playmaker in terms of assists, he can’t do it all on his own. Other perimeter players like Caruso and Ayo will need to pitch in. Caruso has to start forcing defenses to respect his offensive abilities more so he can draw players in and find passing lanes. Meanwhile, for Dosunmu, this is just another step in his progression as an NBA player. If he can take a leap in his passing ability, it will really raise his offensive ceiling as he has already shown ability to create his own shot. Dosunmu did show good vision and passing ability in college, but it just wasn’t consistent enough. A likely bigger role in terms of minutes will give him ample opportunities to become a floor general.
Not having Ball is a bummer for the Bulls, there is no way around it. However, at least the team is very deep when it comes to guards. Caruso, Dosunmu, and the recently signed Goran Dragic will be stepping in for him and filling the minutes. It won’t be an easy task on offense, but the Bulls will have to manage and hope Dosunmu continues to make strides in his game and Caruso has another great season like the one he had last year.