Ayo Dosunmu

Bulls' Billy Donovan heaps praise on Ayo Dosunmu

Former Illinois star has seized opportunity created by Zach LaVine's absence

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During a lengthy answer in which he showered praise on Ayo Dosunmu, Billy Donovan cut right to the chase.

“I think you can see a different player right now than maybe he was a year ago,” Donovan said.

Though Dosunmu’s second-year statistics---other than a lower 3-point percentage---closely mirrored those from his successful rookie season, even the Morgan Park and University of Illinois product admitted he didn’t play as consistently as he wanted to last season.

But there’s a relentlessness about Dosunmu and always has been. Project the second-round pick to the G League his rookie season and watch him earn Donovan’s trust as a rotational player even before Lonzo Ball’s injury led to him starting.

Count him out of the rotation this season after the Bulls moved quickly to sign Jevon Carter and re-sign Coby White in free agency and look what has happened when Dosunmu’s minutes have increased.

In the Bulls’ first two-game win streak of the season, Dosunmu has averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3 rebounds and shot 70.6 percent over 36 minutes. He also has helped the Bulls’ offensive attack play faster, even if it’s merely getting the ball across halfcourt into sets quicker.

“I give him a lot of credit for just his disposition,” Donovan said. “He’s ultra-competitive. He doesn’t back away from anything, owns things he needs to improve upon, takes on defensive matchups, will play any role you ask him to play.

“He's got a great deal of confidence and belief in himself, which he should. He’s a really hard worker. Winning is a major priority for him. And I think his attitude is always like, whatever I’m getting minute-wise, I’m going to make the most of those minutes and try to do the best I can to help the team.”

Against both the Bucks and Pelicans, Dosunmu pushed the ball all the way from the backcourt to score in transition at the rim. But even if his push-the-pace mentality doesn’t lead to transition opportunities, Dosunmu is helping contribute to a two-game transformation in which the Bulls are playing with more movement offensively. They’ve posted a season-high 32 assists in both victories.

“The thing he’s doing a great job in is he’s so much more deliberate and patient in pick-and-roll and reading situations. He’s bringing the ball but last year, he’d continue being fast. Where now he’s going fast to slow back to fast. His tempo is changing. He’s reading the floor,” Donovan said. “He’s setting things up a lot better and giving himself a chance to create more penetration, which is good.”

During training camp, Dosunmu cited his desire to read defenses better and control pace as some of his major offseason work. He also wanted to shoot better this season.

And as far back as Nashville, he spoke confidently of his third season.

“That’s been my path, even back to high school. I pretty much took my jump my junior year,” he said then. “The first two years I’m pretty much learning. And my sophomore year is always the year where I pretty much hit the little roadblock. And my junior year is the year I come over. I’m excited. I put a lot of work into my game, watched a lot of film. Playing over 150 games against the top players in the league. Guarding the top players in the league, I learned so much. Me going into Year 3, I’m eager to take that next jump.”

And though he’s averaging almost 10 minutes fewer per game than his first two seasons, Dosunmu appears ready to do so. The way he’s currently playing, he’s again making it hard for Donovan to take him out of a prominent rotational role.

Especially because Dosunmu always has been able to handle hard coaching. As recently as the Bulls' loss to the Nets, Donovan called timeout to single out Dosunmu, who at least publicly accepts such criticism without flinching.

“I’m really happy with the growth he has made. And I know as difficult as last year was for him, it may have been the best thing for his development,” Donovan said. “I don’t think many people’s growth in their career is just an upward trajectory all the time. There’s ups and downs and difficulties. He’s making really good decisions.”

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