Dosunmu acing latest test as Bulls' starting point guard


Billy Donovan doesn’t get into player comparisons.

In fact, when asked after Monday’s Chicago Bulls practice if Ayo Dosunmu reminds him of anyone in particular, Donovan deflected by calling Dosunmu “unique in his own way.”

But in one aspect of the rookie guard's game — endurance — visions of past coaching stints spring to mind.

“I'll use Joakim Noah as an example,” Donovan said when asked about Dosunmu’s recent uptick in minutes. “His (Noah’s) motor can run and run and run and run, and when he gets tired, he almost gets more angry and more upset with himself, that I shouldn't be tired. He pushes through these walls. There are other guys that really struggle with that…

“When I was at Florida, like, (Udonis) Haslem, Noah, (Al) Horford, David Lee. Unbelievable endurance. Unbelievable stamina. And just could keep coming. Ayo’s got that.”

It’s high praise, but, like everything in his life, Dosunmu has earned it. Since moving to the starting lineup amid a wash of injuries nine games ago, he has brought his relentlessly dogged defensive style for a whopping 37.6 minutes per contest, and firmly cemented himself as the Bulls’ top option to replace starting point guard Lonzo Ball, who will miss at least the next six-to-eight weeks after undergoing knee surgery last Friday.

The position switch has brought new responsibilities — handling the ball more, organizing the team’s offensive sets and defensive alignment, identifying mismatches to exploit — and amplified existent ones — guarding premier perimeter threats from Trae Young to Jayson Tatum on a nightly basis — from Dosunmu's ascendant rookie season.

“You’ve got to bring it every night,” Dosunmu cracked. “That’s the fun thing about this game.”

But his production has only continued to increase. Dosunmu is averaging 12.7 points, 6.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals in his last nine, shooting 55.6 percent and 43.3 percent from 3-point range.

“That role of being a point guard, it's not about just worrying about myself and getting shots off,” Dosunmu said, referencing the Bulls’ recent win over the Portland Trail Blazers. “Of course, there'll be games where I will need to be aggressive on the basis of teams who want to take out Zach (LaVine), DeMar (DeRozan) and Vooch (Nikola Vučević). But [against Portland] I just thought that the best way for us to win was me getting the other guys easier shots, putting them in position to be successful.”

Dosunmu took three shots in that game, but handed out a career-high 11 assists. The Bulls won by 14.

“He has really handled everything pretty well, in my opinion,” Donovan said.

Tuesday’s matchup against the Magic will be Dosunmu’s 46th NBA game. The most he played in a college season was 32. Even with the highest-touted prospects, it’s usually around the time the “rookie wall” enters the discussion.

“The rookie wall, to me with a lot of these guys, it's not physical, it's mental,” Donovan said. “Because of the recovery, the ability with physical therapists, strength coaches, you can help them get their bodies back. It's the mental fatigue of game after game after game, all condensed in a pretty tight period.”

But Dosunmu’s steel-forged mentality has been his strongest trait since being drafted, and has only augmented the development of his on-court skills. He attributes prayer, and making space to reset with video games and family time, as factors in his unflappable focus.

“I always say, your mind tells you you're tired and you have about 60-70 percent left,” Dosunmu said. “So I try to just train my mind that. So when I think I'm tired — it's just probably a spur of the moment thing — you can keep going, dig deep, and dig deep on your habits. In the offseason, those extra runs, those extra sprints. Then it gives me a little bit more leniency with my recovery.”

The clinic in incremental improvement, and earning the trust of coaches and teammates, continues.

And perhaps accolades are on the cusp of following for the 2021 draft’s 38th overall selection, who Donovan noted on Friday would be a “first-round pick, minimum” if that process was done over. The NBA will soon announce the rosters for its Rising Stars challenge, which is annually held on the Friday of All-Star weekend and this season will feature 12 players from this rookie class.

Dosunmu would welcome an invitation.

“As a competitor, I’d be lying to you if I told you I wouldn’t want to have my name in that conversation,” he said.

Regardless, his impact on the Bulls belies his experience level, and shows no signs of slowing down.

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