With news Thursday that Lonzo Ball will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair a small meniscus tear, the Chicago Bulls are without their starting point guard for six to eight weeks.
Zach LaVine also is currently sidelined with left knee soreness, though he’s not expected to miss much time beyond the team’s three-game trip that begins Friday in Milwaukee.
But, while Ball’s absence is significant, the Bulls currently have the guard depth to weather it.
This isn’t to downplay Ball’s basketball IQ, ability to push pace offensively and ability to consistently create chaos defensively. It’s more to acknowledge the level at which Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu have played. Alex Caruso’s return obviously helps as well.
Head coach Billy Donovan willingly acknowledges that injuries and circumstances created the pairing of White and Dosunmu. Prior to so many guards being sidelined simultaneously, Donovan rarely had played them together.
But in their three games as the starting backcourt that will last until LaVine’s return, Dosunmu and White have put up extremely solid numbers. Even if both are focused on the 1-2 record in that span.
“I just want to win,” White said.
Dosunmu is averaging 18 points, eight assists, 5.7 rebounds, two steals and just two turnovers in 39 minutes per game over his three starts. This is while shooting an impressive, but unsustainable, 76.7 percent and 7-for-10 on 3s.
White is at 17 points, 4.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and just one turnover in 36.3 minutes per game over the same stretch.
Both players also have displayed significant growth in areas that troubled them in the past. White has improved as a finisher at the rim and decision-maker on drives. Dosunmu’s playmaking decisions have moved from being a Summer-League issue to a strength. Donovan said the team decided after Wednesday morning’s shootaround to shift some of White’s playmaking duties onto the rookie.
“His maturity is amazing,” DeMar DeRozan said of Dosunmu. “For him to be on a great team, for one, the presence that he brings, you wouldn’t think he’s a rookie. You’ve got to be special to carry yourself that type of way. It’s not in an arrogant way because he’s one of those guys that’s inquisitive, always asking questions, always consistently trying to find ways to learn.
“He accepts his mistakes. He holds himself accountable. And that’s big for a young guy to be able to do that. The confidence he has within himself is amazing. And you see it when he goes out there and plays. He’s just always ready for the big moment. Before anything offensively, he takes on challenges defensively.”
Indeed, in recent appearances, Dosunmu has taken defensive turns on Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Ja Morant and Darius Garland. And while Dosunmu isn’t yet as accomplished of a point-of-attack defender as Ball, he has done his part in the Bulls’ defensive game plan to try to limit those accomplished players’ damage.
As for White, NBC Sports Chicago reported last week that the impression from several executives on other teams is that the Bulls intend to keep him past the Feb. 10 trade deadline.
Management can’t make long-term decisions based on short-term situations. So while the Ball injury would only seem to underscore this reporting, it’s notable that this stance was reached before then. And this is even with White eligible for a rookie contract extension this offseason.
Trade talks always are fluid. But White certainly isn’t going anywhere right now. He’s too busy forming one part of a dynamic new Bulls backcourt that will need to keep producing for the time being.