How Dosunmu has productively handled move to second unit


It should surprise no one that Ayo Dosunmu has handled Billy Donovan's decision to start Alex Caruso over him with grace.

But that is exactly what the Chicago Bulls' second-year guard, who was tabbed at the beginning of the season to hold down the starting point guard spot in Lonzo Ball's indefinite absence, has done in the last week.

"I have a great relationship with coach, so we talked about it for a lengthy time. It was about the team," Dosunmu said after the team's Friday morning practice. "He (Donovan) wanted to shake it up, change some things up, to try to find out different ways to help our team win, and also try to create opportunities where I'm in a position to be aggressive."

Indeed, Donovan made the decision to substitute Dosunmu and Patrick Williams with Caruso and Javonte Green in hopes of shaking up a first unit that had been prone to sluggish starts, particularly at the defensive end.

And although the sample size is limited — and Green has missed two games with a knee injury — the lineup data supports swapping Caruso and Dosunmu, specifically. According to Cleaning The Glass, lineups containing the Bulls' "Big Three" of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević plus Caruso, but without Dosunmu, own a plus-6.2 net rating in 257 possessions; the Big Three with Dosunmu but not Caruso are minus-9.8 in 510 possessions.

Rest assured Donovan is aware of such statistical splits. For all of his traditional coaching experience, he is also a proponent of balancing his feel and eye-test with numbers, and is constantly in communication with the Bulls' analytics department in pursuit of that mission.

But ask the Bulls' head coach how he evaluates different player combinations, and he will also routinely reference the human element of lineup tinkering.

"You could sit there and move guys around like chess pieces," Donovan said when asked about the topic before Wednesday's win over the Wizards. "But they're also human beings."

That is why Donovan has repeatedly stressed that, while the focus has been on the Bulls' starting lineup, his rotation shakeup was also intended to juice a veteran second unit that has slumped since a scalding start to the season — and place the younger Dosunmu and Williams in positions to succeed.

That dynamic has been evident in Dosunmu's first three games off the bench. In those contests, he has shot 9-for-16 (56.3 percent) from the field, 2-for-5 (40 percent) from 3-point range and handed out eight assists to just two turnovers.

Beyond the numbers, he has also been less burdened by the intangible responsibilities of starting at point guard alongside the Bulls' ball-dominant stars and found opportunities to leverage his lightning-quick driving ability playing with a second unit whose identity is built around playing with pace.

"That group has been really, really good when they've been able to rebound and run," Donovan said. "So trying to take those transition situations, for him, and get him into places where he is in the open floor and he can attack a little bit more and play downhill and be a little bit more aggressive there. I think the same thing with Patrick, too."

That emphasis on collapsing the defense by getting downhill and either scoring or drawing help and passing, Donovan added, is playing to Dosunmu's strengths.

"I'm still a playmaker. But the more games I play, the more the game slows down for me, and I'm able to get in the lane," Dosunmu said. "And just playing with confidence. I always say, that's all it is. Coming in right away, trying to insert myself into the game on both ends and continuing to get better, continuing to get more comfortable out there and continuing to game the coaching staff's trust."

Even if Dosunmu was overextended in the starting spot, that trust evidently remains strong. Because, while the long-term returns on the ripple effects of Donovan's lineup change have yet to come to fruition, Dosunmu's versatility and humility have made him an asset in any role assigned.

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