The Chicago Bulls entered the 2021 NBA Draft without a first-round pick. However, the Bulls were able to land a quality player with their second-round pick, adding University of Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu to the roster. Many fans are familiar with the Chicago-born player who opted to stay close to home for his college career.
Dosunmu is an exciting player with his committed work ethic, strong play, and charismatic off-court personality. I want to take a deep dive through some of Dosunmu’s film and talk about his strengths and weaknesses as a player. We’ll also look at how Ayo fits with the Bulls and what position he will play at the NBA level.
Ayo, Who’s That
Ayo Dosunmu is 21 years old and was born in Chicago. He was the No. 32-ranked prospect coming out of high school in 2018 before committing to the University of Illinois. He stands 6-feet-5 inches tall with a 6-foot-10 inch wingspan and weighs in at 195 pounds.
The Chicago kid is known for his high off-court character and work ethic. He has been quoted as saying his loves in life are his family, his school, his team, the game, and the gym. Ayo is more focused on the game than his social life or going out and he plans his days around his trips to the gym. He was the team leader during his time at the University of Illinois.
Dosunmu majored in communications while attending college. His favorite restaurant is Portillo’s, and his favorite basketball player is Kobe Bryant. Similar to Zach LaVine, Ayo has said his biggest influence is his father who “Instilled a work ethic in [him], that he carries with [himself] every day.” Dosunmu said he chose Illinois because “It was the best opportunity for him to focus on books and basketball.”
In Ayo’s three seasons at the University of Illinois, he led them to a 57-38 record and the 2021 Big Ten Conference Tournament title. Dosunmu was named the USA Today National Player of the Year in 2021. This season, Ayo averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists on 49% shooting from the field and 39% shooting from three-point range.
Dosunmu can shoot the three, pass the ball, and offers good perimeter defense — all things that the Chicago Bulls need. Despite being a second-round pick, Ayo has a real chance at getting playing time in his rookie season.
Art Of The Clamp
Let’s start by talking about Dosunmu’s defense. After all, defense is what gets rookies like Ayo on the court.
Watching Dosunmu defend on the perimeter is a very enjoyable experience. While Ayo is a little bit inconsistent like most college players, his flashes of high-level perimeter defense are extremely exciting. There are two major things that a player needs to be capable of defending the perimeter at a high level. First, they need to be able to keep their chest in front of their man. Secondly, they need to be able to navigate screens. Ayo shows signs of doing both on an extremely high level.
This clip is REALLY impressive. Notice the position Dosunmu is taking at the start. He is to the side of the point guard that he is defending. At the start of the clip, the Ohio State center is coming to set a screen on the point guard’s left side. What Ayo is doing is called denying the screen.
Because Dosunmu is doing this, the Ohio State point guard decides to drive to the basket. When a defense is denying a screen, they will position their center to stop the driving guard. And as you can see before the Ohio State guard starts to drive, the Illinois center is already positioned to stop him. What isn’t supposed to happen here is Ayo being so impressively quick that despite starting from behind the driver he not only catches up to him, but is able to get IN FRONT of him without fouling.
Ayo isn’t an especially fast player. So instead, his quickness comes from other places. Dosunmu knows that the guard is going to drive, so he’s already mentally preparing for it before it happens. In addition, Ayo is really good at the underrated basketball skill of reaction time. Dosunmu reacting so quickly buys him a fraction of a second that his lack of quickness deprives him of. Finally, Ayo is shuffling his feet instead of stepping. This shuffling allows him to move without taking the time to shift his hips towards the basket.
The Ohio State guard turns and desperately shovels the ball back to his center. The guard then runs around the center trying to create an impromptu screen. Ayo, like a lion tracking its prey, moves quickly. He instantly changes directions and identifies the fastest path back to his man. Dosunmu flies through the two centers, using his arms to help guide him across the big men.
By the time the Ohio State guard has the ball back with his body square to the basket, Ayo is right in front of him. The defeated guard decides to shovel a pass to his wing, who is notably not being guarded by Ayo Dosunmu.
Great Wall Of Dosunmu
Ayo complements his high-level screen navigation with his ability to keep his chest in front of his man. This clip is defined by the two claps. If you look closely, Dosunmu claps with 12 and 18 seconds left on the shot clock. Each clap represents a successful defensive sequence from Ayo.
To start, Dosunmu is guarding the Ohio State point guard. Ayo denies the screen just like he did at the start of the previous clip. As a result, the Ohio State guard uses the driving lane to his left to attack the basket. Ayo shuffles his feet well and denies the driving lane. This forces the Ohio State guard to pass to a teammate and reset the possession. Dosunmu has just stopped an offensive sequence.
As the Ohio State player receives the ball a second time, Ayo quickly gets into a defensive stance, tightly guarding the OSU ball handler. This time, however, the player attempts to catch Dosunmu off-guard by driving to the inside. Ayo quickly rotates his hips and again starts shuffling back, using his body to wall off the path to the basket.
The Ohio State player even fouls Dosunmu by using his arm in an attempt to to push Ayo off to create space. Impressively, Dosunmu’s ‘bend, don’t break’ footwork allows him to absorb the contact without giving up much space.
Finally, the Ohio State guard tries to quickly relocate to the three-point line for an open jump shot. Ayo quickly covers the ground. With Dosunmu’s long wingspan in range to contest, the Ohio State guard finally gives up. Ayo, still doing work, closes in to cut off any passing lanes towards the basket. This sequence ends with Dosunmu’s second clap, as he’s just shut down the leading scorer on the seventh-ranked team in the nation.
“I think it was just finding my spots and my teammates just finding me.”– Zion Williamson
Excerpt from ‘Thunder facing Pelicans for first time with Zion’ on TheScore.com
If you read a lot of interviews with NBA rookies, you’ve probably heard the term “finding my spots” before. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, they’re trying to find the spots on the court where they can consistently score. It’s a really important process in any young player’s development. Let’s try to find Ayo’s spots.
The graphic above is a shot chart from Dosunmu’s past season at the University of Illinois. The red sections are areas where Ayo shot above the NCAA average, and the blue sections are where he shot below the NCAA average. It clearly seems like Dosunmu shoots best at the top of the three-point line, in the mid-range, and at the basket. However, this chart is a catfish and I want to show you why.
If Ayo wants to shoot from the center of the court at the three-point line and in the mid-range, then obviously he wants to play in the center of the court, right?
In this clip, Dosunmu drives down the center of the court and tries to get to the rim. Unfortunately, just before he gets to the rim, he takes contact from the defender. This contact prompts Ayo to pull the ball back and try some fading runner instead of a layup at the rim.
This clip is an example of why Ayo’s shot chart is misleading. His lack of elite vertical leap, speed while dribbling, and ball security lead to him being passive around the rim when attacking from center court. So, where is Ayo’s spot?
In this clip, Dosunmu starts with the ball in the left corner three-point area. Despite this being a spot where Ayo shot poorly, I think it’s where he functions best.
He fakes to his left while slowing himself to a near-complete stop. He then quickly shifts the ball right and begins driving to the basket. Ayo is using this stop or hesitation move to lull his defender to sleep. As a result, when Dosunmu does start moving it’s a quick change of pace.
By doing this, Ayo is simulating a quick burst of speed despite not having an elite first step. The shorter distance between the corner and the basket means the defender has less time to catch up to Dosunmu. Now that Ayo is on his way to the basket, he’s going to use the baseline masterfully to cover the other two flaws we mentioned.
Dosunmu is still mastering the art of driving through traffic. However, when operating around the baseline Ayo can put his body between the ball and the defenders. He is using the baseline and his body as two walls that prevent the defenders from snatching the ball.
Once Dosunmu gets to the basket, he uses his upper body to push his way between the rim protector and the basket. And finally, he uses his 6-foot-10 wingspan to finish around his defender. Most scoring guards combine vertical leap and body control in the air to finish through or over rim protectors. Ayo, on the other hand, uses his length and toughness to finish around the defenders.
Ayo’s drives down the baseline also lead to some of his best playmaking. I’ve watched a lot of Dosunmu in action and this is pretty easily my favorite clip of his.
First, Ayo receives the ball from his teammate in the left corner. There are a lot of obstacles between Dosunmu and his favorite baseline drive. Namely, a pair of NBA players and a giant. In between our protagonist and the basket are the No. 9 pick in the NBA Draft, Davion Mitchell, the No. 40 pick in the NBA Draft, Jared Butler, and 6-foot-10 Flo Thamba, who possesses a 7-foot-5 wingspan.
Let’s look at how Ayo chooses to approach this.
Dosunmu just confidently drives baseline anyway into a trio of defenders. He then rises above them using his long wingspan to fire a pass over the defender’s heads to his wide-open teammate.
Good NBA teams play good defense at almost all times. Unfortunately for defenses, the best NBA scorers have mastered their go-to move. These elite scorers are able to execute their favorite plays regardless of how tightly guarded they may be. I think the baseline drive IS Ayo’s go-to move. And he’s showing signs of being able to make it work even in the tightest of spaces.
Dynamic Decision Maker
We’re going to quickly take an extremely deep dive into one exceptional play. I’m a big fan of this play because it shows a lot of the skills that make Ayo great. And they all work together in harmony.
December 2, 2020: The University of Illinois is taking on Baylor. Ayo Dosunmu has the ball at the top of the three-point line. Illinois is about to run a play that is extremely rare to see at the college level. This play is a “Spain pick-and-roll”. It’s used a lot in the Euro League, and it’s quickly becoming popular amongst NBA teams.
This play is becoming so popular because it’s effective. The play forces defenses to make a lot of decisions. More decisions lead to more opportunities for a defender to make an incorrect decision. However, the play also forces your own point guard to make a lot of decisions also. As a result, not many college teams run this play as college coaches try to run simpler plays that are easier for young guards to execute. But, Illinois coach Brad Underwood shows a lot of trust in Ayo’s ability and decision-making and decides to run this advanced play at the college level.
We’re going to use these half-court diagrams to help break this play down. The circles represent the Illinois players. In this play, Ayo Dosunmu is the point guard. Ayo is going to need to make a total of seven decisions in about eight seconds. Let’s look at them.
Okay, let’s talk about the first movement in a Spain pick-and-roll, and the first decision Ayo has to make. To start, the shooting guard is going to take a step out wide, then burst toward Dosunmu along the orange path to set a screen. About one second after this, the center is going to follow the dark blue line and set a second screen.
This is where Ayo’s first decision occurs. If he thinks he has an open driving lane to the basket, he can ignore the play completely and follow the dotted red line. However, in this instance, Ayo decides the driving lane isn’t open. So he follows the solid red line across the two screens, ending up at the red dot.
Decisions #2, #3, and #4
Now that Ayo has made the first decision and decided to run the play, he has to make decisions #2, #3, and #4. After Dosunmu has come across the screens set by his teammates, he can choose one of three things. Ayo’s choices are to shoot, drive, or continue to run the play.
In this play, the Baylor defenders are afraid to leave Ayo, who is a 39% three-point shooter, open. As a result, two Baylor defenders swarm Dosunmu on the ball. Because of this, Ayo is unable to shoot or drive. So instead of forcing a shot or driving through traffic, he decides to finish the Spain pick-and-roll play.
Decisions #5, #6, and #7
Now that Ayo has committed to finishing the play, his job is to choose one of three passes. This is a pick-and-roll so the center who has just set a screen will roll to the basket. The shooting guard continues his movement and tries to get himself open on the three-point line.
Finally, the small forward and power forward join the play. The power forward starts moving toward the basket but stops about halfway there to set a screen. Meanwhile, the small forward cuts across the baseline under the basket. The small forward comes around the screen set by his teammate in an attempt to get open for a corner three-pointer.
Now it’s up to Ayo to make the 5th, 6th, and 7th decision and decide which of these three players he should pass to. Instead of telling you what he does, let’s watch this masterful sequence play out.
Ayo starts in a driving position with his head low to the court. With the ball in his right hand, he uses a hesitation move to bait the defender into thinking he will drive. Ayo quickly moves across both screens, stopping for a second to read the defense. Blitzed by a pair of Baylor defenders, he decides to pass instead.
Dosunmu scans the court quickly, first looking to his right at the shooter coming off the screen in the corner, then at the roll man near the basket. Ayo rises above the two Baylor defenders with a jump and uses his 6-foot-10 wingspan to fire a pass. It finds the hands of his center at the rim who is wide open due to the pair of defenders blitzing Ayo. The center dumps in an easy dunk at the rim for two points.
Everything in this play involves Ayo’s decision-making, but he also shows a lot of his other skills. Dosunmu uses his ball-handling and driving threat to get his original defender off balance. Then, Ayo’s shooting and driving threat drew in the pair of Baylor defenders. Dosunmu’s decision-making leads him to opt for a pass instead. And finally, Ayo’s good positional size and passing ability enable him to find the open man. Dosunmu will be bringing all of these skills with him to the Bulls’ offense.
If you want to see the full play, it would look like this!
Ayo Dosunmu’s Fit With The Bulls
Ayo’s combination of perimeter defense, scoring, and playmaking give him a good chance of winning himself some playing time early on. In college, Dosunmu was primarily featured as either a point guard or a combo guard. However, I think Ayo will feature in a different role in the NBA.
NBA basketball is a constantly evolving game. Most fans are familiar with the modern role of a 3-and-D wing. Shockingly, this idea of 3-and-D wings is already becoming slightly outdated. A trio of successful teams in the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors, 2020 Western Conference finalist Denver Nuggets, and 2021 Eastern Conference finalist Atlanta Hawks are quietly revolutionizing the wing position.
The flaw with 3-and-D players is that they’re extremely offensively limited. These players are overly reliant on teammates to create chances for them. A lack of ability to confidently dribble to open spaces or find teammates with advanced passes can leave an offense vulnerable.
For example, if a defending team needs to hide a weak defender, they can match them up on a 3-and-D player. The 3-and-D player’s only required offensive skill is hitting catch-and-shoot three-pointers. As a result, this role is full of players who aren’t able to dribble or make high-level passes. Without the ability to dribble, the hidden weak defender doesn’t need to worry about getting beat by their man. All this weak defender needs to do is follow this 3-and-D player around and try to contest their shot.
Pass, Dribble, Shoot
A great example of this would be Game 7 of the series between the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers from the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Atlanta entered the second half down one point. Atlanta’s star player Trae Young was heavily pressured by a pair of All-Defensive Team players in Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle. As a result, Young scored only seven points on 3-for-9 shooting in the second half of Game 7. For most teams, their star player scoring only seven points in a close elimination game would almost certainly lead to defeat. However, another hero stepped up for Atlanta.
Philadelphia’s offense was struggling as well. Luckily for them, Seth Curry was having a good night offering crucial floor spacing for the Sixers. Unfortunately for them, Seth Curry is an atrocious defender. In an attempt to hide Curry on defense, Philadelphia matched him up with Atlanta Hawks’ wing Kevin Huerter.
Huerter scored 27 points in this game including 15 in the second half. He is capable of offering the same above-average defense and catch-and-shoot floor spacing of a traditional 3-and-D player. However, Huerter is able to abuse weak defenders and create his own shots as well.
Huerter, much like Ayo Dosunmu, mostly played either point guard or combo guard in college at Maryland. While neither is likely to run an NBA team’s offense, they still retained the skills they developed in college. Such players like allow an offense to be more dynamic and clinical. This hypermodern pass, dribble, shoot wing is the role I see Ayo thriving in for the Bulls.
Ayo Dosunmu was who the Chicago Bulls selected with their lone pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Dosunmu was born in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois. The 21-year-old led U of I to a lot of success at the college level and will look to begin translating that success to the NBA level this season.
Ayo is a good kid both on and off the court. He’s heavily focused on the game of basketball and should be a great addition to the Bulls’ locker room. Dosunmu’s game includes high-level perimeter defense where he navigates screens well and prevents players from attacking the basket. He also does a fantastic job of both scoring and assisting when using the baseline. Ayo is a fantastic decision-maker who was able to master advanced concepts while still playing at the college level. The rookie will likely operate in the hypermodern pass, dribble, shoot wing role for the Bulls.
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