With the Chicago Bulls’ first playoff appearance in five seasons checked off the to-do list, I think we can officially call the 2021-22 season a step in the right direction. But we also know this aggressive front office isn’t going to be satisfied with a quick five-game series. The goal is to take another large step forward this offseason, and that process starts with understanding exactly where everyone on the current roster stands.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to review each member of the Chicago Bulls 2021-22 roster. We’ll talk about how they looked this year, what they need to improve on, and what the future might have in store for them.
To start this series off on a fun note, I thought we’d discuss the new hometown hero: Ayo Dosunmu!
Games played: 77
FG%: 52.0 (6.9 FGAs)
3P%: 37.6 (2.4 3PAs)
Among his draft classmates, Ayo Dosunmu tied for the 3rd-most games played this season. He shot the single-best mark from the field out of the 14 rookies that attempted at least 525 shots, and he converted at the 4th-highest rate among first-year players who took at least 180 shots from downtown. Defensively, he also finished with the 7th-most steals and 8th-most blocks.
What He Did Well
Two things stand out to me when I look back at Ayo Dosunmu’s rookie campaign: Playmaking and defense.
As efficient of a jump shooter as Dosunmu turned out to be, it was his facilitating prowess that proved most essential to the Chicago Bulls’ offense. With Lonzo Ball out of the lineup and Alex Caruso also struggling with injuries, Dosunmu channeled the same skills that won him the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s top point guard in college. He averaged 5.3 assists per game in his 40 starts, and he put together five games with double-digit assists and 13 games with seven dimes or more.
Dosunmu finished his year dishing the 4th-most assists among rookies. Expand that chart to include the entire NBA, and Dosunmu finished 20th in total assists from February 1st to the end of the regular season. Even more impressive, he committed the 3rd-fewest turnovers among those top-20 players, placing him behind only Chris Paul and Terry Rozier.
Plugged into the true point guard role, we got to see Dosunmu’s basketball IQ on full display. He did a surprisingly reliable job in the halfcourt setting for a player so new to the NBA game, and he built a particularly strong connection with big man Nikola Vucevic.
In the last two wins (CLE, OKC), the Dosunmu-Vucevic connection has really stood out.
Ayo has 16 asts over those two games, 8 of which went to Vooch. He's found the big man in his spots, placing the feed where Vooch can go right into his shot.
Great stuff by the rookie ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/IwD0iUyhmK
— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) January 25, 2022
Indeed, Dosunmu sent 70 assists Vucevic’s way this season, which were his most to a single teammate. He repeatedly generated high percentage looks, showing real promise with his live-dribble passing around the rim and quick-twitch ability to find cutters. Not only was it impressive to watch him read the game this easily this fast, but it played a vital role in keeping the Bulls’ offense afloat throughout a long season. And the same thing can be said about his impact on the defensive end.
While Dosunmu’s steady hand on offense will help make his case for an All-Rookie team, it will be his on-ball defense that will lock in the spot. Dosunmu may not be on Ball and Caruso’s level this early in his career, but he showed the gap may not be as far as some would think. The rookie ended up drawing some of the hardest team assignments throughout the year, finding real success against several of the best pure scorers in the league.
Ayo Dosunmu had the length and lateral speed to be a solid defender, but I can’t believe he is this good this fast.
His on-ball D has been absurd. He’s hung with some of the best scorers in the league. Always moves his feet. Great timing on the contest.
Special stuff ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/mTdYtL5Qng
— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) January 27, 2022
Most notably, Dosunmu used a mix of lateral quickness and length to give Trae Young trouble. The NBA’s leader in total points scored this season shot just 36.7 percent against Dosunmu in four games. The rookie also blocked Young five times and fouled him just three times, per NBA’s Matchup data.
We also saw Dosunmu hold Jayson Tatum to just 5-16 shooting and Darius Garland to 13-31. He may have had the benefit of playing three seasons in college, but rookies simply aren’t supposed to be this advanced on this side of the ball. The mere fact he was able to hold his own against multiple elite scorers this year only pushes his overall ceiling higher.
🗣 AYO DOSUNMU WAS THE STEAL OF THE DRAFT
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) December 28, 2021
Already a Chicago-native and Fighting Illini legend, Dosunmu didn’t need to do much to earn respect from fans. But he did so freakin’ much!
Remember that time he posterized the Pacers to seal the win?
With a chance to put the game away, the 38th pick does this.
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) February 5, 2022
Or what about that time he posterized the 76ers *literally* two nights later?
ANDRE DRUMMOND HAS ANNOUNCED HIS RETIREMENT pic.twitter.com/kfyyXHvJBS
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) February 6, 2022
Of course, there was also that time he scored his new career-high on a half-court buzzer-beater.
Ayo Dosunmu Scores New Career-High With a Halfcourt Buzzer-Beaterhttps://t.co/LfTqYGc87M
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) January 25, 2022
Oh, and we can’t forget the time Bradley Beal gave him some advice … and Dosunmu instantly used it against him.
LOL: Bradley Beal Gave Ayo Dosunmu Some Advice, Dosunmu Immediately Used it Against Himhttps://t.co/bVnnOifh2N
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) January 8, 2022
Where He Can Improve
Dosunmu’s first year should comfortably be considered a success. Not only did he receive a substantial amount of playing time, but he flashed a lot of potential on both sides of the ball. The rookie put himself on a great track moving forward, and he now gets to take advantage of his first real NBA offseason to keep things trending in the right direction.
“I want to get stronger,” Dosunmu said when asked what he plans to work on this summer. “I have a good body in terms of how it’s built, so I want to get stronger, get my legs stronger. I think that’s the main goal because the stronger I get, the better I’ll be able to do just more moves on the court. Of course, continue to work on my shot. Get that better. Pretty much work on everything in my game. Close outs, defensively, everything to just make myself a more well-rounded player.”
Dosunmu’s right. With only one season under his belt, there isn’t one area of his game he should ignore over the next few months. But there are at least a couple of things he can prioritize to help his team in the short term.
Improved strength helps crash the boards and take on more imposing defensive matchups. For Dosunmu – who could find himself playing more off-the-ball next season alongside a healthy Ball and Caruso – that would be key.
Likewise, the continued development of his 3-point shot could prove major for expanding his role. He may have flashed an efficient 3-point stroke in catch-and-shoot situations this season, but his release is still rather slow, and he doesn’t offer much at all off-the-dribble. Adding some sort of side-step 3-pointer or off-the-bounce shot creation would be a big help in solving some of the Bulls’ trouble behind the arc.
I also wouldn’t hate to see Dosunmu attack the basket more moving forward. A methodical ball-handler who finished around the rim at a 66 percent clip this season (86th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass), learning how to attack more driving lanes could turn him into a more reliable scoring punch off the bench. The Bulls had one of the worst benches in the NBA when it came to carrying the offensive load, and there should be a ton of room for Dosunmu to step up and take pressure off the starters next season (especially if the Bulls move on from Coby White).
What’s His Bulls Future?
We can never say never in this league, but I highly doubt Arturas Karnisovas plans to move on from Ayo Dosunmu this summer. If anything, I bet the front office leader is kicking himself that he didn’t ink the 38th-overall pick to a deal longer than two seasons.
I expect Dosunmu to enter next year as a steady part of the rotation. He’ll likely carry more off-ball responsibilities on a healthy roster, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bulls now emphasize handing him more lead guard opportunities in the second unit after his performance this season. He clearly flashed his best work at the point guard position and removing that job from his plate entirely would be silly.
Dosunmu may be under contract for only one more season, but I have to imagine the Bulls are already thinking about how they can keep him in his hometown longer. As cramped as the backcourt might be with Ball and Caruso, Dosunmu offers his own set of two-way skills that fits the transition-heavy play style the front office clearly prefers.