Following a season in which many projected him for development in the G League and instead produced the fourth-most minutes on the Chicago Bulls, Ayo Dosunmu fielded a question about whether he would play summer league.
“I don’t know,” Dosunmu said in late April following his exit meeting with the coaching staff and management. “Hopefully, I do. I would like to.”
And there it is. There’s the mindset — always pushing, always looking to improve — that propelled the Morgan Park High School and University of Illinois product throughout a surprisingly productive rookie season.
There’s the makeup that helped Dosunmu earn All-Rookie second-team honors in voting announced Wednesday night.
Dosunmu finished with two first- and 71 second-team votes for 75 points, the ninth-most among the rookie class. He joined Herbert Jones, Josh Giddey, Bones Hyland and Chris Duarte on the second team. The first team was comprised of Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Franz Wagner and Jalen Green.
He's the third straight Bull to land on the All-Rookie second team, following Coby White and Patrick Williams. Williams and Dosunmu represent the first two draft picks under the management regime headed by executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas.
After surprisingly falling to the second round in last year’s NBA draft, Dosunmu quickly earned the trust of his teammates and the coaching staff with an inquisitive nature and tough-mindedness that allowed him to rarely seem fazed by big moments.
Overall, Dosunmu averaged 8.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 steals over 77 games, including 40 starts. He averaged 27.4 minutes and shot 52 percent overall, including 37.6 percent from 3-point range.
“I would say I had a pretty good season,” Dosunmu said in late April. “Definitely more work to be done, more to accomplish, more room for improvement.”
Along those lines, Dosunmu cited a desire to get stronger this offseason and to improve his shot and his closeouts defensively. This is the attention to detail that veterans and coach Billy Donovan cited early in training camp regarding Dosunmu, who multiple people said constantly asked questions in his desire to learn.
“Coming in, it was hard to really put expectations on yourself because you never know,” Dosunmu said. “For example, if I had an expectation and I limited myself to playing maybe five or 10 minutes a game, that’s hindering yourself and hindering your growth. If you put the work in, you never know.”
With Coby White’s season debut delayed by offseason shoulder surgery, Dosunmu played 11 impactful minutes in the Bulls’ regular-season opener in Detroit and never looked back. He took advantage of injuries and absences caused by COVID-19 to never leave the rotation, instead bookending his impressive rookie campaign with a career-high 26 points in a staggering 45 minutes as Donovan rested starters in the regular-season finale.
In between, DeMar DeRozan took him under his wing, even traveling to Champaign for Dosunmu’s jersey retirement ceremony in January. In that same month, Dosunmu also became the first rookie in NBA history to post at least 20 points and 10 assists while shooting 90 percent.
In a two-point loss against a Celtics defense that has propelled them to the Eastern Conference finals, Dosunmu shot 9-for-10 for 21 points with 10 assists and just one turnover in 40 minutes. Donovan called him “fearless” and had high praise for him, coincidentally, following an earlier matchup against the Celtics in the Bulls’ come-from-behind home victory.
“He’s got a certain kind of makeup that I think is really special,” Donovan said in November. “He’s ultra-competitive and he has unbelievable confidence and belief in himself. But it’s not cross-the-line arrogant. That’s really a hard combination.”
DeRozan also talked about Dosunmu’s toughness.
“He’s definitely the epitome of a Chicago kid,” DeRozan once said.
Chicago kids often are about the work. And Dosunmu knows there’s plenty ahead.
“A lot of times early in the season, people didn’t know who I was. So at times I would catch them off guard, catch them by surprise,” he said in late April. “But then you know when you keep playing well and you get a name, you get a buzz, whatever, they start focusing more on you.”
It’s hard to hide when you’re on an All-Rookie team.
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