NEW YORK — Early in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls’ impressive victory over the Brooklyn Nets Saturday night, rookie Ayo Dosunmu displayed his growth on one spectacular play.
With Brooklyn in front 84-83, Nets guard — and fellow rookie — Cam Thomas led what appeared to be a one-on-one fastbreak against Lonzo Ball. But as Thomas went up for a double-clutch layup, Dosunmu swooped in from behind for a suffocating chasedown block.
“I just knew that he was going to lay it in. I saw the way his body went, his gesture. He went into the steps. I was just timing it up,” Dosunmu said of the swat. “I used to always do it a lot in high school and college. Just try to pride myself on being a two-way player. That was probably one of my first times in the NBA where I really got a chance to size it up. So I wanted to seize the moment.”
Even on a speedy sequence, the game is slowing down for Dosunmu. You could see it on that play. And you can see it even more clearly on offense.
Relentlessly aggressive, the second-round pick out of Morgan Park High School and University of Illinois is better picking his spots.
“I think his decision-making as we’ve gone forward has gotten better,” coach Billy Donovan said. “There are times he’s a very aggressive driver to the basket. But he also has to recognize who’s at the basket.”
For instance, in Thursday’s victory over the Knicks, trying to attack 7-foot Mitchell Robinson isn’t always the best idea. Against the Nets, Dosunmu played off DeMar DeRozan more and knocked down five of six shots to go along with his three rebounds, two blocks and his game-best plus-16.
Those numbers all came in the second-most playing time of his young career, just over 23 minutes. And they came at a most opportune time as the Bulls played without Coby White and Javonte Green, as well as losing Alex Caruso after just eight minutes to a hamstring injury.
“I think I’m getting better each game,” Dosunmu said. “One thing I love about Coach Donovan is he shows so much tough love to me. After every game, whether I play a lot or I don’t play a lot, he always calls me over and gives me words of encouragement. Sometimes it may be good. Sometimes it may be bad. I take the constructive criticism and try to help myself become a better player because I know that he obviously sees something in me if he’s coaching me hard.”
Dosunmu also helped ice the victory by splitting a pair of free throws with 9.3 seconds left. Befitting his always-grinding mindset, he rued his three missed free throws in four attempts rather than the critical one he sank.
But in the next breath, Dosunmu matter-of-factly stated he would improve in that department. This confidence is rooted in a work ethic that has fueled the rookie’s unexpected emergence in the rotation.
Even when White returned from his offseason shoulder surgery and before White landed in the league’s health and safety protocols, Dosunmu never left the rotation. He certainly has no plans to now that the game is slowing down for him.
“Brick by brick. Try to keep building. Set a foundation,” he said of his mentality. “Try to get better each game, on and off the court.”