Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu can’t replace Lonzo Ball, but he’s sure trying

No one was going to replace Lonzo Ball.

To a man, the Bulls organization was adamant about that throughout training camp and into the start of the regular season.

Leave it to the kid from Chicago, however, to at least try pulling off a pretty good imitation.

Former Morgan Park High School standout Ayo Dosunmu went into Thursday’s off day with somewhat pedestrian stats. In his 30-plus minutes a game, he was averaging 12.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and a 13.99 player efficiency rating.

But his sophomore season playing for his hometown team isn’t just about numbers. It’s about growth, both in the idea of becoming a two-way player, and a vocal leader.

Go ahead and check both of those boxes.

“You know what he brings to the table, but he steps up to the challenge all the time,” All-Star guard Zach LaVine said of his teammate. “Ayo, even in his second year, is a vocal leader on our team, and he helps pick up our energy, offensively, defensively, just the way he carries himself.”

That was again on display in the 106-88 Wednesday blowout of Charlotte, but his signature game of the young season came a night earlier, when Dosunmu finished with 17 points in the win in Brooklyn, but more impressively handcuffed future Hall of Famer Kyrie Irving into by far his worst performance of not only this season, but a few years.

Irving came into the showdown with the Bulls averaging 30.1 points per game in the first month of the season, but went 2-for-12 for four points, and mostly with Dosunmu shadowing him.

“[Irving] has so many counters, the most offensively-skilled player the game has ever seen, and I just wanted to use my length, try and beat him to the spots,” Dosunmu said. “Test all his shots. Once he gets to his pivot [foot], the game really starts. I just tried to contest as many shots as I could.”

A performance very Ball-like.

What Dosunmu also did the last few games was finally getting his fellow starters to understand the urgency of playing hard from the opening tip. A lingering issue through the first nine games, even in the five wins.

That’s the part of Ball’s game that has been a huge hole.

In the 35 games Ball did play before the left knee first started becoming an issue, the Bulls were 22-13, but were also a very good team from the first whistle.

Ball was a plus-35 in plus/minus just in the first quarters alone as evidence of that.

The story was quite different with Dosunmu now running the point this season as Ball continued rehabbing, but the last two games that’s starting to change.

“That’s really been something we’ve been focusing on,” Dosunmu said of better first-quarter starts. “We’ve been talking about that a lot. The games we won, the games we lost, we always come out [and go down] 12-2, 12-4, and then we have to fight back. If we have to have that fight anyway, why waste it? Why not come out strong, come out and throw that first punch, and then later in the game when we do make that run, rather than it bringing us back from 19 or 10, now it’s giving us an eight-point lead.”

In Dosunmu’s mind, the best way to make sure his team is engaged early? His mouth, but also his defense.

“The offense we have, the shots are going to come,” Dosunmu said. “I just want to be that vocal leader that can come out and harp on guys, keep harping on them, ‘Let’s come out strong [on defense].’ ”

Ball would be proud.

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