Bulls' Ayo Dosunmu gets first crack at starting point guard spot

Why Bulls' point guard job may be Dosunmu's to lose originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

There’s an old professional sports adage to never overreact to preseason play.

So Ayo Dosunmu must be the Chicago Bulls’ starting point guard until Lonzo Ball returns, right?

Actually, one meager preseason start or not, there’s plenty of momentum for Dosunmu to get the nod alongside Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams and Nikola Vucevic come Oct. 19 in Miami when the regular season begins.

Coach Billy Donovan has been hinting as much even before Dosunmu drew the first look in Tuesday’s preseason-opening loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at the United Center.

While repeatedly calling newcomer Goran Dragic the most seasoned and experienced of the bunch, Donovan also has made clear that preservation for the playoffs is top of mind when it comes to the 36-year-old.

Coby White appears destined for a reserve scoring role, playing more off the ball to take advantage of his shooting ability.

As for Alex Caruso? Expect him in plenty, if not all, of the closing lineups. And he added his typical spark with nine points and three rebounds in 17 minutes. But Caruso also drew five fouls, a reminder that his hellbent defensive style might be best served for ends of games, not starts.

Dosunmu isn’t a prototypical point guard. But he’s a sponge, always asking questions of coaches and teammates, and an adaptable and willing learner. He also started 40 games last season, an unexpected development that accelerated his growth.

“Any time you get experience that means a lot. That's how you become a very good player,” Dosunmu said. “You have to just put the work in, and then also have to have experience, go through the battles. So definitely those games helped me for this upcoming season, offseason. Because I knew what to work on, what to expect.

“Even coming into this game, being a rookie you don't know what to expect you're just out there playing hard. Now I know what to expect on both ends of the court.”

Dosunmu finished with 10 points, three assists and two rebounds in 22 minutes.

“I think I did an OK job as we continue to try to move more into a free-flowing offense. There are going to be tough times,” Dosunmu said. “That’s when we need to come together and continue to move the ball, continue to trust each other and stick with the plan.”

Both Dosunmu and Caruso are team-first guys, willing to play whatever role is asked as long as it contributed to winning. In fact, Caruso has been giving Dosunmu advice.

“Command the floor. Ball’s in your hands as a point guard, you have to run the show. Get everybody organized,” Caruso said. “He’s a helluva player so there’s not too much you have to tell him about his game to get him going. Just make sure he stays motivated and ready.”

Nobody ever has to worry about that with Caruso, who is more focused on closing games anyway.

“I hope so. That’s the goal,” he said, when asked if he thinks he will play in most closing lineups. “I’m a competitor.

“Everybody knows what my motivation for basketball is. I like to win. So whatever it is I gotta do to get myself better to help the team better itself is what I’m looking to do.”

After the loss, Donovan summarized the positional play thusly.

“I thought Goran uncharacteristically had some turnovers that he probably would like to have back,” Donovan said. “I think coming into a new situation, new team, learning to play with those guys it’s going to be normal. I don’t worry about him based on his experiences.

“I thought Ayo played pretty efficiently. I think he was trying to direct guys out there. But I also think with the point-guard play, we’ve all got to help each other. Ayo can direct. And I thought he was way more vocal this year than he was last year. And that’s something we’ve tried to focus on with him is being more commanding. And I think he was.”

Ultimately, Donovan’s point is while obviously there has to be a starting point guard in Ball’s absence, the Bulls feature enough playmakers in LaVine and DeRozan who will command the ball and initiate actions. The point guard may bring the ball up after made baskets. But on missed shots, whoever the outlet pass finds will bring the ball upcourt.

In other words, no matter who starts, the position will be handled by committee until Ball returns. And LaVine reminded all about how significant that absence is.

“You’re not going to replace Lonzo. That’s just not going to happen,” LaVine said. “Guys can step up and play their role and their game in that position. But we’re not going to pick up what he brings to the table---his passing ability, his defensive ability, his shooting. There’s a lot we miss from him.

“It’s interchangeable. Somebody might bring the ball up. But it’s going to get swung and put in another guy’s hand. There’s going to be cutting and moving. We’ll be OK.”

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