It’s premature. I know.
But for the first time in a long time the University of Illinois is going to have someone selected in the NBA Draft. Whether it’s this summer, next summer, or some summer after that, Ayo Dosunmu will be the first Illini Basketball player drafted since Meyers Leonard in 2012.
First and foremost, I’m an Illinois Basketball fan, so I’m going to soak up as much Ayo in the Orange and Blue as I can, while I can. But I’m also a huge NBA fan, so I’m excited at the prospect of having a new Illini in the league. And I absolutely love Dosunmu’s game and some of my favorite guys to watch in the league have a similar makeup.
Ideally, Ayo would be a lead guard at the next level. His vision and playmaking for himself and others is his most unique and valuable offensive attribute. Combine that with his length and speed and he has the opportunity to be a formidable two-way player who can guard three positions, get out and run, initiate offense and play off of other creators. If you can do two of those four things, you have a chance to stick around in the league.
Ayo is listed at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds. He has a very long frame that he is still filling out, but he has a lot of the physical tools that the new NBA is desperate for. Through 23 games, Ayo is averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 45% from the field, 36% from three and 70% from the line. Many places currently have Ayo as a potential late first-round, or early second-round pick. I think what sets Ayo apart from a lot of these potential comparisons is his feel for the game and “true point guard” skills. I think he may have a truly elite skill for running a NBA offense and playmaking in the full court and half court that seamlessly translates to the next level. I think that presence and skill will make up for any slight lack of athleticism or shooting that certain comparisons have over him. And it’s why I think he’s going to be a starting point guard in the NBA for quite a long time.
Here’s a few names that remind me of our newfound star.
Credit to TCR staffer Brandon Birkhead, who was the first person I heard make this comp. Murray was drafted 29th overall (1st round) in 2016 after playing one year at Washington. Right now, that’s about where a one-and-done Ayo Dosunmu is projected to go. At 6’5”, 170 lbs and an incredible wingspan, Murray also has a very similar frame to Dosunmu. He has great length and speed like Ayo and both have a smoothness to their game which tailors to playing point guard at the size of a combo guard/wing. Murray averaged 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists on 41%/28%/66% shooting during his one year at Washington. Murray showed a bit more explosiveness than Dosunmu, but so far Ayo has proven to be a better shooter as a college freshmen.
Given his frame, skillset, age and projected draft position, I think Murray might be the best NBA draft comparison we have for Ayo Dosunmu.
Holiday is personally one of my favorite players in the NBA. He was drafted 17th overall in 2009 after playing only one season at UCLA where he averaged 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists on 45%/30%/73% shooting. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, he is a pretty good physical comp for Ayo.
Holiday is coming off an NBA All-Defensive Team season and has developed into a league average three-point shooter. I think Dosunmu has a slightly different offensive game than Holiday, and has the potential to be an even better playmaker. But even if if Ayo’s offensive playmaking never hits it’s full potential, I think he can have success sliding up a position and becoming a great multi-positional guard defender.
Before we get carried away, I’m not predicting Dosunmu will make an All-Defensive Team like Holiday, but he could be a very valuable plus-defender in the league. I view Holiday as one version of a potential-ceiling for Ayo to shoot for, especially defensively.
Delon Wright played two seasons at the University of Utah before being selected 20th overall in the first round of the 2015 Draft. At 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds, Wright put up 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists 50%/35%/80% shooting during his sophomore season at Utah. Wright was a great playmaker in college and showed off blow-by speed and great athleticism around the rim.
It didn’t work out for Wright in Toronto. He was asked to play behind Kyle Lowry and he hasn’t been a reliable enough shooter to steal more wing minutes. He was just traded to Memphis where he’ll look for a fresh start.
But much like Dosunmu, he’s a prospect who seems to possess all of the tools: length, vision, playmaking, athleticism, shooting. The question is whether he is a jack of all trades and a master of none. That’s something Ayo will need to prove at the next level.
Remember him? He’s quietly had a great NBA career. Harris left after winning B1G POY his junior year at Wisconsin and was picked fifth overall in the 2004 NBA Draft. He was listed as 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds and put up 19 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists at Wisconsin in 2004 while shooting a slash line of 46%/37%/79%. In his best NBA season, Harris put up 21/7/3.
He played in a different era with less of an emphasis on three-point shooting so it’s hard to compare these guys, but they both have long arms and great speed for the point guard position. Harris showed more of a knack for scoring during his college career than we’ve seen from Ayo so far, but I see a lot of comparisons between these two.
Payton was selected tenth overall after averaging 19 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds at UL-Lafayette. Payton is another guy with a similar frame to Dosunmu at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds. He struggled to shoot in college and that continued into the NBA. His slash line his junior year was 50%/26%/61%. I think Dosunmu has already proven to be a much better shooter than Payton ever was.
While Payton may have a bit more bounce, they’re both extremely quick players with a great feel for the game and love to get their teammates involved. They both play with a similar “smoothness” and run the floor quickly and aggressively, which is why I wanted to include Payton here.
I wanted to drop this tweet from DraftExpress in here as well:
Impressive stuff from Ayo Dosunmu at MSG in front of quite a few NBA scouts. Showing his athleticism, shot-making, terrific vision, creativity and multipositonal defensive potential. Just turned 19 last week. His physical comparisons from our measurement database are interesting: pic.twitter.com/7fxeSkU9Ag— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) January 26, 2019
These are merely guys who Ayo is matching with in their database based on physical attributes (mainly height, weight, wingspan, etc.), but it’s still interesting. Let’s knock through them.
Elfrid Payton: See above.
Russell Westbrook: Nah. Westbrook is an athletic freak.
Ben McLemore: Yuck. He’s strictly a shooter/scorer type, doesn’t play defense.
Malik Beasley: Nope. Shooter, off-the-ball role player.
E’Twaun Moore: I kinda like this one. Think Ayo has more offensive upside, but there’s a universe where Ayo carves out a role-player role very similar to Moore.
Jordan Clarkson: Eh. I see some of the size and playmaking ability, but this would be a stretch for me. He shoots a lot of threes and doesn’t play defense. Not Ayo’s game.
Damian Lillard: Dame is a lethal scorer and shooter, not much to compare.
Jerian Grant: Poor Man’s E’Twaun Moore.
John Wall: Wall has (had) elite level speed and more strength around the rim than Ayo has shown.
The point is that those are all guys who made real impacts in the NBA. The worst career on that list is probably Ben McLemore, who is still on an active roster in his sixth season. There are three All-Stars on that list. Ayo has the physical tools to last in the league. We’ve seen that he has the drive and leadership skills to make it. Obviously, I’m biased, but I don’t see how he doesn’t play a long time in the NBA.
You’re a first round pick in my heart, Ayo.
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