After being suspended for the East Tennessee State game and following that up with his worst performance of the year against Missouri, Ayo Dosunmu came into his own and became the Illini’s leading scorer, best player and team leader.
By the Numbers
The 6-foot-4 guard started all 32 games he played in and averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and over a steal per game. He shot 43% from the field, 35% from three and 70% from the free throw line. Dosunmu led the Illini in minutes, points, assists, field goals made and attempted and defensive rebounds.
Ayo really asserted himself on the offensive end as conference play started. One of the concerns coming in was that Dosunmu would be facilitating and not as much of an aggressive shooter and scorer, but he proved to be the most confident perimeter scorer and initiator on the Illini offense.
Ayo was terrific, and his numbers can’t provide the context for his skill, feel and impact on the game. His raw production was good enough to produce one of the best freshmen seasons in Illini history, and he has the talent to back that up. Where he can improve — and help Illinois take the next step — is by matching the counting numbers with efficiency. This section is going to be a bit nitpicky of an incredibly talented player, so also make sure to check out these NBA Draft Comps to remind you how good he is.
His shooting percentages were better than many anticipated, but still have plenty of room to improve. Dosunmu took seven attempts from two where he shot 48% and four attempts a game where he shot 35%. Going forward, I’d love to see that distribution weighted more toward two-point attempts, and to have more of those two point attempts come from 10 feet and in where he is most lethal. If he ticks up each of those percentages slightly, he could easily be a 50% FG shooter and 38% three point shooter.
Two more big stats to highlight: Free Throw Rate and Assist/Turnover Rate.
The free throw rate is not all Dosunmu’s fault. He shot three free throws a game ith a FTr% of 25%. For someone with Ayo’s frame and skillset, he should be living at the line. I thought he was refereed very strangely and unfortunately this year. I think another year in the league with the respect will earn him a few more trips to the line.
Dosunmu’s game is very Chicago. He is crafty and creative around the rim and has learned nifty ways to avoid contact playing pickup in Chicago, where foul calls are few and far between. This is a similar trait to Chicago great Derrick Rose. Ayo doesn’t have the hang time or athleticism, but he’s found crafty ways using his length and frame to avoid traditional contact. He is also still very slight of frame, which makes it tougher to finish around big ten bodies. All of these components contribute to the Ayo Dosunmu Free Throw Conundrum. Another year in the weight room, and a year of experience with Big Ten opponents and refs under his belt and he should easily double his trips to the line. And that’s how you make the leap from a 14-point scorer to a 20-point scorer. Going forward, that’s the biggest thing Ayo can prove.
Dosunmu turned it over 2.3 times a game at a rate of 15%, which when isolated isn’t very concerning. In fact, for a lead guard, it’s pretty encouraging. For reference:
Cassius Winston: 2.9 TO, 15% TO rate
Zavier Simpson: 1.9 TO, 17% TO rate
So Ayo is in the neighborhood of some of the best lead guards in the conference. The problem really comes into play when you factor in usage and assist rates. Ayo was not as depended on as those guys and didn’t have to make quite as many decisions.
Ayo Dosunmu: 1.4 A/TO, 21% Assist Rate, 24% Usage Rate
Cassius Winston: 2.6 A/TO, 45% Assist Rate, 28.5% Usage Rate
Zavier Simposn: 3.5 A/TO, 37% Assist Rate, 17.4 % Usage Rate
It’s not terribly concerning that Dosunmu doesn’t have the assist numbers of those guys. They’re the best distributors in the conference, they’re upper and Ayo’s a freshmen, and they have older and better players to finish the shots that they are dishing out.
Dosunmu’s assist numbers will go up as his career progresses and he is asked to make more decision, where he can improve is by keeping that turnover number where it is. As gifted and as good of vision as he has he still had one silly freshmen throw away almost every game. If he cuts that out he should be able creep alot closer to that 6 assist and 2.5 turnover mark.
Impact on the Illini
Ayo was one of the top three freshmen in the conference, and arguably one of the top five pro prospects in the conference. His impact really can’t be understated. He was the most hyped Illini prospect since Jereme Richmond, and maybe even Dee Brown because of the position he played. His impact on the program is immense. His personal success and the success of the Illini teams he plays for is not only important to the short-term health of the program, but to the long-term potential of the program as well.
On the court he is the most talented player. There were questions before the year how the Trent-Ayo relationship would bloom and evolve, but by the time conference play came around it became that Ayo was the alpha dog, and the team went as he went.
He carried himself like a five-year NBA vet off the court with some his leadership and postgame quotes. And his teammates even remarked on the trust they have in him and how they weren’t concerned with him being a leader and only being a freshmen.
Ayo’s Best Game
He had plenty to choose from, but you can read about the two best here:
MVSU — 6 pts, 9 assists, 9 rebounds. Ayo posted his season high in both assists and rebounds and made a conscious effort to show off his versatility and playmaking as a lead guard.
Maryland — 20 points and 6 assists, many to fellow freshman Tevian Jones. Big players have big games on the biggest stage.
The Quick and Dirty
Ayo was awesome. He surpassed many of my lofty expectations on and off the court. You cannot just stumble into an All-Freshmen Big Ten team. He was the best player on the 2018-19 Fighting Illini, and will continue to be the best player and face of the program as long he plays for the Orange and Blue.
There has been chatter and questions all year long about what Ayo will do — and how long he will stay in Champaign instead of pursuing an NBA career. He will be a “test the waters” guy this year. Which means he will put his name into the draft. The key phrasing to look out for is whether or not Dosunmu has hired an agent.
Ayo will put his name into the draft and will be hoping for an invite to the NBA Combine. After attending, working out and meeting with teams he’ll receive feedback from teams, scouts and agents on where he could potentially be drafted. It’ll ultimately be up to Ayo and his family on what he wants to do based on that feedback.
Ayo is a great player and a great competitor who is going to obsessively improve his game this offseason. The Illini could have two potential All-Conference guards, a potential All-Conference forward in Bezshanishvilli and two big strong guys down low coming in, including Top-50 Freshmen Kofi Cockburn.
He may have fallen short of his goals this year, but if Ayo returns, he will have a chance to bring Illinois back.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!