Ayo Dosunmu elected to return to school for his junior season and that decision has led to the Illinois being ranked in the top 20 of the AP poll, tied for third in the loaded Big Ten (through Jan. 25), and him putting up some of the most impressive individual statistics in the country.
Dosunmu was recently named to the 10-player Bob Cousy Award watch list, which is an honor that recognizes the best point guard in the country each season, and if the 6-5 junior keeps up his career-best 3-point shooting and assist numbers, then he could finish the year as an All-American.
Here's what makes Dosunmu an All-America candidate.
His 3-point renaissance
After a freshman campaign in which Dosunmu made 50 3-pointers at a 35-percent clip — a really encouraging number, especially for a freshman — Dosunmu's outside shooting took a step back during the 2020 season, as he made just 27 threes and shot only 29 percent from outside. He was still named a Second Team All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore.
Not only does his 3-point shooting this season more closely resemble that of his freshman year, he's making threes at a career-best rate. He's 20-for-52 through 15 games, which is good for 38.5 percent — nearly 10 percentage points higher than last season.
Dosunmu is just one of several skilled 3-point shooters on Illinois' roster. The Illini have made 39.7 percent of their threes this season, which ranks ninth nationally. Da'Monte Williams (61.1 percent), Trent Frazier (39.1 percent), Dosunmu (38.5 percent) and Adam Miller (36.9 percent) have all made at least 20 3-pointers while shooting at least 35 percent from deep.
On this possession against Ohio State, Miller, the 37-percent 3-point shooter, threw a cross-court jump pass to the right corner to Williams, the 61-percent 3-point shooter.
Williams pump-faked, took a dribble inside the 3-point arc and drew aggressive help-side defense from Ohio State's Duane Washington. Washington played way off the player he was guarding, Frazier, who's a 39-percent 3-point shooter. Williams then swung the ball to the open Frazier.
Sensing that Washington was off-balance, Frazier drove by him. That drew Ohio State's Justice Sueing, who was guarding Dosunmu, while Dosunmu slid to the right corner that had been vacated by Williams. Dosunmu knocked down the 3-pointer after a pass from Frazier. That's how Dosunmu, who's capable of playing on the ball or off, can sneak behind enemy lines and be a deadly catch-and-shoot player when opposing defenses are concentrated on the team's other 3-point shooters.
His improved shooting isn't limited to the outside
While Dosunmu's 2-point shooting (51.8 percent) is roughly between that of his freshman season (48.5 percent) and sophomore campaign (53.7 percent), his free-throw shooting has also seen an uptick and he's shooting a career-high 81.5 percent from the stripe this season. Not only is he making a higher percentage of his free throws, but he's attempting more of them, too.
Dosunmu averages 5.4 free throws per game — two more per game than last season — as he's drawing a career-high 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes. Dosunmu has always had the physical tools and athleticism to be a matchup nightmare — how many opposing point guards can defend someone who's 6-5 and agile? – but his listed weight is up from 185 pounds to 200 as he has added even more muscle to his frame. With a talented supporting cast, opposing defenses can't exclusively hone in on Dosunmu.
He has had three games where he has attempted at least 10 free throws, including a 12-attempt game against Missouri.
Even if Dosunmu's 2-point shooting has fallen off some from last season, he's still incredibly dangerous in transition and around the rim. More than 35 percent of the Illini's shot attempts have come in transition, per hoop-math.com, and roughly 44 percent of those shots in transition have come at the rim.
On the possession below against Ohio, Kofi Cockburn rebounded a missed shot by the Bobcats, then immediately passed to Dosunmu, who needed just four dribbles to go from the Big Ten logo below Illinois' own basket to score on the other end. This season, 38 percent of Dosunmu's shots have come at the rim, where he's making 67.7 percent of them.
He blends a high usage rate with a high assist rate
Dosunmu's usage rate — a metric that calculates the percent of Illinois' possessions that end with Dosunmu making a shot, missing a shot that's rebounded by the defense or turning the ball over when he's on the floor — is exactly 30 percent through 15 games, which ranks 54th in the country. His shot rate, which calculates what percent of the Illini's shots he takes when he's playing, is even higher, at 32.1 percent.
Illinois's offense clearly runs through Dosunmu and that's not a secret. But despite Dosunmu leading the team in usage rate and shot rate, and despite averaging a career-high 21.7 points, he's also putting up the best assist numbers of his career. A rising tide raises all boats, as the saying goes.
On the possession below against Purdue, Dosunmu played off the ball, starting on the left block, running to the right corner, then running off of a pindown screen from Kofi Cockburn. After taking a step beyond the 3-point line, Dosunmu cut towards the lane and received a bounce pass from Da'Monte Williams.
Dosunmu took one dribble, which drew the attention of Purdue's Trevion Williams, and that left Cockburn wide open for an alley-oop on the screen and roll. You can see in the screenshot below the gravity that Dosunmu has on opposing defenses, but that often leaves one or more of his teammates in good position to score easily.
Dosunmu averages 4.9 assists per game, which is roughly 1.5 more per game than last season, and he provides the assist on roughly 27 percent of Illinois' baskets when he's on the floor. It speaks to Illinois' talented rotation and the team's unselfishness that Dosunmu has improved his assist numbers even though freshman point guard Andre Curbelo often has the ball in his hands. Curbelo's assist rate is even higher — 35.3 percent, which ranks 33rd nationally.
His subtle, but meaningful, rebounding improvements
Donsunmu's offensive and defensive rebounding percentages — meaning, what percent of available offensive and defensive rebounds does he pull down — have both improved by between two and three percent from last season. He's averaging a career-high 6.3 rebounds per game, including 0.6 more offensive rebounds per game than last season and 1.4 more defensive rebounds per game. Even though he often plays on the ball, Dosunmu can be Illinois's second or third-tallest player on the floor, which means he has a responsibility to crash the glass, even if he often plays or defends on the perimeter.