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

Ball brought intangibles to the starting group last season that can’t be replicated, but Dosunmu has been doing a solid imitation. That effort continued the last two games, especially the lockdown defense on Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving on Tuesday night.

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The Bulls’ Ayo Dosunmu brings the ball up the court during Tuesday’s game against the Nets.

The Bulls’ Ayo Dosunmu brings the ball up the court during Tuesday’s game against the Nets.

Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

No one was going to replace Lonzo Ball while he recovers from his knee problems. To a man, the Bulls were adamant about that throughout training camp and into the start of the regular season.

But leave it to the kid from Chicago to attempt a pretty good imitation.

Former Morgan Park and Illinois standout Ayo Dosunmu went into the team’s day off Thursday with somewhat pedestrian stats: 12.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists over about 30 minutes per game, with a 13.99 player efficiency rating. But his sophomore season isn’t just about numbers — it’s also about his growth in becoming a two-way player and a leading voice.

“You know what he brings to the table, but he steps up to the challenge all the time,” All-Star guard Zach LaVine said. “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.’’

He showed it again Wednesday in the Bulls’ 106-88 blowout of the Hornets. But his greatest display of this young season came a night earlier when he handcuffed seven-time All-Star Kyrie Irving into his worst performance in years in a 108-99 win over the Nets. Irving came into the game averaging 30.1 points but went 2-for-12 for four points — 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, test all his shots,” said Dosunmu, who scored 17 points. “Once he gets to his pivot [foot], the game really starts. I just tried to contest as many shots as I could.’’

Dosunmu suddenly is getting his fellow starters to understand the urgency of playing hard from the opening tip — a lingering issue through the first nine games, even if five of them were wins. That’s a part of Ball’s game that has previously been a huge hole. In the 35 games Ball played before his left knee started becoming an issue last season, the Bulls were 22-13 but a good team from the first whistle. Ball was a plus-35 in plus/minus just in the first quarter last season.

The story was initially quite different with Dosunmu running the point, but over the last two games, that has started to change.

“[Stronger starts have] really been something we’ve been focusing on,” Dosunmu said. “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?”

Dosunmu sees his mouth and his defense as the best ways to make sure the Bulls are engaged early.

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

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