Ayo Dosunmu's breakout season might just save the Bulls

Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks
Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

When several key members of last year's roster hit free agency, the Chicago Bulls had to make several tough decisions regarding who was worth spending to keep around. The Bulls ended up forking out big money to retain Nikola Vucevic and Coby White while letting other less significant players like Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green depart in free agency.

While Arturas Karnisovas was quick to pull the trigger on deals for Vooch and Coby, he appeared to be far more reluctant to re-sign Ayo Dosunmu, as the guard came to terms on an extension nearly an entire month after his two aforementioned teammates. Dosunmu would earn significantly less, inking a three-year deal for just $21 million, a relatively small sum relative to other contracts in today's NBA.

I'm sure Karnisovas was glad he decided to offer Ayo a new deal last night, as the third-year guard played a huge role in last night's pivotal matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. Dosunmu was in peak form, dropping a game-high 29 points and a team-high 7 assists while drilling five threes and converting on 12-of-18 attempts from the field.

Ayo was firing on all cylinders, and it ultimately gave the Bulls just enough to edge out the Hawks 136-126 in the end. DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Coby White all scored more than 20 points as well, showing just how dangerous the Bulls can be when everyone gets to eat.

Hitting the road against the 10th-seeded Hawks, the 9th-seeded Bulls really needed this win to ensure they maintained solid footing in the playoff race. They may still only be in 9th place, but now they have a 2-game cushion on the Hawks and are still only 3.5 games back from 6th place and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs.

He's the breakout star nobody expected, but Ayo Dosunmu's emergence could keep the Bulls relevant despite several key injuries.

Since Zach LaVine's season was cut short early when he decided to undergo foot surgery, Dosunmu kicked what was already a fairly successful season up to a whole new level. Over these last 11 games in LaVine's absence, Ayo is averaging 16.5 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game while shooting an incredible 59% from the field.

That increase in shooting percentage is by far the most promising sign for Dosunmu's development, as he is shooting an extremely hot 50.9% from beyond the arc over this stretch and an elite 41.1% on the year as a whole. Considering he shot 31.2% from long-range just last season, this rapid improvement is truly remarkable. Dosunmu's development could be credited to Peter Patton, the Bulls' recently hired shooting coach who has truly helped Ayo hit his stride.

Already a very strong defender with great game awareness, adding a consistent outside shot was always going to be the last piece of the puzzle for Dosunmu if he wants to enjoy a lengthy career. It's going to be increasingly difficult to deny him a starting role if he keeps playing like this. With the way Ayo and Coby White have thrived in recent months, LaVine's season-ending injury may have somehow been a blessing in disguise all along.

Having each signed three-year contract extensions last summer for a combined total of $57 million, the Bulls have locked down an incredibly talented backcourt for a fraction of the cost of LaVine and Lonzo Ball's current contracts. Add in Alex Caruso's extremely team-friendly deal to the mix, and it's clear to see the Bulls have actually constructed an extremely financially savvy team.

The silver lining to another mediocre Bulls season wasted by injuries is unquestionably the rapid rise of Coby and Ayo. These two clearly have the talent necessary to be Chicago's backcourt for the future and could seamlessly replace LaVine. Now that they've shown us what they're capable of, it's time for the Bulls to place White and Dosunmu at the helm — even if it means dumping off this team's aging 'All-Stars' for pennies on the dollar.