At the start of the third quarter of Thursday’s preseason game against the Denver Nuggets, Ayo Dosunmu was flying.
Every time a teammate launched a ball, Dosunmu followed as if attached by a thread. He tipped in a missed shot, snagged loose balls to sling passes out for Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević to take 3-pointers, slapped a ball that was just out of reach into the hands of Alex Caruso. Dosunmu finished with only three offensive rebounds on his ledger, but the impact was larger.
The performance showcased Dosunmu’s aspirations for this season, in which he hopes to set himself apart as a “go guy” for the Chicago Bulls.
“We talked about the go guys going — did he go tonight or what?” coach Billy Donovan said. “He generated a lot of extra possessions for us.”
Any team’s offensive rebounding scheme is split: get-back guys and go guys. Donovan is emphasizing a more rigorous scheme for players to seek second chances on the boards — a necessity for the Bulls as they attempt to revive their offense.
The Bulls snagged 21 offensive rebounds in regulation Thursday and 26 total after a double-overtime finish to nearly triple the Nuggets’ production in the category. It’s never shrewd to draw major conclusions from a preseason game, but it was a welcomed change.
The Bulls averaged 8.5 offensive rebounds last season, third-worst in the NBA. As a result, they finished last in second-chance points, averaging only 10.6. If the Bulls can increase their follow-up opportunities, it will feed every other offensive goal — drawing fouls, driving up shot volume, generating shots at the rim and spraying out for more catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
The margin separating good offensive-rebounding teams from bad ones is thin. The difference from the best (Houston Rockets) to the worst (Dallas Mavericks) last season was only 5.8 rebounds. Only 1.5 more per game would have pulled the Bulls out of the bottom third of the statistic; two more would have put them into the upper half of the league.
Improving starts with isolating which position group needs to make the biggest jump. Only three Bulls averaged one or more offensive rebounds for the Bulls last season, all of whom are centers or forwards: Andre Drummond (2.1), Vučević (1.9) and Patrick Williams (1).
Drummond had nine offensive rebounds Thursday night by bodying smaller opponents off the block and snagging several of his misses. But the key to creating more second chances as a team is for wing players to be more intentional in pursuing rebounds from outside the paint.
While it’s not as flashy as 3-point production or ball movement, establishing that balance will be crucial for the Bulls in the early weeks of the season.
“You have to read your right moments to go and make sure you balance the floor so we don’t all go and give up easy baskets,” Vučević said. “There were opportunities last year where we could have gone and tried to get some easy baskets, take a few opportunities and we didn’t really score as much. This year we’re being more aggressive about it.”
When Donovan installed his plan for crashing the boards in the first week of preseason, Dosunmu requested to be a go guy. That makes his role simple: When the Bulls are on offense and the ball goes up, it’s time to go get it.
“Being a go guy is a chance to give us more opportunities,” Dosunmu, 23, said. “Those are big plays.”
Dosunmu has made clear he has a sharp ability to track and intercept the ball. The same skills that make the third-year guard a savvy defender — lengthy wingspan, quick anticipation, shifty feet — also position him to take advantage on the offensive glass.
Take, for instance, his put-back buzzer-beater against the Atlanta Hawks last season. Before putting up the winning layup, Dosunmu had to fly through the paint from the sideline inbound, sneak between two defenders and grab a ricocheting missed shot from DeMar Derozan.
“You have these unique players, like a guy like Ayo, who’s got a really good nose for the ball, he’s savvy, quick — he feels like he’s a guy that can make an impact on some offensive rebounding,” Donovan said. “What you do is hold him to going on those opportunities and being aggressive when he goes.”
This new focus is a clear constant among the wings on the roster who have been following the ball to the basket more aggressively. Included are rotational players such as Torrey Craig and Terry Taylor, who had five of the 21 rebounds against the Nuggets. Rebounding also will continue to be a focus for Williams, who will add more wing play to his role.
Donovan noted that there are always situations in which a player should get back rather than pursue a rebound. If a wing is outside the 3-point line, for instance, it doesn’t make sense to barrel through traffic and risk allowing a fast break.
But intention and aggressiveness when players choose to crash will define how well the Bulls can improve in this area.