By Max Feldman
Two of the most slept on backcourt NBA prospects reside in Champaign, Illinois. Ayo Dosunmu, the 6-5 Junior, and Adam Miller, the 6-3 Freshman, are the head of the snake in a Fighting Illini program that has been built to contend with CBB’s elite in 2020-2021.
Dosunmu surpassed 1,000 career points with the Illini in a narrow victory over the Ohio Bobcats just today. Ayo’s career in Champaign has been nothing short of incredible, highlighted by his clutch moments knocking down mid-range jumpers and free throws to knock off numerous opponents down the wire. Dosunmu, the Chicago native, took his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft following his sophomore campaign to return for year three. FOG pegged Dosunmu as a top 40 prospect in the 2020 Draft, and he is off to a historic start through three games in preparation for the 2021 NBA Draft. The Illini are 3-0 and Ayo has scored +20 points in three games in a row for the first time in his 63 game career.
I have consistently compared Ayo’s style of play to OKC and former Kentucky guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Dosunmu thrives in the mid-range attacking of PnR’s using his now mature frame to embrace contact and finish at the rim or rise up off the bounce to knock down intermediate jumpers. At 6-5 and 206 pounds, he has come a long way physically since his days at Morgan Park High School, as he arrived in Champaign at 6-5 and just 170 pounds. His length, a near 6’10 wingspan, allows him to prominently guard both guard positions and collegiate wings. Coach Brad Underwood has put the ball in his hands time after time over the last three seasons, ultimately allowing Ayo to become the premier guard in college basketball and a favorite for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.
Nevertheless, Dosunmu received feedback from NBA execs and certainly has areas of necessary growth. In two seasons, Ayo had just a 1.3 assist to turnover ratio, a glaring red light for a ball handler at the next level. Illinois is home to one of the most premier rosters in the Big Ten and the entire nation, which bodes well for a projected improvement in terms of assist to turnover ratio. In addition, Ayo is just a career 33% shooter from 3 point range with a stroke that has brought upon some questions. Dosunmu’s preparation for the 2020 NBA Draft was largely focused on elevating his shot motion and continuing his physical evolution. With three other avid ball handlers alongside him now, Ayo has already displayed further ability to play off ball than previous years through just three games. The pieces are in place for Ayo improve upon his weaknesses but the sample size remains small in 2020-2021. Upcoming matchups against Jared Butler – a top 35 prospect in the 2021 Draft – as well as the Duke Blue Devils on December 8th should provide a broader perspective.
Ayo’s grit, clutch gene, advanced feel to use his length and physicality to get to his spots and ever-evolving confidence make him a near lock to be a top 20 prospect on the FOG 2021 NBA Draft Big Board for the long run. Continuing to stack up wins and potentially elevate the Illini to the top of the Big Ten for a second year in a row will only assist in Dosunmu’s resume full of wins.
Adam Miller, another Chicago and Morgan Park High School native, was pegged nationally as a 4 star recruit, but FOG was higher on the 6’3 and 185 pound guard than just about anyone. Commonly known as AceWolf, Miller was ranked as FOG’s 17th ranked prospect in the class of 2020.
Miller has bounced between a projected 2021 and 2022 NBA Draft top 30 prospect for FOG, but his fiery, explosive beginning to his career in Champaign continues to give him a positive outlook as a one-and-done. FOG set a benchmark for Miller prior to his Illini debut that if he could finish the season playing over 22 minutes a game while hitting over 38% of his threes, his stint as an Illini would be very brief. All signs point towards Miller landing around 27-29 minutes per game and 40% from deep.
Diving into Miller’s game, there is a ton to like for evaluators. The 6’3 southpaw is an extremely fluid athlete with an advanced feel for an 18 year old. Miller’s shooting stroke off the catch has a strong balance and preparation with a glaring ability to catch fire quickly as a microwave scorer. While Miller was still in high school, FOG compared his game to a left-handed Monta Ellis largely due to his end to end speed, ability to attack aggressive closeouts and find his shot off a versatile scoring package. Miller uses a big hesitation dribble and pump fake to attack the rack and finish with either hand. The Illini freshman excels in transition due to his speed and early ability to draw contact at the rim. I was higher on his defensive ability than most due to his ability to read passing lanes and rack up steals. Miller has already put on 10 pounds since arriving in Champaign and should approach the 2021 NBA Draft at nearly 190 pounds. He will be a strong bet to be able to guard both backcourt spots at the NBA level.
Shot makers are at a premium in the NBA as floor spacing is the driving force to prolific offenses. Miller’s ability to knock down perimeter shots off the catch and off his own creation with efficiency make him an under the radar bet to be a top 30 prospect off the board. For reference, Adam Miller will debut on the 2021 NBA Draft Big Board in the 24-28 range. He has room to grow as a distributor which would be a massive key to make him a secondary ball handler rather than just a scoring threat similar to former USC Trojan, Kevin Porter Jr. My early fear for Miller as a draft prospect this season is a weak assist to turnover ratio simply due to Ayo, Andre Curbelo and Trent Frazier’s usage rate as ball handlers. Another strong comparison would be a left-handed young former IU Hoosier, Eric Gordon. Toughness, athleticism, versatile shot creation and ability to catch heat quickly are Miller’s standout strengths. Look for Miller to be a catalyst for the Illini as Dosunmu and Cockburn receive massive attention from opposing defenses
For the first time in a long time, the sky is the limit for the Illini this year. Dosunmu and Cockburn returned to Champaign after testing the NBA waters because there was clear unfinished business from Brad Underwood and Co. Stacking up wins within the best conference in the country in the Big Ten as well as out of conference top ten opponents in Baylor and Duke will go a long way towards the continuation of the programs evolution, but will go even further is putting players in the NBA. Ayo Dosunmu and Adam Miller are the heads of the snake in Champaign and are two of FOG’s early favorites within the 2021 NBA Draft class. Belgian forward Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and wing Austin Hutcherson told FOG just a few months ago, “The Illini are coming for everything this year.”