Coby White’s progression will advance the Chicago Bulls’ rebuild
Despite the 4-7 start, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Chicago Bulls, mostly generated by their young nucleus. And there’s a member of that nucleus whose progression will advance the team’s rebuild: rookie Coby White.
The Bulls selected White with the seventh pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The point guard played one year at the University of North Carolina and showcased a well-rounded offensive skill set. Averaging 16.1 points, 4.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game, he made an impact on both ends of the floor.
White steadily ran head coach Roy Williams’ offense, serving as a primary source of scoring and facilitating while holding his own defensively.
With the Bulls, it has been a slightly different story. White is coming off head coach Jim Boylen’s bench, playing behind Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky, and his performance to this point hasn’t been captivating or anything that has him in the conversation for winning the Rookie of the Year Award. You could argue that he has been trying to do a little too much.
He’s shooting 36.8 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from beyond the arc, attempting a lot of jump shots, and those missed shots are becoming points on the other end.
Sure, he was a reliable scorer in college, and he’s expected to be a steady scorer in the NBA, but White’s inefficiency is a bit startling. When you have the likes of LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Otto Porter Jr., among others in place, you’re not in dire need of prolific or high-energy offense; you need players who complement those players’ skill sets and get them the ball in their hot spots.
The rookie has been a fixture in Chicago’s rotation, averaging 24.3 minutes per contest, which speaks to the confidence Boylen has in White. To be fair, the point guard has dazzled in spurts. In the Bulls’ November 12 matchup with the New York Knicks, White hit seven three-pointers and finished with 27 points. In an October 25 matchup on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies, he finished with 25 points.
The Bulls know White can score, and he’s trying to sustain his role in their offense. At the same time, White playing to his strengths, that being facilitating and letting the game come to him, will take the Bulls offense to the next level.
Very quietly, president John Paxson, general manager Gar Forman, and friends have established a potent young core.
LaVine has blossomed into one of the best scoring guards in the NBA. He’s aggressive, gets to the rim off the dribble with ease, and is a respectable outside shooter. Last season he averaged a career-high 23.7 points per game, which was 16th in the NBA.
At the same time, LaVine is a score-first guard who can, at times, play out of control. Every team needs that alpha-dog scorer, but you don’t always want the ball in that player’s hands given the turnovers and/or bad shots that could ensue. In time, White should become the Bulls starting point guard. If and when that time comes, he’s not going to be asked to score 20 points a game, so to speak. They’re going to want him to make others around him better.
White can help LaVine get open for easy buckets and alleviate some of the load off his shoulders. The ball in White’s hands allows LaVine to play to his forte.
Markkanen is one of the best scoring big men in the NBA. He stretches the floor with his outside shooting, puts the ball on the floor, and finishes through contact inside. Meanwhile, he’s a respectable rebounder. Last season Markkanen averaged 18.7 points and nine rebounds per game.
A versatile scoring big man tends to want outside looks. If the Bulls get Markkanen playing inside and outside interchangeably, it’ll make him more effective and productive. With them drawing up plays to get LaVine open and White drawing double teams, there’s going to be a lot of movement. With Markkanen playing inside, his cover will come out for the double team, leaving him open inside. Or, someone else comes off their man, giving the big man an open three-pointer.
Meanwhile, Porter is a proven three-and-D player, and second-year big man Wendell Carter Jr. is gradually coming into his own as a reliable log in the paint.
The pieces are in place for the Bulls to compete for the playoffs and end the days of rotting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They have the inside and outside scorers, a roster with continuity, and some sturdy defenders. It’s a matter of having a true floor general. White can be that player.
We’ve seen Chicago brain trust pursue such a player before. In the months leading up to the 2019 NBA Draft, there were rumblings about them being interested in a trade for then-Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball. The UCLA product would’ve likely come in and run the team’s offense and look to facilitate for others.
The Bulls ultimately kept their first-round pick and essentially drafted White to operate in the way Ball hypothetically would have.
Now, the transition from inefficient bench scorer to reliable floor general isn’t going to happen overnight or in a week. It could take the entire first half of the regular season or perhaps White’s entire rookie campaign for such a swing to come to fruition.
But once the dust settles, and White comes into his own, the Bulls are going to reach new heights.