White Blossoming Amidst Bulls’ Sluggish Start


When the Chicago Bulls selected Coby White with the 7th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, many viewed him as a score-first point guard. Some said White lacks the ability to elevate the play of others around him. 12 games into his second season, it is clear those pre-draft questions may finally be getting answered.

Rookie Season

White found out quickly that life in the NBA would be different than the one he had in college. While playing at North Carolina, White started all 35 games. But in the NBA, former coach Jim Boylen insisted on playing White off the bench to make sure he kept “developing”.

Public outcry to make White the full-time starting point guard never wavered Boylen, as White came off the bench in all but one game. Although White’s minutes were limited during his rookie campaign, it was clear that he would be a crucial part to the Bulls’ future.

He finished the season averaging 13.2 points per game, which ranked 6th out of eligible rookies. Along with his scoring, White also totaled 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. As a result of his strong play off the bench, Coby was named to the 2019-20 All-Rookie Second Team.

The Next Step

All offseason, many around the Bulls have talked about their wishes on White playing more of a playmaking role in the offense. New Executive Vice President Artūras Karnišovas has gone on record saying he likes to have high-IQ players who move the ball. A good passing team starts with solid point-guard play. For Coby to fit the mold of what Karnišovas is looking for, he knew he would need to improve in his second year.

The Billy Donovan Effect

Which takes us to now. Although the Bulls have gotten off to a slow 4-8 start, the offense has averaged 116.8 points per game, which ranks 4th in the NBA. A major reason for the offense’s success is White’s willingness to involve his teammates. Having a point guard who can both create his own shot while doing the same for others is a solid first step for the Bulls’ future.

Through 12 games, White has averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. The main reason for his numbers shooting up across the board is him having the ball in his hands more to make a play.

In his 65-game rookie campaign, White only totaled eight or more assists three times, with nine being his career high. In the short season so far, White has already had two games with double-digit assists. Most recently against the Los Angeles Clippers, he finished with a career-high 13 dimes.

It is clear that new head coach Billy Donovan sees the Bulls’ success running through White. The Bulls hired Donovan for his ability to develop players, as he did in Oklahoma City. Just last year, many around the NBA community saw Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turn into a future All-Star, in part due to Donovan and his staff seeing his potential and capitalizing. Although White and Gilgeous-Alexander have different play styles, it is encouraging to see the jump Coby has made in this short season so far. One thing is clear – sound point guard play is vital in Donovan’s offense.

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Backcourt Future

When it comes to the Bulls’ backcourt, they will take some time to gel. Both Coby White and Zach LaVine share similar playing styles. Two shot-heavy guards who can score at all three levels. For the marriage to work, it will be critical for White to take a step back, while also remaining aggressive. When a team has a high-volume scorer who relies heavily on isolation like the Bulls do with LaVine, one way to offset that and make things easier is to run sets to get him open. This is the part where a true point guard will be key.

Though the record may not be what the Bulls desire, the development of their core young pieces is what many should be looking at. White being a creator for the offense with his playmaking ability would be an important development for Chicago’s future. The pieces are all in place for the Bulls to make a jump, and it seems as if the point guard of the future is ready to lead the way.

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About Tim Houlihan

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