Bulls' Coby White among the 2019-20 rookies making an early impression

Bulls' Coby White among the 2019-20 rookies making an early impression

While the NBA world anxiously awaits Zion Williamson’s regular season debut sometime in mid to late December, several other rookies are already making an impact. And, since Zion isn’t likely to play more than 50 games this season, he’ll need to put up some big numbers to have a chance to win the Rookie of the Year award.

Bulls’ fans were chanting “Coby, Coby” during the rookie guard’s 23-point 4th quarter explosion Tuesday night against the Knicks that included a franchise-record 7 3-point makes. Meanwhile, No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant carried the Grizzlies to a win in Charlotte on Wednesday, weaving his way through three defenders to score the winning basket in the closing seconds.

It may come as blasphemy to Bulls’ fans, but Morant is looking like a young Derrick Rose through his first 10 professional games. The lightning-quick, 6-foot-3 point guard leads all rookies in scoring, averaging 18.3 points while shooting 48.3% from the field and 44.4% from the 3-point line. He’s also dishing out 5.8 assists and grabbing 3.3 rebounds for a rebuilding Memphis team.

For those of you who followed my draft reports last season, it’s no secret I’m very high on the former Murray St. star, but he has even exceeded my expectations through an admittedly small 10 game sample size. Morant’s physical skills are off the charts, but it’s his poise under pressure, and willingness to accept the responsibility of having the ball in his hands late in close games that really stands out.

Morant’s ability to change direction is mid-air is what reminds me most of Rose. On his winning basket against the Hornets, Morant patiently ran down the shot clock to use up just about all of the time remaining, blew past the initial defender, and then accelerated through and over two help defenders to lay the ball in with his off-hand. It’s a play we saw from Rose so many times in his pre-knee injury seasons.

But it’s not just Morant making a big impression early. Zion’s college teammate, R.J. Barrett leads all 1st-year players with an average of 35 minutes a game. He’s also putting up an impressive stat line of right around 16 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.

The Miami duo of Tyler Herro and Chicago native Kendrick Nunn has played a big part in the Heat’s impressive start. Nunn scored more points in his first five games than any undrafted player in NBA history and currently ranks 2nd among all rookies in scoring, while Herro has picked up where he left off in Summer League, averaging 13.1 points a game, shooting 37.2% from the 3-point line.

Former Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura is taking advantage of his chance to start for the rebuilding Wizards, averaging 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting just under 52% from the field.

Probably the most surprising rookie performance so far comes from 2nd round pick Eric Paschall, who’s been force-fed minutes because of the devastating injury situation with the Warriors. The former Villanova national champ has responded big time, scoring 15.5 points a game on 51.9% shooting.

The Bulls got an up-close and personal look at Charlotte rookie forward P.J. Washington on opening night when the former Kentucky star rained down 7 3-pointers in a come from behind win for the home team. Washington has slowed down a bit, but he’s still averaging 12.7 points and 5.9 rebounds on 49% shooting from the field and 46.2% from 3 point range.

Hachimura’s college teammate, high-flying Brandon Clarke, has teamed up with Morant to give Memphis fans hope for an exciting future. The -foot-8 Clarke is coming off the bench, for now, averaging 11.9 points and 6.5 rebounds, shooting 61.5% from the field.

Lottery picks De’Andre Hunter, Darius Garland, and Jarrett Culver are playing significant minutes for their teams, while Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes, and Cam Johnson have found it a little tougher to get extended run.

This leads us back to Coby White, who has already become a fan favorite at the United Center. White burst on to the scene in his 2nd NBA game, scoring 25 points to lead the Bulls to a come from behind win in Memphis, but then he slumped a bit with his outside shooting, failing to reach double-figures in his next 5 games.

Still, his teammates and coaches never lost faith in the 19-year-old rookie, urging him to stay aggressive and keep shooting. That resulted in Tuesday’s unforgettable performance at the United Center, White taking over the game in the 4th quarter with his college coach Roy Williams in the crowd to enjoy the show.

White followed that up with a 26 point performance in Milwaukee on Thursday, 19 of them coming in an electric 1st half that included five more 3-pointers. White finished 6-for-13 from beyond the arc against the Bucks, setting an NBA record for most 3-pointers made by a rookie in consecutive games with 13.

The Bulls drafted White with the 7th overall pick hoping that he will develop into a long-time starter at point guard. But for now, his role is to come off the bench and spark the team with quick scoring bursts, much like former Bulls Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, and Ben Gordon. At 6-foot-5, White has the size to play both guard spots and his outside shooting ability makes him a great fit in the team’s fast-paced offense.

The plan, for now, remains to keep Tomas Satoransky as the starting point guard, but White’s minutes will continue to grow if he continues his hot shooting. Jim Boylen went with a four-guard lineup for much of the 2nd half in Milwaukee, with White playing 35 of a possible 48 minutes. 

Clearly, the Bulls are thrilled with their precocious young guard who looks like a candidate for the NBA’s all-rookie team.

It’s still very early in the season, but coaches, executives, media and fans are talking up the potential of this exciting 2019-‘20 rookie class, and we still haven’t seen Zion in a regular season game!

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Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

USA Today

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Four observations: Zach LaVine comes up clutch as the Bulls beat the Clippers

Four observations: Zach LaVine comes up clutch as the Bulls beat the Clippers

This Zach LaVine guy might be pretty good, huhThe Bulls beat a depleted Clippers team 109-106 Saturday night at the United Center. Here are some observations:

Bigs bounce back

After enduring a mostly rough night at the office on Friday against Charlotte, the Bulls’ bigs bounced back tonight — at least on the offensive end.

The 'Thad Young Minutes Watch' marches on; he checked in unusually early (at the 7:28 mark of the first) for Wendell Carter, and played extremely well in the first half. His 10 first quarter points (5-for-7 shooting), cutting and general activity undoubtedly sparked the Bulls after a sluggish start. He finished the game with 17 points and 12 shots in 20 minutes.

Wendell Carter Jr. was doing Wendell Carter Jr. things, as well. He had two crucial offensive rebounds in the first half — one he prettily dished straight to Young for a cutting dunk, the other he powered home for a putback. He got into foul trouble late, picking up his fifth foul just two minutes into the fourth quarter, and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. He had a key alley-oop and putback late in the game and finished with 36 minutes.

Lauri Markkanen finished the night with only 13 points and eight field goal attempts but snatched 17 rebounds in 40 minutes of game action. His up-and-down season — both in terms of opportunity and production — continues.

Overall, the Bulls outrebounded the Clippers 50-40 for the game, a surprising result.

The Clippers dominated most of the first half — even without Paul George

For a time, it looked as if Paul George was going to have an easygoing night. He tallied eight first quarter points — and looked smooth in doing so — then didn’t check back in until the 4:08 mark of the second. The Clippers built a 14-point lead without him.

Credit Montrezl Harrell, in large part for that. He ate the Bulls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in his first half minutes, notching 17 points on 14 field goal attempts (five from the charity stripe) before the break. Jim Boylen talked about needing more ‘physicality’ from his bigs. Harrell hunted one-on-one matchups against them all night (off-the-dribble, in the post, you name it), with Carter being the only Bull to offer much resistance. He finished with a whopping 30 points on 24 shots.

The Bulls starters closed the half on a 17-5 run to pull to within 57-55 at the break — incidentally, that run took place over the course of the 4 minutes, 8 seconds that George logged in the second quarter.

The starters sparked a massive run

That aforementioned spurt carried over, for a time; the Bulls started the second half with a 20-4 run and led 75-61 halfway through the third. The defense tightened up, the offense was free, loose and fluid, and the starters catalyzed it all. LaVine had 10 in the quarter.

Between George checking in in the second quarter and that point in the third, the Bulls outscored the Clippers 37-11, shooting 10-for-16 from the field, compared to 4-for-16 for LA.

But, as with all things — good and bad — that stretch passed, and it passed quickly. After a questionably-timed Boylen timeout with 5:48 left in the period (and the Bulls leading 75-63), the Clippers closed the gap to 84-79 entering the fourth. The Clippers switching to zone defense midway through the period seemed to trip the Bulls up, as well.

A hard-fought fourth quarter finally swings the Bulls’ way

It was Paul George vs. Zach LaVine down the stretch. The winners? The Bulls and everyone watching, both at the United Center and at home.

George entered the fourth quarter only having played 21 minutes and was fresh for the stretch run, scoring 10 in the final period. But he did, crucially, miss a free throw with just over a minute remaining that would have put the Clippers up 107-103. On the next possession, Markkanen tracked down a loose ball of a rebound and kicked to Denzel Valentine for a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to knot the game 106-106. George’s last two field goal attempts of the game were a wild fling at the rim and a bricked iso jumper, both in the final minute.

LaVine had nine points in the fourth (31 for the game), every one monumental. He canned an and-one 3-pointer (missed the free throw) with just over five minutes left in the game that put the Bulls up 96-95. Then, a deep off-the-dribble 3-pointer to pull the Bulls within 105-103. And, of course, the game-winner:


It was an exhilarating finish, and a win the Bulls had to have. The blemishes on it are obvious — yes, the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverly, and the defensive lapses and stretches of inconsistency that have plagued the Bulls all season were there, at times. But ultimately, entering their upcoming four-game road trip 10-18 feels a whole lot better than 9-19. (And the Bulls beat a team over .500!) 

On to Oklahoma City on Monday.

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