NBA teams assign assistant coaches to work with several players individually, drilling them in pre- and post-practice sessions, breaking down film together.
Chris Fleming has served as Coby White’s individual assistant coach for each of White’s three seasons with the Chicago Bulls.
So when Fleming, now serving as acting head coach because Billy Donovan is in the league’s health and safety protocols, takes White off a defensive assignment on Trae Young in favor of Javonte Green, White doesn’t take it personally. He takes it professionally.
“Tough love,” White said when asked to describe Fleming as a coach. “He doesn’t really tell you what you want to hear. He’s more of a tell-you-what-you-need-to-hear type of guy. He’s a straight up dude. If you do something good, he’s going to say you did good. If you’re holding yourself back, he’s going to say you’re holding yourself back. If you can do something better, he’s going to say do something better.
“This is my third year. He’s been my coach ever since I’ve been here. Me and him have that type of relationship where we can just be real with each other and have a real conversation as men and then just go on about our day.”
In the Bulls’ blowout victory of a shorthanded Atlanta Hawks squad, White turned in his best all-around game of what has been a difficult season on Wednesday night. He posted his first double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 assists, the latter coming one shy of his career-high.
That White did so after bouncing back from his difficult first half matched against Young on Monday night in Atlanta made it all the better. Starting with his strong second half that night, in which he scored all of his 13 points, White has strung together three strong halves in his ongoing attempt to find rhythm in his new role.
“We’ve talked a bunch about Coby’s season---the shoulder and COVID and moving around positions---I think it’s just a matter of him trying to find a little bit of rhythm,” Fleming said. “He did a good sharing the ball.”
White still only has played 14 games with most of these new teammates. He has done so while playing more off the ball than at any previous point of his career.
“I feel like I’m getting better,” White said. “I just feel like I gotta get reps under my belt. For me, it’s just continuing to get in the gym and play with these new guys and just playing off those main players and be the best player I can for my team.
“I know who I am as a player. I’m going to stick to that. I know I can bring a lot to the court more than putting the ball in the basket. I’m going to continue to be me.”
This is White’s sixth double-double of his career and first since May 13, 2021. The Bulls have won five straight for the first time since December 2017.
“We’re all excited because we know we can do something special,” White said.
Fleming will keep working with White to try to make sure he does his part.