Among the hot topics for Bulls’ fans during this disappointing season has been the development of rookie guard Coby White. The Bulls drafted White with the 7th overall pick last June with the hope that eventually he could take over the starting point guard job and hold it for the next decade-plus.
White burst on to the scene by scoring 42 points in his first two NBA games and followed that up with back to back games of 27 and 26 points in November. He set a franchise record by making 7 three-pointers in the 4th quarter of a home-court win over the Knicks with his college coach Roy Williams watching from the stands. White quickly became a fan favorite, bringing back memories of past streak shooters like Ben Gordon, Jamal Crawford, and Nate Robinson.
Still, White hasn’t been immune to the typical growing pains experienced by a 19-year-old NBA rookie. He went through a few stretches of sub-par shooting and inconsistent playing time, averaging just 9.4 points during the month of December while shooting 37.7% from the field. And January wasn’t a whole lot better, with White averaging 10.3 points on 39% shooting.
Part of the problem was White being asked to take on more playmaking responsibilities, which took away from his natural aggressiveness as a scorer. The Bulls’ coaching staff finally told Coby to go back to what made him so successful as a high scoring guard in high school and college: attack the basket in transition and use his quickness in pick and roll situations to create shots for himself and his teammates.
With Kris Dunn likely out for the rest of the season because of a knee injury, White began to play more minutes with Zach LaVine, and all of a sudden they’ve become a formidable 1-2 punch. White and LaVine just became the first Bulls’ duo since Bob Love and Chet Walker in 1969 to score 30-plus points apiece in consecutive games.
LaVine is no stranger to high scoring games, but the 6th year guard is genuinely excited about how good his young backcourt mate might turn out to be. “He’s coming into his own, and I’ve said this from day one, he’s special. He can score the ball like no other,” LaVine told reporters after the loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. “He’s continuing to get better. He’s 20 years old. I think he’s starting to find his groove right now.”
So, back to the original point. What’s the best way to develop a young scoring guard like Coby White?
We’ve seen several teams in recent years trying to build their offense around a pair of dynamic guards, like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson with Golden State, John Wall and Bradley Beal with the Wizards, the former Toronto backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and James Harden teaming up with Chris Paul and now Russell Westbrook in Houston. Is that the model the Bulls will follow? Or do they need to have more of a facilitating point guard to play alongside LaVine?
Clearly, the old way of defining positions no longer applies in the world of professional basketball. Rather than force White to reign in his game to be more of a traditional point guard, the Bulls need to embrace the offensive firepower generated by two explosive backcourt scorers.
White’s recent offensive onslaught came in part because opposing defenses are focusing so much attention on slowing down LaVine. That duo should find even more operating room in the future when the starting frontcourt of Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. is back on the court, and next season there will likely be another lottery pick to add to the core.
Whether White starts for the rest of the season or not isn’t the issue. He’s playing starter’s minutes now and is on the court with LaVine in closing lineups.
Tomas Satoransky has only one fully guaranteed year left on his contract and has the versatility at 6-foot-7 to play all three perimeter positions. Ryan Arcidiacono will continue to be a depth option. Dunn will be a restricted free agent this summer and might not return. The Bulls need to continue to develop White’s passing and decision-making skills while understanding what really makes him special is the ability to score points in bunches. There’s no reason why White and LaVine can’t be effective playing together, especially since White is an active and willing defender with good size at 6-foot-5.
Very little has gone right for the Bulls this season, but if Coby White can continue to build off his recent flurry of 30+ scoring games, the backcourt will be a real problem for opposing teams in years to come.
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