Bulls

Coby White's biggest rookie duty? Closing games alongside Zach LaVine

Coby White's biggest rookie duty? Closing games alongside Zach LaVine

PORTLAND, Ore. --- As a Timberwolves rookie in 2014-15, Zach LaVine had it rough.

His rookie duties were assigned by a plethora of hard-core veterans like Mo Williams, Kevin Martin and none other than Kevin Garnett.

Practice would end. And Garnett would start booting basketballs into the stands of whatever arena the Timberwolves would be in for LaVine and fellow rookie Andrew Wiggins to fetch.

Coby White and Daniel Gafford have it easy.

“I haven’t been getting it as bad as some other rookies I know,” Gafford said following Sunday’s practice at Portland State University. “I thought there was a slight chance I was going to have to pay for dinner the other night. But we all chipped in. I was grateful for that.”

Added White: “They’ve been kind of light on me, so I appreciate that. We really don’t have that many vets, to be honest. Thad (Young) is a true vet and then there’s OP (Otto Porter Jr.), Zach and Sato (Tomas Satoransky). So I got lucky.”

Fetching towels and drinks, picking up shoes to give to the equipment manager and making food runs for the group before the Bulls’ charter plane leaves O’Hare have been the rookies’ biggest and most consistent tasks.

Maybe White’s theory holds some water. After all, the Bulls are the league’s third-youngest team. Or perhaps LaVine just recognizes the need to keep White, in particular, fresh.

When White is on the court, particularly alongside LaVine, it presents an offensive challenge for opposing defenses to consider. LaVine can see less double-teaming and blitzing.

“Zach is always in my ear because he has seen what I’m capable of and how good I can be. He tells me it’s my time, tells me to do what I do and to be Coby White and take over,” White said. “For our go-to guy to believe that much in me and encourage me means a lot. It gives me a lot of confidence.”

Coach Jim Boylen has been consistent with his approach regarding White’s closing role. If he has it rolling, which he did in road victories at the Grizzlies and Hornets or the home victory over the Knicks, White plays the majority or all of the fourth quarter alongside LaVine.

“I think he’s a big moment guy, I think he has that in him,” Boylen said. “I have confidence that he’s not scared about that moment. The big shot doesn’t bother him. He’s a competitive guy, so it’s easy to leave him out there.’’

LaVine leads the Bulls by averaging 6.3 points in the fourth quarter. White ranks second at 3.8 points. They average the same amount of playing time in the fourth, a team-high 7.3 minutes per game. Only Wendell Carter Jr. at 7.8 fourth-quarter minutes plays more.

“I think the league has seen him enough that you have to have a decent defender on him, so when you have him and Zach out there together I think that can put some pressure on the defense,” Boylen said. “Usually the primary guy takes Zach, and then maybe the secondary guy takes Coby.”

Trying to score against fourth-quarter defenses beats fetching basketballs from stands.

“In the fourth quarter, everything goes up a different level. So it’s a big deal being out there,” White said. “I’m just glad (Boylen) has faith in me when I have it rolling. Rookies don’t always get that opportunity. I’m blessed and thankful for it.”

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Bulls look for second win of the season over Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

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USA Today

Bulls look for second win of the season over Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

The Bulls will look to snap a three-game losing streak when they welcome Trae Young and the 6-18 Atlanta Hawks to the United Center tonight. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago —until then, here's what to watch for:

Hawks’ last five (2-3)

  • Dec. 10 — L at Heat: 135-121 (OT)

  • Dec. 8 — W at Hornets: 122-107

  • Dec. 4 — L vs. Brooklyn: 130-118

  • Dec. 2 — W vs. Warriors: 104-79

  • Nov. 30 — L at Rockets: 158-111

Storyline(s) for each team

For the second time this season, the Bulls and Hawks are set to square off (the first a 113-93 drubbing by the Bulls on Nov. 6), and for the second time this season, the Hawks enter said matchup on the second night of a back-to-back. On Nov. 6, Atlanta laid an egg the night after a hard-fought win over the not-yet-disappointing Spurs in San Antonio. This time, they’re coming off an excruciating overtime defeat in Miami (something the Bulls can relate to). The Hawks’ loss to the Heat may have been even more painful than the Bulls’, if only because of the virality of it:

 

 

Overall, the Hawks have underwhelmed this season, one in which their young and exciting core of Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Hunter, and co. were expected by some to push the franchise closer to contention (hey, the Bulls can relate to that, too!). They enter play 6-18 (3-15 since Nov. 6) and still without Collins, who is 19 games into a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA's Anti-Drug Program. This is a winnable game.

The Bulls are banged up and fast-falling from the Eastern Conference playoff race, but strung together a couple — all things considered — quality performances against two of the league’s best teams in the Raptors and Heat earlier this week. The moral victories won over the course of their recent real-life defeats will resonate a little stronger if they can come out and play a complete game against this Atlanta team tonight. 

Player to watch: Jabari Parker (and Zach LaVine)

Screw it. These are two not-great basketball teams that chuck a ton of 3-pointers, so if the aesthetic of this one doesn't end up all-together pleasing (likely), it’ll at least be fun to watch Parker, a son of the city, go to work. He’s currently in the midst of something of a bounceback campaign — averaging 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 13.2 FGA on 50.2% shooting — with an emphasis on the 'bounce':

 

This also has the potential to be a big Zach LaVine game. It feels like you could posit that every night, but this Hawks team truly is a juicy matchup for him — Atlanta enters this game the 29th-rated defense in the league (114.3) and lacks a true lockdown presence on the wing to throw at him. Just two weeks ago, remember, James Harden torched the Hawks for 60 points and eight assists en route to a 158-point team performance. LaVine, shooting 33.3% and averaging only 2.3 fourth-quarter points in the Bulls’ last three games, feels due.

Matchup to watch: Trae Young + Hawks’ secondary playmakers vs. Bulls defense

On Nov. 6, the Bulls put together one of their most impressive defensive performances of the season, holding the Hawks to 6-for-30 3-point shooting and forcing 24 turnovers (the most they’ve forced in a game this season; they lead in the NBA in opponent turnovers per game).

It was a banner night for the Bulls’ blitzing pick-and-roll coverage schemes — in the game, they completely corralled Young, the Hawks highest-usage (33.4%) and most dynamic player, holding him to nine points, three assists, four turnovers and 3-for-12 shooting (0-for-8 from 3-point range). On the season, he averages 29.4 points and 8.7 assists per game on 38.2% 3-point shooting (9.3 attempts). 

Without his most reliable playmaking screen-and-roll partner in Collins, the Bulls were able to cut the head (Young) off the proverbial snake of the Hawks’ offensive attack the last time these two teams met. Tomas Satoransky (season-high 27 points on Nov. 6) and Kris Dunn's length and activity were key to containing Young off screens, and they'll be huge factors tonight, when the emphasis will again be on forcing the ball out of Young’s hands and into the hands of Atlanta’s secondary playmakers (primarily, their forwards). Those players weren’t able to make the Bulls pay last time, and based on the team’s league-worst 32.1% 3-point shooting percentage, there’s a solid chance they could fail to do so tonight, as well. 

After that aforementioned Nov. 6 game, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said, of the Bulls' defensive strategy, that they'll "never let Trae [Young] have an easy game for the rest of his career." That quip, of course, was in reference to Young’s 49-point outing against the Bulls last March. Pierce's theory will be tested again tonight.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Yesterday, news broke of another Otto Porter Jr. injury setback — he is now set to be evaluated over the course of the next four weeks, the latest in a series of alterations to his original recovery timeline. Needless to say, a return isn’t in sight, for him or Chandler Hutchison, who is still dealing with a bruised shoulder. Even beyond Porter and Hutchison, the Bulls’ injury report is beginning to lengthen, but chalk most of these up to the wear and tear of the regular season:

As of this writing, the Hawks’ most significant absence will be Collins. Other than that, they come into this one mostly healthy.

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Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?

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USA TODAY

Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?

The Bulls are in a dire spot in terms of their wing depth and that was something that was true before Otto Porter Jr. suffered another injury setback

Chandler Hutchison and the then returning from injury-Denzel Valentine served as the Bulls only real small forwards behind Porter on the depth chart, and Bulls head coach Jim Boylen did not make Valentine a significant part of the rotation until early December. Now, with Porter out and Hutchison still out nursing his persistent shoulder injury, the Bulls are starting guard Kris Dunn at the three with Valentine as his backup. 

Starting the 6-foot-3 Dunn at small forward is quite a tough ask for a Bulls team that has struggled heavily rebounding all season long (Bulls currently rank 29th in the league in rebound percentage). So with the 8-17 Bulls looking nothing like the Eastern Conference playoff contender that they expected themselves to be, they will need to string together a sustained stretch of good basketball to prevent themselves from becoming a clear-cut lottery-bound team (yet again).

The Bulls haven't announced any intentions to make a roster move, but with the buyers and sellers starting to become clear, who are some wings that could potentially help the Bulls and are reportedly available?:

Robert Covington 

Robert Covington is the least likely option for the Bulls in terms of available wing help. It was reported by The Ringer's Kevin O' Connor that title-contending NBA teams have been monitoring the Minnesota Timberwolves and Covington, who has long been one of the league's premier 3-and-D forwards. This season Covington is averaging 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 36.9% from 3-point range. Covington is shooting 5.5 attempts per game from 3-point range and is hitting a career-best 90.2% of his free throws. 

Covington has been heavily linked to the Houston Rockets which makes a ton of sense considering that he started his career there and would be able to play a familiar role, acting as a catch-and-shoot specialist next to James Harden. Though Covington makes the most sense on a contending team, he would have value to the Bulls. Covington's contract has two more seasons on it at a reasonable amount (around $11 to $12 million per year) and even once Porter returns, he would be an amazing addition to a Bulls bench that has already been outperforming the starters on a regular basis

Danilo Gallinari 

It was correctly assumed that when the Oklahoma City Thunder made their franchise-changing trades for Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari, they would be open to moving the players for the right trade offer. It has been reported that the Thunder are indeed open to trading Gallinari (and others).

The Bulls aren't in desperation mode, but that is OK in regards to Gallinari, as he is an asset that may be able to be acquired at a reasonable price. The Thunder came into Tuesday with an 11-12 record, good for the No. 7 seed in the West, but they may not care as much about making the postseason considering their long-term goal is to collect as many valuable assets as possible.

The Thunder may not necessarily enter "tank mode" but if the 31-year old Gallinari—who is on an expiring deal—is not a part of their plans for next season or beyond, he could be had for a reasonable price despite currently averaging a solid 18.3 points per game. The Bulls have their own draft picks, plus the Thunder reportedly are open to taking back salary, so any combination of Bulls players could work to get a deal done. 

DeMar DeRozan

Despite being in clear need of help on the wings, DeMar DeRozan doesn't exactly fit this year's Bulls but hey, beggars can't be choosers. The Bulls would be lucky to an All-Star talent to their roster in a buy-low move, and DeRozan potentially presents the opportunity to do just that. 

The four-time All-Star has a 2020 player option, which is likely to be accepted and represents the last year on his deal. Depending on who the Bulls gave up in a potential deal for DeRozan, they would be able to pair his proficiency as a scorer (especially in the pick-and-roll, where he is averaging 0.92 points per possession) with Lauri Markkanen and/or  Zach LaVine's abilities as 3-point shooters. 

The Spurs look to be on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time since 1997 and could be more open to making an in-season trade than they have in the past. He is by no means a great fit in Chicago but there are a few things he does well that could make a difference. DeRozan's 5.8 free throw attempts per game would lead the Bulls and his 57.1% true shooting would be better than any Chicago wing outside of Valentine. If the Spurs and Bulls both continue to slide in the standings, even starting discussions on such a trade could become more of a reality.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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