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Does Bulls’ Coby White have All-Star potential? One NBA insider thinks so

Does Bulls’ Coby White have All-Star potential? One NBA insider thinks so

Coby White just turned 20 in February. But already, he’s one of the more electrifying young players in the NBA.

With a head of steam, he’s a blur. With an inch of space — off the dribble or catch — he’s a bucket. At 6-foot-4, he’s of great size at the point guard spot, and flashed rapidly improving ability as a ball-handler, playmaker and finisher through contact at the basket throughout his rookie season.

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All of the above was tangibly and spectacularly on display in a torrid 10-game stretch he ripped after the All-Star break. In that span, White averaged 24.7 points (second among rookies to only Zion Williamson) and 4.3 assists per game on 46.8-40.7-89.5 shooting splits in 33.7 minutes per night, and on 28.1% usage rate (first among rooks). He became the first rookie reserve in league history to record back-to-back 33-point outings. The Bulls’ net rating plunged by 16.2 points per 100 possessions with White off the floor, post-All-Star, with the offense, specifically, transforming from the equivalent of this year’s Clippers to the 2012 Bobcats when White sat. He made his first NBA start in the Bulls’ final game before the NBA went dark.

But before you hang his No. 0 from the United Center rafters, it’s of course important to consider the full picture. The first four months of White’s professional career were tumultuous. Entering the break, his minutes (24.3) and points (11.1) per game averages were pedestrian,  and he ranked 261st in the NBA in true shooting (47.7%) and 257th in effective field goal percentage (45.2%) among players with more than 200 field goal attempts for the season. After logging four 20-point outings — one of which saw him smash the franchise record for 3s in a quarter — in the Bulls’ first 17 games, he notched just one between Nov. 23 and the All-Star break. Even in his deepest doldrums, he was a steady off-ball threat (36.2% on 3.4 catch-and-shoot 3s per game pre-All-Star break) and microwave scoring candidate on a night-to-night basis, but questions surrounding his consistency, defense and facilitating loomed.

Him shattering any rookie wall he may have encountered with expanded opportunity thus resonated all the more, and serves as a testament to White’s discipline and maturity. Throughout the season, head coach Jim Boylen personally sat with White for regular film sessions to pore over tape, sessions that Boylen often lauded White for and eventually credited in part for his breakout. Talk to anyone in the Bulls’ locker room about White and one thing becomes clear: He works.

Unfortunately, the league’s coronavirus-induced hiatus cut short his tenure as a starter after one game, which would have inarguably been the most compelling stretch-run storyline for the Bulls. Now, awaits an offseason to ponder: What is White’s ceiling? His true nature as a player likely lies somewhere between his pre- and post-All-Star self, but which is closer? A Bulls team in dire need of shot creation outside of Zach LaVine will pray the latter.

Here’s what NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh said on when asked what White’s ceiling is on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast:

“He really came on strong, as a teenager in the NBA, I didn’t think he had that last burst in him. I think he struggled early on just to get his feet wet, I don’t think the player alignments or lineup alignments helped him very much, but man, he was awesome. And I think he looked a lot like De’Aaron Fox, a guy who’s just explosive, a guy who’s fast, up-tempo, plays in a system where you just want to get him the ball and let him run. 

“I’m not so sure if he’s Russell Westbrook-level yet, but I think potential All-Star is what I would say for Coby White. When you have that kind of scoring tact in the league where you just have that instinct, you have the size — and he’s gonna fill out — the speed. He just reminds me a lot of De’Aaron Fox, and he’s not an All-Star yet, but he’s still very young in the league. And when you’re talking about a 19-year-old who’s able to do the things Coby White did, he’s got a very bright future.”

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In Fox and Westbrook lie intriguing comparisons. White projects to be a much more reliable outside shooter than both, and by a fair margin. But even thinking ahead, Fox owns a marked edge on the defensive end, and Westbrook as both an all-around playmaker and explosively athletic marvel capable of being the center of a successful offense. Though White’s finishing improved drastically over the course of the season (his restricted area field goal percentage improved every month from November to February), both Fox and Westbrook are prolific around the basket — like, two of the best five guard finishers in the league prolific.

What all three possess is game-breaking burst, and White’s ability to snatch rebounds and spark the break is especially tantalizing, given his superlative size and quick-twitch shot release. He competes hard defensively, lending credence to the theory he can continue making up ground on that end in time. And as his playmaking progresses, the natural gravity he commands because of all of the above skills could unlock new levels to his individual game and the Bulls’ offense, in general.

Are all of those tools packaged with White’s cool-headed mentality enough to warrant All-Star consideration one day? Maybe it’s too early to say so declaratively. But given what we’ve seen, it’s never too soon to dream.

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NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

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Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

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So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:

 

Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:

  

All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:

 

“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.

 

Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.


How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play

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