From what Coby White, Jim Boylen and John Paxson have expressed, there appear to have been two key factors that led the Bulls to select the North Carolina point guard seventh overall on Thursday night.
The first came early in November when general manager Gar Forman was scouting the Tar Heels in Las Vegas. White was an absolute star in two games against Texas and UCLA, averaging 26.0 points on 57% shooting (16 of 28), 5.5 3-pointers on 11 of 17 shooting and 5.5 assists. White also had just four turnovers in 54 minutes and got to the free throw line 13 times.
"Gar saw Coby play out in Las Vegas early in the year and my phone was blowing up with texts from Gar. That was the moment he was on the radar for sure," Paxson said. "It was Gar seeing Coby in Las Vegas that got the antenna up."
Paxson also referenced White's success against Duke as attention-grabbing. White struggled in the first of three matchups against the Blue Devils, scoring just nine points on 3 of 14 shooting. But White responded at home with a 21-point outing in Game 2, and in the ACC Championship Game tallied 11 points, 5 rebounds 4 assists and 3 steals in 38 minutes.
"He talked about it when we did our background that he wasn’t’ going to have that happen again," Paxson said of White's initial clunker against Duke, "and the next two times he played Duke, he had really good games and learned from it. That’s what so much of this is about."
That second Duke game - a game the Tar Heels won, 79-70, over the Zion-less Blue Devils - was also the moment White began feeling like he might be a one-and-done prospect. He didn't arrive in Raleigh feeling that way, but the 21-point effort on 8 of 18 shooting (and a career-high 3 blocks) put the thought in his head. It was part of a dominant stretch that included 34 points against Syracuse, 28 more against Clemson and, five days after the Duke game, 19 points against Louisville in the ACC Tournament.
"I think it changed after we played Duke at home," White said. "I started to get a lot of buzz, started getting on draft boards in the top 10. And then kind of after the season, I talked to Coach (Roy) Williams before anyone, and he kind of gave me his blessing, saying that I should go. After that it was kind of an easy decision for me."
The other instance that brought White to Chicago was a pre-draft meeting on the Saturday before the NBA Draft. White arrived in Chicago and, despite opting not to work out privately for the Bulls, did meet with Paxson and Boylen. Both Paxson and White described that interview as a telling sign of the mutual interest, and Boylen reiterated that impressive interaction on Monday when White was introduced to the media at the Advocate Center.
“He looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He’s coachable. He has a soul and a spirit, which I think is important, and he’s been just awesome to deal with,” Boylen said. “We had a great meeting. It was great for both of us.”
White described that meeting with Boylen as the best he had with any coach in the pre-draft process. Paxson said White was “anxious for more” after the coaching Boylen did in that meeting, with the two looking at both good and bad film from White’s freshman season.
It all culminated in Thursday night’s selection. With both Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver off the board, the Bulls drafted for both talent and need in selecting White. He isn’t a traditional point guard – his 24.7% assist rate is evidence of that – but he gives the Bulls both a dynamic scorer and someone to push the ball in transition. Paxson said as much on Thursday and Boylen doubled down on that assessment four days later.
“Well I think the most important thing for us is when the ball is in his hands. We have to run with him. We want to play faster. We want to play smart, but we want to play faster when it's appropriate. He's a guy that can make decisions on the move. We've got to get the rest of our team to run with him. That's going to be our job, and I'm excited for that.”
White will also give the Bulls a floor spacer – he shot 35.3% from deep as a freshman – at the position, something they desperately needed the past few years. He’s hardly a finished product but should get the chance to improve right away, whether it’s as a starter or backing up a free agent acquisition in July.
But Boylen applauded White’s desire to get better, something that rubbed off in that pre-draft interview. White had a direct answer when asked what he needs to improve on in his rookie season.
“Coming in, decision-making. The league is ball screen-heavy so decisions off ball screens. At Carolina, coaches kind of wanted me to really just go one speed and that’s fast all the time,” White said. “I think coming into the league, I can use my change of speed and change of pace better. I’ve been trying to work on that a lot. Those two things are really key for me.”
Finding talent was key for the Bulls after a 22-win season. But they’re also thrilled with the personalities and workers they found in both White and second-round pick Daniel Gafford.
“We drafted these guys because of their ability to be coached and be teachable,” Boylen said. “Everything we got back on their background was teachable, coachable, want to get better, care for their teammates. Those are the kind of guys we targeted.”