Bulls

The Pecking Order: Coby White's break out game

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NBC Sports Chicago

The Pecking Order: Coby White's break out game

What’s up, Bulls fans? Now that we’ve seen a couple of wins – and I had a delightful sojourn down to Houston to spend time with my adorable nieces – I’m in a much better place than I was after that disappointing loss to the Lakers last week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still livid about that one. But I’ll do my best to follow Pumba’s advice and put my behind in the past.

So, for the sake of my blood pressure, I figured I’d ride with the happiest story in Bulls Nation this week: Coby “Don’t Call Me Alec” White.

Here are some thoughts I have on the Bulls’ 2019 lottery pick after his second electrifying performance of the season sealed a win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday night. It’s the Pecking Order.

1) Thank you, Coby.

Bulls fans needed this. As my fellow Outsider John Sabine said in our episode following Tuesday’s win, “We didn’t just need the win. We needed a moment and a memory.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

As I watched the final moments of Coby’s dazzling fourth quarter performance – one that set a franchise record for most made three pointers in a single quarter – I witnessed something I hadn’t seen in a long time: this fanbase falling in love. Not to belittle any of the impressive games and runs we’ve witnessed from other Bulls players in recent years, but can you remember the last time fans at the United Center serenaded a player with loving chants? (Sorry, Kendall and all you Rose Stans out there, but chanting “MVP” to Derrick Rose while he’s wearing a Detroit Pistons jersey doesn’t count.)

I honestly couldn’t recall the last time something like that happened. Hearing chants of “Co-by! Co-by! Co-by!” rain down from the rafters at the Madhouse – on the same night when crowd noise at tipoff was slightly quieter than Mitch Trubisky defenders on Twitter – reminded my heart what it feels like to love something about this team. Because let’s be honest, what has there been to love over the past three or four years?

Bulls fans, especially skeptical grumps like me, needed something to believe in and something to love after another ugly start to what was supposed to be a promising season. Ja(h)coby provides.

2) Speaking of Jacoby, did you see the column our Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson wrote about Coby’s real full name? 

Perhaps because I’m more concerned about his game than this name, I wasn’t even aware that Coby’s full name is Alec Jacoby White. But I don’t feel guilty, because neither did some of his teammates. “Your name is what?!” asked fellow rookie and locker buddy Daniel Gafford.

I like the name Alec, but I think Mr. Baldwin already owns the tag of “most famous Alec.” Even Coby’s dagger threes aren’t colder than the icy delivery of Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy as he puts down various subordinates on “30 Rock.” Shoutout NBC sitcoms! You’re the best! (wink wink)

The nickname “Sub-Zero” is a good one, and Coby certainly proved he has ice in his veins during his shooting barrage against the Knicks. On the other hand, John thinks the nickname is counterintuitive for someone on a hot shooting streak. How can you be on fire and sub-zero at the same time? Don’t ask me, I’m not a scientist.

Personally, I think we need to adopt Coby’s full middle name and call him Jacoby. Why? Because it’s a great way to remind everyone that the Bulls got the better Ja among guards drafted in the 2019 lottery! We’ve already seen Coby outperform Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, who went #2 overall, in the Bulls’ victory over Memphis. I think we should take the Ja away from Morant and give it to Coby. If Coby ever gets a start, the announcer at the United Center could introduce him as “JAAAAAAcoby White!” And it would be awesome. Just don’t tell my guy Big Dave. He’s a huge Morant fan.

3) About that whole “Coby should start” idea…

I’m still not sold. I think his best role is as a bench scorer, at least for now. He still needs to mature as a decision-maker with the ball. We see him make mistakes in transition – he made two early in the Knicks game before his shooting spree – as well as overdribble and ignore mismatches in the post. He’ll get better in that department as he develops.

Coby also isn’t a reliable shooter yet. Sure, the seven bombs in one quarter was fun, but it was the exception to the rule in the early season returns of his shooting numbers. If you remove Coby’s two best shooting performances of the season (against Memphis and New York) he’s shooting just 15.9% from downtown in the other nine games. Yikes.

I believe that Coby’s skill and work ethic have him on track to be a starter in the NBA someday — and maybe sooner than later — but he’s not ready yet. And given the scoring struggles of Bulls’ second unit in most games thus far, he needs to stay where he is.

4) How crazy is it that my fellow Outsiders and I were the first “members” of Chicago sports media to interview Coby after the Bulls selected him on draft night?

True story. We couldn’t believe it when our boss told us we’d get a few minutes on the line with Coby after he got off the stage at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Utter nonsense. But I’ll tell my grandkids about that when I’m old and grey and Coby’s number 0 hangs in the United Center rafters along with a few more championship banners he helped deliver. (Aside No. 1: Uh oh, did I just sound too much like See Red Fred there? Aside No. 2: Yes, Ma, I know I need a wife before I have grandkids. I’m working on it. Kind of.)

5) Roy Williams needs to come to more Bulls games.

Coby said so. Honestly, though, it is interesting that the two best performances of Coby’s young NBA career have come on nights with extra motivation. As previously mentioned, he outdueled Ja Morant in the Grizzlies game. Perhaps there was a chip on Coby’s shoulder, stemming from so many draft pundits declaring with complete certainty that Ja was the best backcourt prospect in the 2019 class? Then, he pours in 23 of his career-high 27 points in the 4th quarter of a big win with his college coach and mentor in attendance.

Somebody needs to make cardboard cutouts of Ja Morant and Roy Williams and put them in courtside seats of every Bulls game. So stupid it just might work!

6) I do believe that Coby still needs to develop his decision-making skills on the floor, but... 

My favorite play of his impressive fourth quarter against New York demonstrated that his basketball IQ is on its way. Late in the quarter, after already drilling six three pointers, Coby got the ball on the right side of the court well behind the three-point line. Instead of relying on his hot streak and jacking up another three, he recognized that the oversized Julius Randle was guarding him on the perimeter. Coby sprinted past the slower Randle and finished at the rim with a beautiful scoop layup off the glass. Smart balling from a kid whose coach describes him as a “baller.” Indeed.

7) If he can improve the consistency of his long ball and continue to play with this level of aggressiveness on offense, Coby is going to get lots of votes for Rookie of the Year. 

And might be a dark horse to win it. We’re still waiting on the regular season debut of Zion Williamson, currently sidelined with a knee injury. He was crowned the odds-on favorite to win the award as soon as the Pelicans drafted him No. 1 last summer. But if he misses a third of the season…

Many rookies have impressed early in Zion’s absence, notably Morant, No. 3 overall pick R.J. Barrett, Miami’s Kendrick Nunn (who saw that coming?) and Washington’s Rui Hachimura. But if Coby’s strong games keep leading to Bulls wins – as his two best games so far have done – then those who get to vote won’t be able to ignore his impact. His averages of 12.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 24 minutes per game are respectable. The shooting percentages (36.8 FG%, 28.6 3P%) must get better for Coby to steal ROY honors. It would also help if the Bulls won more games than their current pace of a 29-53 record.

8) Coby won’t turn 20 until February 16, 2020.

He wasn’t born until after the Y2K scare. If you asked him, he probably wouldn’t even know what Y2K means. Oh gross, that makes me feel old. But it’s a good reminder for some impatient Bulls fans (can those clamoring for Zach LaVine and/or Lauri Markkanen to be traded take a chill pill or twelve?) that this is still a VERY young team. At a median age of 24.4, the Bulls are the second youngest team in the league behind Phoenix. Sure, the Suns stunned everyone with their hot start, but they’ll likely level off. Young teams tend not to win in the NBA and that will almost assuredly continue to be the norm.

Wendell Carter Jr. can’t legally drink until next April. Lauri won’t turn 23 until sometime around the draft lottery next spring. (Hopefully he won’t be there representing the Bulls for another disappointing seventh pick.) Zach seems older, perhaps because this is his sixth NBA season, but he’s still only 24. None of the Bulls’ core players have reached their prime. Rebuilds take time.

Random thought: It would be hard for Coby to find a convincing fake I.D. with that hairdo. But he’s too busy punching Jim Boylen’s clock to go to the clubs anyway, right?

9) Going back to the “should Coby start?” conundrum from earlier... 

It’s not necessarily about starting. It’s about putting Coby in the best possible situations to succeed and allowing him to get his touches. Think about this: Coby’s usage rate so far this season (25.2%) is higher than the rookie season usage rates of his teammates LaVine (22.0%), Markkanen (21.9%) and Carter (19.1%). LaVine started 40 of 77 games his rookie year. Lauri started all 68 of his rookie appearances. Wendell started all 44 of his. Would Coby’s usage rate be that high – i.e., would he be as involved in the offense – if he were sharing the ball with other starters? Not likely. For now, at least, Coby getting the bulk of opportunities with secondary units is a good thing for his development.

10) Coby & Shaq > Kobe & Shaq.

You can’t convince me or Boylen otherwise. Although Shaq Harrison hasn’t managed to crack Jim’s rotation – we’ve only seen him in garbage time so far – I think it’s safe to say we’ll see him get into that rotation long before Denzel Valentine ever does. Why? Because I said so. *shrug emoji*

Thanks for reading. Here’s to many more nights of shouting “Co-by! Co-by!” at the UC. It sounded weird the first time, so we should probably do it several more times until we’re used to it. Go get ’em, kid. And don’t worry, Y2K wasn’t even a thing. Hakuna Matata.

Till next time. See red, be good. - Peck

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John Paxson remains committed to Jim Boylen, seeing rebuild through

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USA Today

John Paxson remains committed to Jim Boylen, seeing rebuild through

Bulls executive vice president John Paxson addressed the team's slow start in a wide-ranging one-on-one interview with our K.C. Johnson. Paxson also granted separate one-on-one interviews to other select media outlets.

The last two times John Paxson oversaw this significant a roster overhaul, the Bulls experienced success, if not championships.

Paxson inherited a roster from Jerry Krause in April 2003 that he flipped completely, save for Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, and built a perennial playoff team centered around Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon and coached by Scott Skiles.

When that era fizzled, leading to Skiles’ Christmas Eve firing in 2007, the Bulls lucked into the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and landed hometown product Derrick Rose. Paxson and general manager Gar Forman surrounded Rose with talent and hired Tom Thibodeau, who coached the Bulls to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals before Rose’s torn ACL altered the franchise’s trajectory.

Team president Michael Reinsdorf, Paxson and coach Jim Boylen all publicly pointed to this season, the third of a rebuild following the June 2017 trade of Jimmy Butler, as the one the Bulls would become relevant again. In their words, all expected nightly competitiveness and the challenging for a playoff position.

Entering Saturday’s home game against the Clippers, the Bulls stood as one of the biggest underachieving stories of the NBA. Their 9-18 mark marked not one victory against a winning team. They’ve been blown out and lost big leads. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, principals from the Butler trade, have appeared to regress.

Against that backdrop, Paxson sat for a 16-minute interview with NBC Sports Chicago Saturday afternoon. Here is that transcript:

Q: What has disappointed you the most about this season?

A: Obviously, we all expected to have a better record than we do right now. Given the offseason we had and the September we had, all of us in basketball operations thought we would have won more games. So that’s disappointing. If I have to point to reasons why, first I assume responsibility for the organization always. And I own where we’re at. The thing that I probably didn’t anticipate was that Jim put in a new system. We hired two new assistant coaches who have had their input with Jim. Especially on the offensive side of the ball, I thought it would carry over more quickly than it has. That was a miscalculation on my part. That said, I watch a lot of practices. I communicate with Jim and his staff consistently. I sit in on team film sessions to observe and hear what is being taught. What I see is a lot of good things being taught and emphasized to our team. What you don’t see is the consistent carryover from the practice floor to the film room to the games. Why is that? No excuses for it. But we still have a young team. And I think guys are still trying to figure out where their shots are coming from and how to play instinctively out of this system. My reference point is always from playing and Phil Jackson and Tex (Winter) put in the triangle. It wasn’t an instinctive way of playing basketball. It took us some time. We had the greatest player in the game so you’re going to win a lot of games. That’s the next step with this group. Here’s this system and we have to grow out of this system. Jim and his staff have to add to it. And the players have to grow out of it. But it’s playing with instinct out of the system. And we’re still taking baby steps. And I didn’t anticipate that. That’s on me.

Q: What is the system?

A: Like a lot of offenses in this day and age, it’s a lot of spacing. It is trying to create a situation on the floor where two guys are guarding one and you move the ball and you space it and shoot and you can get corner 3-pointers. Getting the ball to the lane is a priority. We’ve attacked the basket well this year. We haven’t finished at a rate that is high at all. That’s been an issue. If you’re going to break it down statistically, we haven’t shot the ball well. A component of that is are you getting the right guys the shots. That’s growth in terms of what we’re running. Those are all things that I know our staff is working on individually with players. That’s you need to see carry over at some point. But it takes patience. Coby White for example is 19. His ability to finish at the rim isn’t elite right now. But that’s what he has to work for. And I could go down the line with players on that.

Q: Do you think players believe in the system and, in turn, belief in Jim Boylen?

A: I have good communication with our players so I have a good feel for what’s going on. I think this is a combination of a lot of things. When you’re not having success, it’s easy to question and point fingers. When you run an offense, if you’re getting open shots, individual players have to look at themselves too. Just like coaches have to look at themselves and I have to look at myself. I think it takes time for everybody to understand why you’re doing certain things. The one thing about this system that Jim and his staff have implemented is there is room to grow. Jim tells me we’re trying to set the foundation. That goes back to me getting guys to understand that and then start playing instinctually out of that. That’s the next area they have to grow.

Q: How would you assess Jim’s performance to this point and will he finish the season?

A: I’m not into giving rankings. We’re committed to Jim. There’s no quick fix to this. We’re not thinking of making any changes. Jim is a grinder. He’s going to keep grinding. One thing I respect immensely about him is he’s willing to listen to ideas. The thing he and I do is talk basketball. When I see things, he listens to what I have to say. Not that I’m making the decisions and I don’t tell him to play, but we talk basketball. And he’s open. He’s going to continue to grow and get better. I thought when we hired Chris (Fleming) and Roy (Rogers) this offseason, we improved our staff immensely. And I still believe that and they’re learning their rhythm together. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by our defense. We’re probably ahead of where we should be given the youth of our team. We’re committed to Jim. From my seat, I have to look at things from a 30,000-foot view. I’m not going to sit here and say there’s some move we can make, whether it’s personnel or anything right now, that’s going to make a huge difference. We have to continue to develop Wendell Carter, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine. Go down the line. We have Chandler Hutchison. Kris Dunn has done a great job accepting a role. That continues to be our focus. Develop these kids. Get them to grow into good players.

Q: Do you think the locker room still buys into Jim?

A: We recognize players have a voice in this day and age. They’re empowered in a way they’ve never been. And that’s a good thing for the league. They’ve taken that and used that in a positive way for the league. We talk to the players. Thad, we’ve spoken to. The one thing I am confident is guys in that locker room share the same goal. They are together. There’s never going to be a perfect situation. There’s always some conflict. It can be teammate to teammate or coaches to players. That’s inevitable in this business. I don’t expect this group to fracture. I’d be disappointed if they did. All the guys in that locker room expressed to us their character and that’s not where they want to go or would ever go. I believe when they tell me that. I know that when things are bad or you’re not winning as much as you should, people want to point fingers. I’m not doing that internally. And we can’t do that internally. Once you do that, you’re in trouble.

Q: On Media Day, your organization stated playoffs as the goal. Is that still a possibility? And it seems you have moved the goalposts a bit towards development, which obviously needs to happen as well. But the team hasn’t been competitive many nights.

A: What we said is our goal is to challenge and compete for the playoffs. I don’t know why that changes. And the reason we said that, the summer we had and the changes we made and the draft and the buy-in in September, our players felt good about themselves. And we all felt good about it. The way Jim is wired, we’re all wired, why shouldn’t we be sending the message to them to compete for the playoffs? If that’s a pressure you put on people, I’m fine with that. I don’t waver. But I don’t know where that lands. I don’t know if that’s a realistic thing right now. We certainly haven’t played like a team that’s playoff-bound. But 50-some games left, it can change. If it doesn’t, we obviously didn’t achieve something that we thought we could’ve.

Q: How much discussion is there from the Reinsdorfs to you about the attendance and how much of a concern is that?

A: Very little. But we’re all aware of it. And our fan base is so important to us. I feel really bad about it. I own where we’re at. What I want more than anything, and I told this to the players before the season started, is to have a team our fan base can root for and that competes. We all want to win at the highest level. We’re not at that stage. But I’ve always felt our fan base will support us if they see guys really giving everything they have and competing and showing they’re in it with them. So it is disappointing that we’re not drawing the way we have. You get back to winning and people will come and support you.

Q: That’s the difference to me. When you took over for Jerry, you built a team that competed and was well liked. And then when you lucked into Derrick, you built a team that won a lot. You guys pointed to this season as the season it was going to change. And it’s gone the other way. Do you see why fans are frustrated with that?

A: Of course, and that’s why I’m so disappointed. We all thought we would have won more games. And the way we’ve lost some of them has been hard to stomach. But like I said, I see things being done on the practice floor and the teaching and then the lack of consistent carry over to the games that has hurt us. Is that inexperience, immaturity? I know physical toughness has been an issue. Teams that are physical with us has hurt us a lot this year. When things aren’t going well, there’s a lot you can point to.

Q: Have you miscast players in roles?

A: I wouldn’t get into whether we’ve miscast guys. That’s not how I look at it. Lauri for example has played better lately. But I still think he’s trying to find his way in what we’re doing, where his shots come from. He needs to play with confidence and instincts. I’ve talked to him about this. His heart is in the right place. He wants to be good. He’s a key part of this. We’re not down on him at all. We still think he has so much room to grow. I think he’s just trying to find his way. He has to be consistent in his work, which he is. And I think he’ll find himself as we keep going through this.

Q: So you’re going to ride this out as is this season?

A: There’s not a quick fix. We’d like to get Otto (Porter) back. Part of our shooting issues has been that he hasn’t been on the floor. Lauri hasn’t shot to the level that he has the first two years. We need him to do that. We’re not giving up on Lauri, Wendell, Zach, Coby White. We’re all in this together. This is about all of us being better.

Q: You sound as committed as ever to this job?

A: I’m here. I don’t plan on going anywhere.

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What to watch for: Bulls face off with Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers

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USA TODAY

What to watch for: Bulls face off with Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers

The Bulls look to bounce back against one of the league's best in the Clippers, tonight. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:

Clippers’ last five (4-1)

  • Dec. 13 — W at Timberwolves: 124-117

  • Dec. 11 — W at Raptors: 112-92

  • Dec. 9 — W at Pacers: 110-99

  • Dec. 8 — W at Wizards: 135-119

  • Dec. 6 — L at Bucks: 119-91

Storyline(s) for each team

The Clippers come into this game with perhaps the deepest roster in the NBA — they have everything from top-tier star talent (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George), to specialized secondary options (Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley), to sparkplug role players (Landry Shamet, Montrezl Harrell, Moe Harkless, etc.) They’re 20-7 and own the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Like the Bulls, the Clippers are on the second night of a back-to-back (and the last night of a six-game road trip), so that full assortment of players won’t be in action. Leonard and Shamet have both already been ruled out. Williams and Beverley are questionable, but neither played the team’s game last night in Minnesota.

Whatever squad they field will likely still have an edge over the Bulls, who shot a paltry 27-for-90 from the field in an 83-73 loss to the Hornets on Friday. Jim Boylen was satisfied with the team’s defensive effort after that contest, but against the sixth-rated defense in the NBA, a markedly better offensive showing will be required to stay competitive against Los Angeles. Even without their full cast of characters, stealing this one would represent the Bulls’ best win of the season (for what it’s worth, not a compliment).

Player to watch: Paul George

George is set to suit up, and he’s a must-watch whenever he comes to town. Last night, him and Leonard combined to drop 88 points on the Timberwolves. It looked like a lot of fun:

 

Bulls fans are familiar with George’s exploits from his time with the Pacers, and he’s only leveled up further since leaving Indiana. Coming off a career year in Oklahoma City in which he finished third in MVP voting, he’s currently averaging 24.6 points on 39.9% 3-point shooting (10.2 attempts), and remains one of the preeminent wing defenders in the league. 

The Bulls haven’t had their lack of wing depth truly exposed by a team in a while. Unless Kris Dunn has an all-time defensive performance in him, the Clippers are about as safe a bet as any to exploit that mismatch.

Matchup to watch: Frontcourt rotations

Jim Boylen’s rotations have been scattershot all season, but in the wake of Thad Young requesting more minutes earlier this week, we reached peak randomness last night.  Franchise cornerstone Lauri Markkanen played 25 minutes, 34 seconds and at one point sat for nearly 15 consecutive game minutes. Young played 26 minutes, 33 seconds, Wendell Carter 23 minutes, 35 seconds and Daniel Gafford 20 minutes, 18 seconds. 

Boylen has often insisted that his goal is to win games while simultaneously developing all the players on his team, and all things considered, the Bulls have a pretty talented frontcourt rotation. But it’s unclear if their minutes being divvied up on a night-to-night basis (and seemingly on-the-fly) is consistent with either of those stated missions.

Against a dynamic Clippers frontcourt, this is worth monitoring. Expect more juggling to ensue.

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