Bulls

Wendell Carter could be the rare 'defense-first' Rookie of the Year

Wendell Carter could be the rare 'defense-first' Rookie of the Year

When OddsShark released their updated NBA Rookie of the Year odds in early July, Wendell Carter had the 10th best odds to win the award. By the All-Star break, those odds may look very, very different. And while the writers who vote on these awards have somewhat of a defined pattern in terms of who they vote for, Carter represents a rare opportunity to break the mold. Obviously nights like his huge double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds) with four blocks against Houston on Saturday will do wonders for his ROY stock, but even on his quiet nights he does the little things that add up over the course of a game (and a season).

Carter is in the top 20 in the league in contested shots per game and that is a big reason why he is one of five rookies playing over 25 minutes per night.

By now, most Bulls fans know that the ability to move laterally was the number one concern about Carter as a draft prospect. He knew the right thing to do but was often late to do it. When defending the pick-and-roll, he would step out for the hard hedge but it would happen too late. This threw off his ability to slow down the ball handler and recover to his man.

When you compare that to how he is defending now—especially against offenses that hunt mismatches as aggressively as the Rockets—the difference is startling considering we are discussing a 19-year old player:

He receives great help defense from Cam Payne and Justin Holiday in the first clip. That allows him the extra time he needs to get back to his man but the sense of urgency (and purpose) in Carter's movements are apparent from the start.

In the second clip Jabari Parker points as if he is telling Chandler Hutchison to pick up Chris Paul but then he steps over and guards him as well, leaving PJ Tucker wide open when he slipped the screen. Carter sees all of this happen as he is guarding Clint Capela on the baseline and leaves his man at the exact moment he needed to in order to come over and get the block on Tucker, which—as an added bonus—he tips to a teammate instead of out of bounds.

On the year Carter accounts for a larger share of his team's blocks than DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba and Jaren Jackson Jr. All three players were selected ahead of Carter.

His activity on the defensive end makes him stand out whenever you watch the 2018-19 Bulls. Several rookies may finish the year with better raw stats in terms of block totals because of an advantage in playing time, but Carter's block and steal rates will reflect that he makes the most out of his minutes. 

At the end of the year Carter may not be putting up a double-double like Ayton is right now. But when you look at crucial figures like block percentage, defensive box plus/minus and steal rate, it is clear that he should be in the thick of the Rookie of the Year race come June.

And even if he is not, the numbers don’t lie.

Carter is well on his way to becoming the most important part of the current Bulls rebuild due to his two-way play and should be rewarded for it should it continue. His importance to the Bulls is most evident when you breakdown game film and see just how often he makes up for the mistakes of others. And for that reason alone Carter will have a shot to be the first ROY who wins the award based off of his on the court awareness rather than raw counting stats.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Concern over Lauri Markkanen

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Concern over Lauri Markkanen

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Jason Goff, Kendall Gill, and Dave Watson react to the Bulls loss in Milwaukee and where the team is after 12 games.

1:10 - On Coby White and becoming a major scoring threat off the bench

2:30 - Should Coby start?

4:00 - On Lauri Markkanen’s inconsistent play

10:10 - Do the Bulls need more 2-man game with Lauri and Zach?

14:00 - Do we need to change our expectations for this team and the players?

20:30 - Kendall on how the cavalry isn’t coming to help the Bulls

21:45 - Is Wendell Carter the ‘future’ of the Bulls and impact on team veterans?

25:30 - On the Bulls’ evolving rotations

30:15 - On Daniel Gafford’s lack of playing time

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: 

Bulls Talk Podcast

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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

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

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.