NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Coby White.
Past: Zach LaVine
13.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.7 APG | 39.4% FG, 35.4% 3P, 79.1% FT | 23.5% USG
June 2019: Signed 2-year, $10,879,800 rookie-scale contract (one year, plus two team option years remaining for total value of $18,824,395)
2020-21: $5,572,680 | 2021-22: $5,837,760 (team option) | 2022-23: $7,413,955 (team option) | 2023-24: RFA (QO: $9,942,114)
Electricity runs through Coby White. It shows in his blinding end-to-end speed, and dances off his fingertips when jumpers are falling. Distilled simply, those are White’s two greatest NBA strengths: He can really run, and he can really shoot it.
His rookie season with the Bulls was a bit uneven (read: everything before the All-Star break) as he acclimated to sporadic playing time and an off-ball role he hadn’t been asked to play in high school and college. But the stretch run validated all those who stood by his scoring prowess. In 10 games post-All-Star-break, White’s minutes bumped to 33.7 per game, and production followed. He averaged 24.7 points and 4.3 assists over that span and shot the air out of the ball, canning 40.7% of 8.6 3s per game (44.8% on 2.9 pull-up 3s per).
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That torrid shooting was an outlier, but White’s work off the catch was steady all season — he finished the year a 37% marksman on 3.7 3-point attempts per game in that context; he gets his jumper off quickly — and post-All-Star, the Bulls averaged 103.41 possessions with him on the floor and 97.84 with him off, roughly the equivalent difference between the sixth- and 29th-ranked paces in the league. In general, the offense cratered in minutes he sat over that span. All of which is to say, White’s strengths are conducive to the run-and-gun style the Bulls want to play, and he’s liable to catch fire at an instant.
That White was able to vault the rookie wall he self-admittedly hit is a testament to his work ethic and maturity, which teammates and coaches past and present are quick to laud him for. Those intangibles should only amplify his on-court talents throughout his career. (Oh, he was also one of two Bulls to appear in all 65 of the team’s games this season — for this group, no small feat.)
Areas to Improve
White will enter Year 2 with a number of questions looming over him. Can he man true point guard duties for the Bulls moving forward? Do he and LaVine comprise a tenable starting backcourt defensively? Can White once and for all kick the microwave scorer rep and be a reliable option on a nightly basis, regardless of whether the jumper is falling? What’s his role if the Bulls draft a lead guard with their upcoming lottery pick?
Unfortunately, evaluation on all those fronts was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted the NBA season with White fresh off his first career start, and LaVine sidelined with a quad injury. What we do know is that White’s dynamism and off-ball adaptability make him an exciting backcourt mate for LaVine on the offensive end if he finds consistency. Underwhelming season-long shooting numbers (39.4% FG) are a reminder that’s not a guarantee yet, but, man...
Zach LaVine on Coby White: "I’m excited to play with him. Obviously, I think we can be a dynamic duo."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 7, 2020
An average athlete with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, White will also have a hill to climb to be an above-average defender at either guard spot, and an above-average finisher around the cup. His speed and shooting ability grant him gravitational pull on the offensive end, but he’s still unproven as a facilitator, logging just a 13th percentile assist-to-usage ratio (0.67) in Year 1. To be an ideal partner for LaVine, his defending and playmaking will have to trend upwards.
White is unquestionably a bucket, and with how hard he works, it’s reasonable to expect continued progression on all those fronts — in his rookie season, his restricted area field goal percentage ticked up every month, he competed hard on the defensive end and passing lanes opened up as the game slowed down for him over time. A larger sample size will tell us more, but optimism is warranted.
White’s speed is truly unnatural, and if his jumpshot steadies out, he has the tricks in his bag to be a 20-point scorer and game-breaking transition threat. That alone would make him a quality starter in the league for many years. While his defense will likely always be a question mark, bumping his assist average into the five-to-seven range would be the key to unlocking All-Star level potential.
But if we’re being real, it’s silly to slap a ceiling on a just-turned 20-year-old who improved so markedly in his first season. The sky’s the limit for Coby.
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