Coby White is a 19-year old entering his first season with the Bulls and while his No. 7 overall draft position certainly indicates that he is a player that the organization believes in, his age would signal that fans should be patient with him. Point guard is a position that has perhaps the steepest learning curve in the NBA and on top of that, White will be playing on a roster that despite some solid pickups, is still light on veteran talent.
So what would a solid year look like for Coby White? There is no clear cut answer, as we’ve seen with players like De’Aaron Fox, a huge year 1 to year 2 leap is possible at point guard. To set the barometer for a solid rookie year for a score-first guard like White, we looked at how many guards in Bulls history cracked the double-digit scoring mark in their rookie season.
Rookie guards in Bulls franchise history who have averaged at least 10 PPG (NAME/ SEASON/ PPG)
1. Reggie Theus/ 1978-79/ 16.3 PPG
2. Quintin Dailey/ 1978-79/ 15.1 PPG
3. Mitchell Wiggins/ 1982-83/ 12.4 PPG
4. Michael Jordan/ 1984-85/ 28.2 PPG
5. Kirk Hinrich/ 2003-04/ 12.0 PPG
6. Ben Gordon/ 2004-05/ 15.1 PPG
7. Derrick Rose/ 2008-09/ 16.8 PPG
White carried over his high-scoring ways from high school to Chapel Hill and helped lead an offense that had the 8th best adjusted offensive efficiency in the nation last season per KenPom.com. In college White’s speed was able to offset whatever advatange long-limbed shot-blockers had on him and he converted at a solid 67 percent rate at the rim.
Coby White Behind the Back to an Inverted Euro Finish. So good. pic.twitter.com/jWgtBW8JIM— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) March 30, 2019
As I mentioned before, Coby White really loves splitting the defense. I decided to put some clips together showing his ability to split the defense and get into the paint to finish or dump it off to a teammate. pic.twitter.com/r5NdzQhWdV— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) April 24, 2019
Over his 999 minutes of NCAA basketball White racked up 562 points, including 104 made free throws and 67 made field goals at the rim (per The Stepien). He will have to add some diversity to his shot profile even if the Bulls truly let him have free reign to shoot in year one, as NBA rim protectors will force him to develop a solid floater and/or midrange game.
White only attempted a total of 95 midrange shots (out of approx. 426 total shots) in his freshman season at North Carolina and will undoubtedly have to shoot more midrange attempts in 2020 as pro defenses will key in on his aggressiveness from deep.
In college White shot a whopping 12.2 attempts from 3-point range per 100 possessions, hitting them at a 35.3 percent clip and helping him maintain an impressive 110.6 offensive rating at UNC. At the NBA level, White will likely be operating out of the pick and roll a decent amount and even if the Bulls initiate these plays far from the rim, defenses will try to contain him in that area from the foul line to the rim, as the Sixers do to former Nets guard D’Angelo Russell in the clip below.
What a bounce-back performance from Ben Simmons in Game 2, including his defense.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) April 16, 2019
Simmons did a great job on D'Angelo Russell to bother his pick-and-roll play and drives, and pushed the pace well in transition: pic.twitter.com/UPy7B8pQlZ
The sophistication of NBA defenses could have a negative effect on White’s percentages but everything will work itself out as long he doesn’t lose his aggressiveness.
Russell got up a career-high 635 attempts from 3-point range in 2019 but was aided by the Nets infrastructure. He shot a career-high 205 free throws in 2019, improving significantly in his weakest area offensively, something we will see White get better at on a year-to-year basis.
Last season Brooklyn still catered to Russell’s strengths despite him getting to the free-throw line more. The Nets had the fifth-best 3-point attempt rate in the league. White will actually have the luxury of Nets assistant coach Chris Fleming joining in the Bulls staff, and Fleming played a large part in Brooklyn playing at one of the league's fastest paces and finishing in the top half of the league in points per game.
In his five NBA Summer League contests, White averaged a healthy 4.4 free throw attempts per game. If he could average at least four free throws per game as a rookie, he would be one of four Bulls rookies at any position to get to the charity stripe that much. He will have plenty of opportunities to attack off of closeouts in year one but embracing contact is something that doesn’t come until much later for most young guards in the NBA.
While White will benefit heavily from Chicago’s plethora of 3-point shooters in 2020, he will more oftentimes than not play the role of the shooter, playing off the ball next to Zach LaVine and/or Satoransky. But Bulls head coach Jim Boylen has discussed the team speeding up their tempo with so many explosive athletes on the roster and White is a major reason why.
Boylen’s words certainly indicate a player who will be more than a role player next season.
Jim Boylen says the #Bulls "have to run with" Coby White. He believes Bulls have potential to push the pace as well as anyone given White's speed with the ball in his hands.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) June 24, 2019
The Bulls finished the 2018-19 season ranked 19th in the league in pace and even with a modest increase, expect to see no more than 12 or so players with 200+ field goal attempts. The big difference is, those shot attempts will be spread out among NBA talent rather than a variety of G League call-ups, as was the case last year.
The talent level of the teammates around White will set him up for a successful rookie year, it is simply on him to run with the opportunity.
Only 10 rookies averaged at least 10 points per game in the 2018-19 season, including Bulls rookie Wendell Carter (10.3 PPG). Carter was usually the third or fourth scoring option for the Bulls in 2019 but was able to stay involved enough to put up decent figures. The Bulls will clearly want White to be aggressive on offense to grow into the point guard of the future so he will have to take his bumps and bruises along the way, which already started in the NBA Summer League.
In Summer League White shot a dreadful 3-for-30 (10 percent) on 3-pointers but mostly looked comfortable taking the attempts despite a lackluster percentage. Summer League is our best prism with which to judge what the Bulls will want from White and he led the team with 15.0 PPG in 30.8 minutes per game, clearly functioning as the lead dog of the Bulls offensive attack.
Kris Dunn’s presence on the team definitely complicates things a bit but the Bulls are set up for White to score at a solid rate from day one. I believe that he will become the 8th Bulls rookie guard to put up at least 10 PPG and the main reason for that belief is that I fully expect White to hoist at least five attempts per game from 3-point range and of the three rookies to take at least five 3-pointers per game in 2019, two of them scored at least 10 PPG.
We will get to see White play against a higher caliber of competition--both athletically and basketball IQ-wise--when the NBA preseason kicks off on October 7, until then we can only hope that Boylen will truly let the Bulls run with Coby White and his PPG average will be a decent way--not the only way--to follow his progress.