The Pecking Order — Coby White

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The Pecking Order — Coby White

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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Bulls' Coby White among the 2019-20 rookies making an early impression

Bulls' Coby White among the 2019-20 rookies making an early impression

While the NBA world anxiously awaits Zion Williamson’s regular season debut sometime in mid to late December, several other rookies are already making an impact. And, since Zion isn’t likely to play more than 50 games this season, he’ll need to put up some big numbers to have a chance to win the Rookie of the Year award.

Bulls’ fans were chanting “Coby, Coby” during the rookie guard’s 23-point 4th quarter explosion Tuesday night against the Knicks that included a franchise-record 7 3-point makes. Meanwhile, No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant carried the Grizzlies to a win in Charlotte on Wednesday, weaving his way through three defenders to score the winning basket in the closing seconds.

It may come as blasphemy to Bulls’ fans, but Morant is looking like a young Derrick Rose through his first 10 professional games. The lightning-quick, 6-foot-3 point guard leads all rookies in scoring, averaging 18.3 points while shooting 48.3% from the field and 44.4% from the 3-point line. He’s also dishing out 5.8 assists and grabbing 3.3 rebounds for a rebuilding Memphis team.

For those of you who followed my draft reports last season, it’s no secret I’m very high on the former Murray St. star, but he has even exceeded my expectations through an admittedly small 10 game sample size. Morant’s physical skills are off the charts, but it’s his poise under pressure, and willingness to accept the responsibility of having the ball in his hands late in close games that really stands out.

Morant’s ability to change direction is mid-air is what reminds me most of Rose. On his winning basket against the Hornets, Morant patiently ran down the shot clock to use up just about all of the time remaining, blew past the initial defender, and then accelerated through and over two help defenders to lay the ball in with his off-hand. It’s a play we saw from Rose so many times in his pre-knee injury seasons.

But it’s not just Morant making a big impression early. Zion’s college teammate, R.J. Barrett leads all 1st-year players with an average of 35 minutes a game. He’s also putting up an impressive stat line of right around 16 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.

The Miami duo of Tyler Herro and Chicago native Kendrick Nunn has played a big part in the Heat’s impressive start. Nunn scored more points in his first five games than any undrafted player in NBA history and currently ranks 2nd among all rookies in scoring, while Herro has picked up where he left off in Summer League, averaging 13.1 points a game, shooting 37.2% from the 3-point line.

Former Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura is taking advantage of his chance to start for the rebuilding Wizards, averaging 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting just under 52% from the field.

Probably the most surprising rookie performance so far comes from 2nd round pick Eric Paschall, who’s been force-fed minutes because of the devastating injury situation with the Warriors. The former Villanova national champ has responded big time, scoring 15.5 points a game on 51.9% shooting.

The Bulls got an up-close and personal look at Charlotte rookie forward P.J. Washington on opening night when the former Kentucky star rained down 7 3-pointers in a come from behind win for the home team. Washington has slowed down a bit, but he’s still averaging 12.7 points and 5.9 rebounds on 49% shooting from the field and 46.2% from 3 point range.

Hachimura’s college teammate, high-flying Brandon Clarke, has teamed up with Morant to give Memphis fans hope for an exciting future. The -foot-8 Clarke is coming off the bench, for now, averaging 11.9 points and 6.5 rebounds, shooting 61.5% from the field.

Lottery picks De’Andre Hunter, Darius Garland, and Jarrett Culver are playing significant minutes for their teams, while Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes, and Cam Johnson have found it a little tougher to get extended run.

This leads us back to Coby White, who has already become a fan favorite at the United Center. White burst on to the scene in his 2nd NBA game, scoring 25 points to lead the Bulls to a come from behind win in Memphis, but then he slumped a bit with his outside shooting, failing to reach double-figures in his next 5 games.

Still, his teammates and coaches never lost faith in the 19-year-old rookie, urging him to stay aggressive and keep shooting. That resulted in Tuesday’s unforgettable performance at the United Center, White taking over the game in the 4th quarter with his college coach Roy Williams in the crowd to enjoy the show.

White followed that up with a 26 point performance in Milwaukee on Thursday, 19 of them coming in an electric 1st half that included five more 3-pointers. White finished 6-for-13 from beyond the arc against the Bucks, setting an NBA record for most 3-pointers made by a rookie in consecutive games with 13.

The Bulls drafted White with the 7th overall pick hoping that he will develop into a long-time starter at point guard. But for now, his role is to come off the bench and spark the team with quick scoring bursts, much like former Bulls Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, and Ben Gordon. At 6-foot-5, White has the size to play both guard spots and his outside shooting ability makes him a great fit in the team’s fast-paced offense.

The plan, for now, remains to keep Tomas Satoransky as the starting point guard, but White’s minutes will continue to grow if he continues his hot shooting. Jim Boylen went with a four-guard lineup for much of the 2nd half in Milwaukee, with White playing 35 of a possible 48 minutes. 

Clearly, the Bulls are thrilled with their precocious young guard who looks like a candidate for the NBA’s all-rookie team.

It’s still very early in the season, but coaches, executives, media and fans are talking up the potential of this exciting 2019-‘20 rookie class, and we still haven’t seen Zion in a regular season game!

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