Bulls

Can Hawkeyes' Aaron White translate his game to the next level?

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Can Hawkeyes' Aaron White translate his game to the next level?

Being a good college basketball player doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good professional basketball player.

But it sure can’t hurt.

Aaron White’s NBA future might be a bit of a question mark — many mock drafts have him going late in the second round — but there’s no doubting that decision-makers have to be impressed with what he did during his senior year at Iowa.

Coming off a junior year that saw his Hawkeyes stumble mightily down the stretch and make a rapid exit from the NCAA tournament, White entered this past season as the team’s leader, with head coach Fran McCaffery calling it “Aaron’s team” even before the season began. And White showed it, putting Iowa on his back throughout the season.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Iowa F Aaron White]

White averaged better than 16 points and seven rebounds a game, scoring from everywhere on the floor and showing off a terrific ability to get to the free-throw line. Under his leadership, the Hawkeyes reversed the trend and finished the season strong, winning six straight and eight of 10 to close the regular season, then surprising many with a 31-point rout of Davidson in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament. And through it all, White was sensational. He averaged 22.5 points per game over the team’s last eight contests (including a Big Ten Tournament game and two NCAA tournament games), scoring 21 points or more in six of those. He grabbed double-digit rebounds four times over Iowa’s final 10 games. He earned First Team All-Big Ten honors.

White finished his college career with a bang, and he did it in a conference that he called the next best thing to playing in the NBA.

“I think it’s one of the best conferences,” White said at the NBA Draft Combine. “The competition level that we played against, the scouting reports and coaches that you go up against, obviously it’s not the NBA, but it might be the next best thing in terms of how to prep yourself for the next level. So I think a lot of stuff that I learned in my four years at Iowa will help me going forward.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Jerian Grant could be the Bulls' next 'veteran' gem]

There’s a lot to like about White’s game. As mentioned, he can score in a variety of ways and is great at getting to the basket and the charity stripe. The question becomes whether he can do that at the next level. Even in the Big Ten, a conference known for its bruising battles, opposing defenses are a lot smaller than in the NBA. It’s easier to get through the Illinois Fighting Illini — who White scorched for 29 points on Feb. 25 — than it is to get through the Chicago Bulls.

But White feels he can bring plenty to an NBA team, be it versatility, scoring ability or something purely intangible.

“Playing the 3 and the 4. Just being able to play hard, play with a good motor, bring energy and do all the little things to help a team win. That’s what I’m kind of prepping myself to do,” White said. “Whatever a team asks me, I’m going to try to do to the best of my ability. If a team selects me, I’ll represent that organization in a great manner.”

Regardless of where he ends up getting picked, White is enjoying the process. He raved about being at the NBA Draft Combine, an event he said he’s watched on TV since he was a little kid. He was stunned by some of the faces in the crowd watching him play.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Will Frank Kaminsky turn college success into NBA greatness?]

“I’ve been watching the Combine since I was a little kid,” White said. “Obviously I watched it really intently last year when (former teammate Roy Devyn Marble) was here, and I’ve always followed the coverage on NBA TV or ESPN or whoever’s covering it. This is a great honor to be here. You see Larry Bird sitting courtside, you see big-name guys sitting courtside. This whole process is a blessing, it’s something I’m very fortunate to be in a position in.”

One of those faces sitting courtside, though, was a very familiar one. McCaffery was at the Combine, too, and White said he’s been thrilled to have his now former coach be a big part of his NBA Draft process.

“He’s given me great confidence in myself not only in my four years at college but throughout this process just telling me to be myself and let my character show through and my work ethic show through,” White said. “I couldn’t ask for a better coach to play for, and I appreciate him coming out and supporting me.”

He might not hear his name early on draft night, and there might be questions to be answered about his game and how it translates to the next level — though NBA teams likely won’t be shying away from 6-foot-9 220-pounder. But one certain thing is that White will appreciate the opportunity immensely. And if his play in college showed anything, it’s that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make something happen for his team.

“I’m just looking forward to not only these next two months before the draft, the next month and a half, but my career going forward,” White said. “This is my dream, to play basketball for a living, and I’m just so lucky and fortunate to be in this position. It’s been great so far, and the future looks good, as well.”

Bulls guard Zach LaVine works out at Stance Socks Headquarters with Darren Collison

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USA TODAY

Bulls guard Zach LaVine works out at Stance Socks Headquarters with Darren Collison

Zach LaVine has been getting in great work all summer long and he kept it up on Monday, working out at the Stance Socks Headquarters in San Clemente, CA. 

LaVine's workout was with 'Pro's Vision', which included UCLA alumni Darren Collison, who was believed to be headed to the Bulls before he abruptly retired this offseason

This offseason Pro Vision has also worked out with New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball in an effort to help him diversify his game ahead of a crucial season for him in a new setting. 

LaVine will be looking to have an improved year after a solid 2018-19 season, in which LaVine averaged a career-best 23.7 PPG while playing over 2000 minutes for just the second time in his career. 

Heading into the 2019-20 season the Bulls are dealing with higher expectations but should be able to meet them reasonably, as they have added veterans Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky to a roster full of young talent.

LaVine should take a step forward in the 2019-20 season and with an increase in either his playmaking, scoring efficiency and/or overall scoring output, we could see him make an All-Star leap as the 2020 All-Star Weekend takes place in Chicago. 

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What does a successful rookie year look like for Bulls guard Coby White?

What does a successful rookie year look like for Bulls guard Coby White?

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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