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.”

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

After getting a look at each point guard in the starting lineup this preseason, Jim Boylen finally got a look at what appears to be his starting lineup for Opening Night. 

Tomas Satoransky started as the point next to Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. That group was down 10-7 when Carter subbed out at the 8:36 mark but looked better in later stints in the game. 

Carter was noticeably slow on his first step on his defense, specifically on plays where Raptors center Chris Boucher was able to use his speed and length advantage to finish at the rim. But he was solid on the glass, even chipping in on the offensive rebounding side of things, grabbing 3 offensive boards in the first half alone. 

Carter was clearly re-adjusting to the speed of NBA basketball and as play-by-play broadcaster Stacey King noted during the game, he "just doesn't have his legs underneath him." He was 1-6 from the floor, struggling to get lift as he went up for putback layups around the basket. 

That being said, he was decent, more so on the defensive side of the floor where he became more active as the game wore on.

In his 16-minutes stint, Carter posted 2 points, 7 rebounds, an assist and a block, while picking up 3 personal fouls. 

Outside of Carter's return stint, the Bulls new-look starting group looked solid and offers hope as we approach the start of the NBA regular season.