Coby White

The numbers behind Bulls guard Coby White's roller coaster rookie year

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USA Today

The numbers behind Bulls guard Coby White's roller coaster rookie year

Coby White’s rookie season was nothing short of a roller coaster — up and down, topsy turvy, at times disorienting, but overall exhilarating. An experience that, if cut short by the NBA’s current COVID-19 induced hiatus, will have left many wanting more.

To be clear: Statistics don’t do White or any NBA player’s path full justice. Excluded from figures on a spreadsheet or dots on a line graph are the hours of film study and concentrated training put in behind the scenes, away from the prying eyes of reporters and the expectant eyes of fans. 

By all accounts, White has put that time in, and after months of inconsistent production that bordered on discouraging, he launched into a historic breakout after the All-Star break. Improvements as a playmaker, defender and shotmaker leapt off the screen, much to the delight of Bulls coaches, players and fans everywhere disgruntled by another underwhelming season for the team.

With that full arc in mind, here are some select numbers that track White’s on-court progress throughout his inaugural professional campaign. Again, they don’t tell his full story. But they go part of the way towards illustrating how far he’s come, even in just nine short months officially in the NBA world (bulleted for brevity):

  • 0: Rising Stars selections. We didn’t forget

  • 1: Start. After 64 games off the bench, White made the first start of his NBA career on March 10 against the Cavaliers. The Bulls won 108-103. The next day, the league went on hiatus

  • Suppose we should also mention the Bulls have a 1.000 win percentage when White starts

  • 3: 30-point games, all in a row (Feb. 22, Feb. 23 and Feb. 25). That made White the first rookie reserve in league history to log three consecutive 30-point games. He and Zion Williamson are tied for first among rookies in 30-point game

  • 6.0: Assists per game in 14 games between February and March. In 51 games prior, he’d averaged 2.1

  • 7: Games with five or more 3-pointers made. First among rookies

  • 7: 3-pointers made in the fourth quarter alone in a win over the New York Knicks on Nov. 12. That’s a Bulls franchise record for 3-pointers in a quarter

  • 13: 20-point games, tied for fourth among rookies with the Knicks’ RJ Barrett and the Warriors’ Eric Paschall. Eight of those came in the Bulls’ final nine games before the hiatus

  • 16.2: The Bulls' net rating differential with White on the floor (+1.8) vs. off (-14.4) since the All-Star break

  • 20: Years old. People forget that

  • 23.5: Usage rate, third among rookies. Climbed from 22% pre-February to 26% post-February

  • 24.7: Points per game since the All-Star break, second among rookies to Zion Williamson. His 247 total points post-All-Star break ranks first among rookies

  • 33.7: Minutes per game since the All-Star break. Had been 24.3 before the break (White's drastic increases in opportunity-based stats can be in part attributed to injuries across the Bulls' roster from January through March)

  • 40.7: 3-point percentage (8.6 attempts per game) post-All-Star break. Had been 33.8% (5.3 attempts per) before the break

  • 56.1: White’s eFG% post-All-Star break. Had been 45.2% before the break

  • 58.5: White’s restricted area FG% in February and March. His year-long 49% clip in the restricted area belies a jump from 46% pre-February to 58.5% post-February

  • 59.7: White’s TS% post-All-Star break. Had been 47.7% before the break

  • 65: Games played. One of two Bulls (along with Tomas Satoransky) to appear in every game for the team

  • 133: 3-pointers made, first among rookies

  • 859: Points, third among rookies

  • 1,674: Minutes, seventh among rookies. All six rooks ahead of White have started at least 55 games for their respective teams

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Coby White's development one of many NBA storylines put on hold by hiatus

Coby White's development one of many NBA storylines put on hold by hiatus

“From North Carolina . . .”

The public address announcer’s words hung in the air, rife with anticipation, much like one of Michael Jordan’s assaults on the rim back in the day.

Even if a certain “slow your roll” component accompanied any Coby White comparisons to His Airness as White made his first NBA start Tuesday, it still felt fun to hear those words again.

“At guard . . .”

Sellout crowds used to drown out the rest of Jordan’s starting lineup introduction as the dynasty raged. Now, White’s moment in the spotlight will be muted by a much more serious and somber moment — the suspension of the NBA season due to the COVID-19 virus.

It’s hard to overstate how much White’s season moved from “feast or famine” category to consistently impactful. But it happened.

Five times in White’s first 56 games, he scored 20 points or more. He did so eight times in his last nine games before the start of the league’s hiatus, including that first start against the Cavaliers.

His three straight 30-point games late last month marked the first time in league history a rookie reserve accomplished that.

Beyond scoring, White’s assist numbers jumped from 1.9 per game in January to 4.1 in February to six in the five games played in March. His defense, particularly on the ball, stood out as marked improvement.

And now, like the rest of the league, it’s on hold.

White is an even-keeled worker whose maturity belies his tender age of 20. Coach Jim Boylen has raved about his film study habits. He consistently works out with his older brother, Will, who lives with him.

These are the qualities that have allowed him to move past a summer league in which he admittedly felt overwhelmed at times and a 'rookie-wall-striking' stretch in December and January in which he shot an abysmal percentage. They allowed him to remain poised as his role increased, culminating in the excitement surrounding his first start.

But nothing replicates game experience. Particularly since White’s court awareness and point guard skills, while showing improvement, need reps. Exhibit A: His nine turnovers in the Cavaliers game.

Zach LaVine, who has consistently and perhaps most passionately raved about White’s talents, stood poised to return from his strained quad when the league took its hiatus. In his last media session with reporters before Tuesday’s game, LaVine talked longingly about his excitement to play with White.

“I think we can be a dynamic duo,” LaVine said.

This isn’t a woe-is-the-Bulls’ stance. Every NBA has its own set of storylines that are impacted by this unprecedented situation. And White’s halted development, obviously, pales in comparison to a global health crisis.

The hope is that teams eventually will be allowed to practice in the group settings that are currently prohibited as commissioner Adam Silver, working with team owners and the players association, navigates this uncharted territory.

When will White and the Bulls return to game action? Nobody knows. But what's almost certain is that when that day comes, White will be hearing the same words fans hungry for action will be hearing.

“From North Carolina . . .”

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Bulls' Tomas Satoransky still making impact after accepting demotion

Bulls' Tomas Satoransky still making impact after accepting demotion

Tomas Satoransky could have taken a couple different directions when Jim Boylen told him he’d be moving into a reserve role in favor of rookie Coby White.

He could have sulked or pouted. He could have kicked and screamed. After all, he chose the Bulls in free agency to be a full-time starter for the first time in his NBA career.

Or, he could do what he did Tuesday night — act and play professionally. And then make a critical impact late in the Bulls’ 108-103 victory over the Cavaliers to match last season’s paltry victory total of 22 games.

“I respected that because I kind of expected that, also. It was logical the way I’ve been playing since All-Star break and the way Coby has been playing,” Satoransky said of Boylen’s decision. “Sometimes that happens to you as a player. I’m just happy for him. He’s been helping us win the game. He’s been balling out. I felt like he deserved that chance.”

Satoransky has shot miserably since the New Year, connecting on just 22.4 percent in January, 28.1 percent in February and 18.2 percent this month from 3-point land. Nevertheless, his floor game has remained strong. His five assists marked the 44th time this season he has posted at least that many in a game, while his eight rebounds included a huge offensive one which he dished to Thad Young for a 3-pointer late.

“Sometimes, it affects your game,” Satoransky admitted about his slump. “The shot opens up a lot for me, opens up space. Now people are letting me shoot sometimes. That was kind of frustrating for me. I hope I can build from the second half I had. I always try to affect the game in different ways like rebounding and organizing the game.”

Satoransky said he plans to ditch the brace he has been wearing to protect a hyperextended thumb that he is quietly playing through, having never landed on the injury report. He and White are the only Bulls to play in every game.

This comes on the heels of him also playing a hugely prominent role for his Czech Republic national team at last offseason’s FIBA World Cup. Boylen said Satoransky never misses a practice and theorized that the load could finally be taking a toll on him.

“I’ve been starting since the beginning of the season, playing a lot of minutes, not taking days off. I kind of feel like the summer had something to do with it. It was a very physically tough summer with my national team where you basically play all the minutes and all the games are super emotional,” Satoransky said. “I have to be smart about it next summer and try to take some lessons from the season. Sometimes I’m forcing it too much. I’m not probably in that age where I can still let myself do this.

“I think inconsistent is one off the best words to describe it. There is a lot of up and down for me. Right now, it’s obviously affecting the way I’ve been underperforming since the All-Star break. I can’t be happy about it. I think it helps after the season is done to look at it from the bigger picture. I think I had some good moments. We’ve been playing great, me, KD (Kris Dunn) and Zach (LaVine) some of the games. I don’t like being inconsistent.”

His teammates like Satoransky’s professionalism.

“Nothing really had to be said. We have a strong enough relationship to move past it and keep doing what we're doing,” White said of Satoransky accepting his demotion. “At the end of the day, me and him both just want to win games. And Sato handled it like a professional, like a grown man, and hats off to him. I can't thank him enough for the way he handled it because a lot of people could have handled it differently.

“It may not always show up in the stat sheet, but Sato does a lot of little things for us that we need and he's willing to do. That's just who he is. He's a great player.”

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