Ja Morant

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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Coby White outplays Ja Morant, closes out 1st Bulls' victory in style

Coby White outplays Ja Morant, closes out 1st Bulls' victory in style

MEMPHIS — For once, Jim Boylen found himself at a loss for words.

“Not very often,” the Bulls’ coach said when asked if could remember a rookie rallying a team to a comeback victory off the bench in his second NBA game. “I’d have to really think about it. I don’t know. Steve Francis? But he was a starter. I don’t know.”

Coby White is making everybody recalibrate their expectations and assessments.

White scored 21 of his 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and added six rebounds and two assists as the Bulls rallied from 14 points down to defeat the Grizzlies 110-102 Friday night at FedExForum.

Teaming with Zach LaVine, who scored 37 points, White played the final 19 minutes, 25 seconds. His scoring and sensibilities made it impossible for Boylen to take him out.

“I wasn’t taking him out,” Boylen said.

And why would you? Not only does White continue to make plays, he flashes as much perspective off the court as he displays poise on it. Consider these answers.

Asked if he outplayed Ja Morant, White said: “We’re past the draft. At this point, we’re just trying to compete every night, both of us. That’s all that matters is winning games now. All those individual matchups, all that goes out the window.”

Asked about a dominant third-quarter stretch in which he threw a behind-the-back, left-handed pass to Kris Dunn for a layup and scored five straight points, White said: “We’re a team. One specific person, you keep giving him the ball. But we’re a team. We went on a run. I didn’t go on a run.”

Asked if, as a rookie, he ever feels he shouldn’t take big shots, White laughed: “Nah.”

The rookie just gets it. And what’s scary is White said he felt he could’ve played better, citing his slow start.

White admitted the 3-pointer near the end of the third quarter gave him some life. He showed more when he sank another 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left for the Bulls’ first lead of the game.

“If I feel like it’s a good shot for me, I’ll take it,” he elaborated. “I just feel I’m going in the flow of the offense. I feel it was a good shot for me, so I felt like I could knock it down. So I took it. It’s also a confidence thing. I don’t lack in that aspect of the game.”

It’s showing.

“I told y’all from the jump I know how good he’s going to be,” LaVine said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He helped us big-time tonight. We told him, when he’s in that second unit, it’s go time. When we step on the floor together, we’re dynamic. It’s going to be exciting, man. I really like him.

“I’ve got confidence in him. He’s fearless. He ain’t scared of anything. He likes the moment. You can see it in his eyes. He wants that. That's something I can respect. You want those type of people out there with you in the fight.”

For the second straight game, White also showed some chemistry with Dunn in that second unit. By game’s end, though, he was running with the first unit, closing the game.

“Me and him, we take pride in being in the second unit. We don’t want any dropoff,” White said of he and Dunn. “Coach tells us the second unit is the dogs. We go out there and try to compete. When the first unit is struggling, we try to lift them up as much as possible.

“(Dunn) is super aggressive. I went against him in training camp. He’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever played against. He’s a ballhawk. He goes after the ball super aggressive. You rarely beat him off the dribble.”

Asked if he said ballhawk or ballhog, White smiled.

“Ballhawk,” he said. “H-A-W-K.”

Yes, it was a loose Bulls’ postgame locker room. But LaVine finally flashed some edge when asked about Morant.

“You can see why he’s so highly touted,” LaVine said. “But like I said, we’ve got a bad dude over here too.”

Coby mania is spreading.

Bulls' Coby White focused on winning games, not peripheral storylines

Bulls' Coby White focused on winning games, not peripheral storylines

MEMPHIS --- On Oct. 26, 1984, nearing age 22, Michael Jordan finished with 16 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals in his Bulls debut, a victory over Washington at Chicago Stadium.

Wednesday night, nearing age 20, Coby White posted 17 points, seven assists and three rebounds in his Bulls debut, a loss to Charlotte at Spectrum Center.

Jordan, the Hornets’ chairman, watched the game from his luxury suite. Did White talk to the man with whom he shares the distinction of being a first-round pick of the Bulls from North Carolina?

“No, I didn’t,” White said following Thursday’s practice at a local college.

Did White see Jordan?

“No, I didn’t,” White said.

Did White even know Jordan was in the house?

“No, I didn’t,” White said, now laughing.

And if White had known Jordan was in attendance?

“If I would’ve seen him, I would’ve said, ‘What’s up?’ But I wasn’t going to go out of my way and be like a fanboy,” the Bulls’ rookie said. “And I was just ready to leave because we took the ‘L.’ And I had a bunch of family there. I wanted to spend time with them because I don’t see them a lot.”

White met Jordan once, at a Jordan Brand game after his senior year of high school with fellow North Carolina recruit Nassir Little. White was too nervous to say anything other than a generic “what’s up?”

“Me and Naz were nervous.  We went up to him and we were like, ‘Should we tell him we’re going to UNC?’” White said. “Naz was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to UNC next year.’ He was like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome.’ But that’s about it.”

Picturing White as nervous seems out of character. The rookie has looked anything but as he makes the transition to the NBA.

Making his NBA debut in front of family and friends in his home state, White played with the same poise and assuredness that has defined his game since late in the preseason.

“It was fun for me, man,” White said. “My first one, I had a good time. It was an exciting game going back and forth. There were so many answers back. Charlotte shot and moved the ball well. I played hard and with a lot of effort. I feel I could’ve made more shots. You gotta move past that. Shots aren’t always going to fall. What you can control is how much energy you play with and I think I did that well.

“I always start off the game with butterflies. Once I run up and down the floor twice, I lose myself in the game. I feel at ease.”

White got to the free-throw line five times in 27 minutes. He missed three of four 3-pointers. But he played with aggressiveness and poise and confidence.

“I’ve been like this my whole life. I got two older siblings who helped raise me. My Mom and Dad did a helluva job and my two older siblings set the tone for me,” White said. “I always hung out with my brother and his friends when I was little. He’s eight years older than me so I had to mature. And losing my father helped me mature at a young age because I had a lot more responsibility than I had when he was alive.”

White’s penned an emotional and eloquent tribute to his late father, Donald, in a Players’ Tribune essay in June. White held thoughts of him Wednesday night as his mother, two siblings, niece and nephew, aunt, uncle and cousin attended along with friends and North Carolina staffers Sean May, Eric Hoots and Kendall Marshall.

White posted just five assists in five preseason games. He looked far more comfortable in a scoring than set-up role. Against the Hornets, White showed both.

“He’s a good player,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I think he’s a willing passer. He’s a developing player. He has the ability to learn so I think he’s getting more comfortable in what we do. And I also think people aren’t letting him maybe score after what they’ve been seeing. And now you’ve got people in front of you and you gotta make a play.”

And the tests keep coming. Though No. 2 pick Ja Morant starts for the Grizzlies, there may be times when White, the No. 7 pick, is matched up against him on Friday.

“He’s a helluva player,” White said of Morant. “He’s really crafty, explosive, fast and can get in the seams. He’s a helluva passer, especially in pick-and-roll. I’m going to try to do what I do against everybody else and rely on my defensive principles.”

This time, Jordan won’t be watching.

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