In both the Bulls surge in competency and the follow-up duds against good teams, it’s been pretty consistent that the team’s veterans have outperformed the young starting lineup.
And perhaps the biggest culprit, given his position, is point guard Coby White.
Through games on Jan. 27, which second-year players have done the most (or least) with their minutes during the 2020-21 #NBA season, per TPA? pic.twitter.com/H5L0Yiegzr— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 28, 2021
Coby has started all 17 games so far this season, and is definitely on a slide:
In losses to the Lakers and Celtics in the past four days, White has been a non-factor when the games were in doubt. That continued a recent trend, as he’s averaging 9.4 points on 33.3% shooting in his past five games while adding 4.2 assists per contest in that span. In a 119-103 loss to Boston on Monday, White had five points on 2-of-6 shooting with one assist and two turnovers in 24 minutes.
White is shooting 45.3% inside the restricted area, a mark that ranks 164th out of 168 players who have attempted at least 30 shots in that area, per NBA.com. He’s also attempting just 2.2 free throws a game, a troubling mark considering he clearly has the quickness and ball-handling ability to get into the paint regularly. White has been better when not lost among the trees in traffic, which speaks to his comfort as a shooter looking for space. He has shot 56.3% from 10-16 feet, according to Basketball Reference, which represents a strong mark. White’s 3-point shooting needs to improve, as he’s shooting at a 35.8% clip on high volume. The league average mark from 3-point range is 36.5%.
And it’s both anecdotally and statistically apparent that White is a terrible defensive player. Like at a sub-LaVine level.
White has been somewhat of a flashpoint of this entire franchise’s direction, a direction in the AKME era that has been more ‘complete stasis’. Yes, there was legitimate excitement over a new coach and that coach anointing White in training camp. But that was also a factor of the front office not giving any alternative. Tomas Satoransky is less a lead guard than a follower, and has barely played this season after contracting COVID.
I thought Cody Westerlund had a really good column up at 670TheScore about this: less about how Coby White may be underperforming, and more about if that affects the team adversely enough to necessitate anything being done about it:
White’s uneven performance contributing to a loss here and there shouldn’t be that much of a worry, considering the organization’s priority should be the big picture and not a back-end playoff berth in a format that now features a play-in setup.
What would be more concerning is if the lack of a true point guard is adversely affecting other young Bulls. Big man Lauri Markkanen is playing in a contract season and for his future in Chicago under the new regime...Like with Markkanen, the same question can be asked with others. Are the Bulls in any way stunting the development of Carter or rookie forward Patrick Williams because they’re playing without a true point guard?
Indeed, especially given Arturas Karnisovas’s own astounding words signaling a lack of ambition with this season, Coby White falling on his face shouldn’t bother us. In fact, it’s a form of evaluation.
And like Westerlund above, I don’t think White’s poor play matters beyond evaluating White as long as he’s not sinking the whole team. I had thought prior to this season that this was possible, but it hasn’t borne out much so far: LaVine has upped his playmaking, and the veterans are not only providing solid teammates for Markkanen, Williams, Carter to play with but they are keeping the games mostly competitive. As long as that keeps happening, and the Carter injury doesn’t mean way more garbage time, then might as well let Coby White work through his age-20 season. The front office said they have no goals set until after this year anyway.