Many thought the Chicago Bulls found their point guard of the future in the 2019 NBA Draft. What has transpired suggests they may have to reevaluate that.
Stop if you’ve heard this one before: it’s been a disappointing season for the Chicago Bulls as a whole. They are 12 games below .500 but snapped a six-game skid and completed the sweep of the Detroit Pistons with 108-99 victory. There are still questions about the future of head coach Jim Boylen and possibly other front office personnel.
But questions about the roster and its ceiling might supersede all of the other worries.
The fit of the Bulls players was hard to determine last year with all of the injuries. There have been some this year too. Otto Porter has been out since early November with a sprained foot and Wendell Carter just suffered an ankle sprain.
But this isn’t about them, or injuries. This is about the Bulls most buzz-worthy addition this past summer, rookie guard Coby White. Post-Derrick Rose, Chicago has seen many stopgaps and bandages at point guard, including the likes of Rajon Rondo. White is supposed to settle the lead guard position for years.
Instead, we have seen possible redundancy with the Bulls current best player. More concerning, we have seen little to insinuate point guard is where White will ultimately thrive.
No one expected the next Chris Paul to be playing at the Mad House on Madison when the Bulls took White. His scoring was far and away his top selling point. Coming out of North Carolina as a freshman, White averaged just above four assists per contest but just over 16 points per game. His Tar Heels earned a share of the ACC title and reached the Sweet 16 with White at the helm.
Scouting reports made no bones about what prospective teams should expect either.
“Played a significant role on and off the ball for the Tar Heels. Was a terrific system fit with his aggressiveness pushing the ball in transition, but also made set shots at a strong clip and scored steadily out of ball screen actions. Did not make a high volume of plays for others but showed growth as a passer as the year wore on finding a better balance between his assertive nature and his decision-making.” – NBA.com
And it wasn’t just one outlet.
“Labeled as a combo guard but is much more effective as a scorer than running the point … Solid court vision and passing ability but if his scoring isn’t working for him, he doesn’t generally contribute much else offensively … Can improve overall as a playmaker … Has tunnel vision at times and can improve shot selection …” – Evan Tomes, NBDraft.net
This was a common theme in the pre-draft process and we have seen it play out as the Bulls approach the halfway mark of the season.
We have gotten plenty of White’s ability to catch fire and torch a defense. There might not be a better example than when he hit a franchise-record seven triples. But that streakiness has inevitably led to some dreadful shooting performances. His 0-7 (0-5 from deep) showing against the Toronto Raptors. Efficiency would be the simple answer for Kendrick Perkins.
But the lack of progress as a passer is at least somewhat concerning. Even if no one expected White to be a prolific passer, his 14.6 assist percentage is disappointing if you bought into some of the player comparisons he received. Gilbert Arenas was among the most common and the thought of White being an elite-level scorer was enticing.
Arenas was a much better passer in his rookie season than White is. Perhaps that is due to the starting role he had. But a lot of the difference is also in the schemes and eras the two have played in.
White’s NBA (and specifically team) is one that utilizes multiple ball handlers in ways that simply weren’t common in Arenas’ day.
Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen has had his game picked apart in an inconsistent season. If he played when Arenas did there would be much more of an onus on the guards he played with for not getting him the ball in scoring position than his lack of consistent aggression.
If we are to stick with the Arenas comp then patience is key. He averaged fewer points than White as a rookie but eventually blossomed into a three-time All-NBA performer and All-Star. From 2005-2007 he averaged 27.7/4.3/5.7, all very attainable numbers for the Bulls rookie moving forward.
As it stands there have been 45 guards to finish their rookie seasons with averages like White’s 11.5/3.5/2.2 line. There are some impressive names including Hall of Famers like Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson, showing the (unlikely but still, possible) paths White’s career can follow.
There’s also current stars such as Paul (White’s mentor) and rising superstar Donovan Mitchell.
White had a career-high seven assists in his first NBA game. And he raised his APG from 1.9 in November to 2.4 during December, though his scoring fell drastically from around 13 PPG to 9.4 PPG. If and when he finally puts it all together the Bulls could have an explosive scorer and capable facilitator on their hands.
He has been a bit of a one-trick pony in his rookie campaign. But that trick is a valuable one as he showed in Friday’s 116-105 loss to the Indiana Pacers. White was the second-leading scorer on the night behind Zach LaVine (43/6/1) tallying 23 points and five boards.
But he had just one assist; his 19th game with one or fewer dishes.
Hopefully, he can show more playmaking ability. He’s certainly in a new situation as a rookie and is likely being asked to focus on scoring. But a team that is woefully in need of a floor general needs him to be the passer he was in college. Combine that with better efficiency and the Bulls could have Agent Zero 2.0.