Chicago Bulls: Coby White can breakthrough vs. Trae Young in opener

Trae Young, Coby White, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Trae Young, Coby White, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Chicago Bulls second-year point guard Coby White gets a tough matchup out of the gates for the 2020-21 regular season against Trae Young and the Hawks.

The tip off of the Chicago Bulls regular season slate has finally almost arrived on Dec. 23. Newly hired head coach Billy Donovan and this Bulls team tips off their regular season schedule at home on Dec. 23 at the United Center against star point guard Trae Young and the upstart Atlanta Hawks.

Purely in terms of roster construction, there don’t look to be many rotations that are more improved from top-to-bottom in the Eastern Conference than the Hawks. But the Bulls will be hoping to prove that they are improving themselves in their opener, although the roster looks largely the same that it did last season.

One of the biggest projected changes for the Bulls entering this regular season slate is the switch at starting point guard from Tomas Satoransky to the former North Carolina Tar Heel Coby White. The Bulls are likely to run a starting five that still features center Wendell Carter Jr., power forward Lauri Markkanen, and shooting guard Zach LaVine.

But the point guard and small forward positions might be more up in the air. White does look to have a secure spot as the starting point guard. It’s hard to tell whether Donovan will want to run with the veteran Otto Porter Jr. or the rookie Patrick Williams as the starting small forward.

Williams got the start at the three in the last two Bulls preseason games. But OPJ is the safe option as the starting small forward. He is also the highest paid player, by a good margin, on the Bulls current cap sheet.

However, the Bulls aren’t going to have an easy season opener by any means. Young has a bolstered supporting cast this season including the likes of forward Danilo Gallinari, shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, and even former Bulls point guards Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo.

The first regular season game that Dunn will play in this season since the Bulls parted ways with him will be at his former stomping grounds at the United Center in Chicago.

The ESPN matchup predictor (develop from the Basketball Power Index) gives the Hawks a 59 percent chance to win this game. And the Hawks are a two-point favorite less than 10 hours ahead of tip off.

This seems to have the makings of a very close game, but it’s hard to know which Bulls team will show up in the opener. Key players in this young core, like White and LaVine, will be crucial to offsetting the scoring presence that Young will bring to the table for the Hawks.

If White continues the momentum he built up down the stretch last season in this showdown against the Hawks, it will bode well for the Bulls. His stat line as a whole from last season wasn’t great, but it improved greatly after the All-Star Break.

During the shortened 2019-20 regular season, White played in all 65 games as a rookie for the Bulls (just the final one of which he started in). And he averaged 13.2 points per game, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.1 blocks. White shot 39.4 percent from the field, 35.4 percent from beyond the arc, and 79.1 percent from the free-throw line.

Meanwhile, Young was huge for the Hawks last season on his way to earning his first career All-Star selection. He played in 60 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign with the Hawks (all of which he started in). And he averaged 29.6 points per game, 4.3 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.1 blocks. Young shot 43.7 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from beyond the arc, and 86.0 percent from the free-throw line.

The matchup between White and Young should be where most of the attention falls in this game. Either Markkanen or WCJ matching up with the former Wake Forest Demon Deacons big man John Collins will also be important to watch in this season opener.

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The Bulls finished up their four-game preseason slate with a record of 3-1, with their last outing resulting in a road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 18. They tip off their regular season opener against the Hawks at home on Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. CT.