Chicago Bulls: 3 Underrated X-factors to Watch in Showdown with Bucks

Coby White (Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports)
Coby White (Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Chicago Bulls
Coby White (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls will take on the Milwaukee Bucks Sunday evening in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The Bucks had an opportunity to move up to the No. 2 seed in the final week of the season but rested their players to stay at three.

It appeared that their goal was to play Chicago instead of the Brooklyn Nets … and can you blame them?

The Bulls dove headfirst from the top of the East to the sixth seed, only winning eight games after the All-Star break. They finished the season 2-20 against playoff teams and lost the season series to each of the top teams in the east, getting swept by the Bucks.

If the Bulls’ current trend holds true, the Bucks will demolish them in the first round, setting up a second-round showdown against either the Boston Celtics or the Nets … rough.

The Bulls, of course, have a puncher’s chance. DeMar DeRozan showed throughout the regular season that he is able to take over games in the fourth quarter. Prior to the All-Star break, Zach LaVine was playing like an All-NBA lock, and Nikola Vucevic is a walking, talking double-double. Each of Chicago’s role players has shown they can have big games on any given night and head coach Billy Donovan has been to the Western Conference Finals before.

If all of those factors can click for four games, the Bulls can complete the upset. There are, however, certain players whose output will have a greater effect on the series than others, even though they aren’t being talked about. Let’s take a look at those underrated x-factors that will have the greatest effect on the series.

3. Coby White

Coby White is a former lottery pick who was expected to be a key piece in the team’s rebuild. He has shown flashes when he looks like a stud and has had more moments where he looks like he shouldn’t be in the rotation. Against quality teams, the latter is the case.

In the month of March, Chicago failed to have close games with elite teams and White was missing in action in those contests. He was unable to find his shot and was nonexistent on defense.

What’s confusing about White’s inconsistency is the fact that he has shown flashes of being a top-notch role player. In his sophomore season, he averaged double digits. In the first half of this season, he was shooting 52% on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

That all changed at the start of the calendar year, as his usage rating dropped from 22% to 18%. The lower his usage rating, the worse his shooting became. To end the regular season, his shooting hit a rock bottom. In the final 12 games of the year, he averaged eight points on 23.5% shooting from three.

If Milwaukee wasn’t much bigger than the Bulls, White’s contribution wouldn’t be life or death. But Milwaukee is bigger. It isn’t realistic for the Bulls to beat the Bucks up down low or even match their paint points.

The Bulls will have to spread out Milwaukee’s length and hit open jump shots when they are available. DeMar DeRozan’s midrange threat mixed with Zach LaVine’s explosion at the rim creates open opportunities on the perimeter for role players.

White has to be able to hit at least 40% of his catch-and-shoot threes. If he does that, the Bucks will have to play him honestly on the help side, giving DeRozan and LaVine more room to operate.

If White can’t hit open shots, then the Bucks will be able to clog the lane, baiting the star guards into blitzes on their drives. In that case, Milwaukee wins going away.