Traveling to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder last night, the Chicago Bulls were in clear need of a pick-me-up to boost morale. After dropping the season opener to OKC 104-124 and stumbling to a 5-10 record entering last night's game, this was a big opportunity to not only take a step closer to .500 but also a chance to exact revenge on the Thunder.
Unfortunately, the Bulls would have to do so without their star shooting guard Zach LaVine. Initially deemed probably on the medical report, LaVine would be a late scratch against the Thunder as he recuperates from an alleged foot injury. While this was a big loss that left the Bulls undermanned, LaVine has been a bit absent-minded on the court as of late — averaging 9.5 field goal attempts over his last two games — and may have needed a short break anyway.
As a result, the Bulls would have to make alterations to their starting lineup, starting by moving Patrick Williams up from the reserves. This was a surprise, seeing as how Williams had seemingly been shifted to the 10th-man role prior to this injury. It wasn't Williams who'd take this opportunity and run with it, however, as Coby White was the real star of the show last night.
White stepped up to assume a larger workload, posting 23 points and 5 assists while shooting 8-for-17 from the field. Despite not drawing a single trip to the free throw line, Coby compensated for that by shooting a ridiculous 7-for-12 from beyond the arc, stretching OKC's defense and granting his fellow starters significantly more room to go to work in the paint.
The Bulls were a much more well-rounded team with Coby White at the helm.
Unfortunately, White's efforts were not enough to secure the victory. The Bulls would fall short 102-116 to this rapidly improving Thunder roster. Despite hitting a stepback jumper to put narrow the lead to three points with 6:45 remaining on the clock, Coby's efforts would ultimately be in vain. DeMar DeRozan would join White as the only other Bulls player to score more than 16 points, as the rest of the team combined for a horrendous 36.6% shooting from the field.
It was strange to see the Bulls opt to go away from Coby in the fourth quarter. Despite carrying the Bulls offensively with his hot hand, Billy Donovan didn't make getting the ball to Coby a priority down the stretch. After shooting 6-for-13 and scoring 18 points in the first half, White would attempt only four field goals in the second half.
Although the Bulls didn't manage to pull off the win in the end, White's performance was a big silver lining for the team moving forward. In the midst of all these Zach LaVine trade rumors, it's been impossible to ignore the fact that Coby would be the biggest benefactor in any trade involving the two-time All-Star. Fortunately, we got to see just how White might perform once he steps out from beneath LaVine's shadow last night.
Obviously, trading away an All-Star talent like LaVine would benefit the Bulls in the long term as they rebuild. But if Coby can continue playing this way, I wouldn't be shocked to see this hypothetical trade benefit Chicago in the short term as well. The more minutes and shot opportunities this young core gets, the sooner we'll finally know if the Bulls' young talent are pieces worth keeping around for the future.