Coby White's rough opener brings Bulls' point guard play into stark focus

K.C. Johnson
·4 min read

Billy Donovan gets to point with Coby White assessment originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Coby White probably isn’t a point guard. He just has to play one on TV.

To White’s credit, he’s an eager and willing student, a player who looks inward after mistakes and puts in work to improve.

But he’s a scoring dynamo packed, by the nature of the Bulls’ roster construction, into a point guard mindset.

The two dynamics don’t necessarily need to be mutually exclusive. This golden era of dominant point guards, who score and run teams, is proof of that.

But after filling a role last season in which he provided a scoring spark off the bench and closed games mostly as an off-the-ball threat, White is trying to make an adjustment this season.

“Coby has to play well for us to play well,” coach Billy Donovan said.

No pressure or anything.

The season opener wasn’t pretty. White missed his first six 3-point attempts and only had four assists to three turnovers through three quarters. Some fourth-quarter garbage time pushed his final stat line to nine points and seven assists on 2-for-11 shooting, and he finally made a 3-pointer in the fourth.

But shooting isn’t where Donovan placed his focus.

“Forget the shotmaking. Take that out of the equation,” Donovan said. “He has to play well in terms of leading and organizing and getting our guys in the right spot.

“As I was trying to explain to him during the course of the game, we’re coming down the floor and guys don’t know necessarily what we’re in at that moment in time even though we’re trying to play fast. I think that’s part of his learning curve.”

Widespread talk reverberated throughout the league during the offseason that the new Bulls’ management team of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley planned to address the point guard position. Instead, while adding ballhandlers in Patrick Williams and Garrett Temple, they pushed the decision down the road.

Ultimately, the Bulls may have to choose between Zach LaVine and White, who certainly seems to be more of an off-the-ball player. Returning Temple, Tomas Satoransky and Denzel Valentine---all of whom can handle the ball---to the rotation will help.

But this season is going to offer a lot of sink-or-swim opportunities for White. And at least in the opener, he drowned.

“Shots are going to fall. I already know I can put the ball in the basket,” White said. “It’s getting us in the offense more and being more of a leader.

“(Wednesday), there were times we hit adversity and I kind of stopped being vocal and I kind of stopped being that leader. I’ve got to fight through and I’ve got to keep playing because these guys feed off me. They see my head down they are going to put their head down.”

This isn’t just about White. This is about the development of the Bulls’ young core. The Bulls weren’t a good passing team last season. The need for proper ball distribution and a well-run offense make it fair to wonder if management will regret not addressing the position more directly this offseason.

But that’s focusing on the past. White, Donovan and the Bulls are looking to the future. And Donovan admitted that he’s still getting to know White---and the rest of the team---after forming some opinions as a rival coach.

Interestingly, Donovan even disputed the notion that White is a great scorer, calling him more of a great shooter.

“People look at him and say, ‘Hey, this guy's just a great scorer.’ I think he's a great shooter. But I don't know if you're going to put the ball in his hands and he's gonna generate and create shots on his own,” Donovan said. “Now, what he does do is he plays off his shot fake and then he can drive the ball and he can either shoot runners or floaters or he can make the extra pass. That's I think when he's at his best.

“So, I do think he's got a point guard mentality. I do think he's a competitive enough guy that he wants to win. I do think he understands that as a point guard, he's kind of got to get everybody involved. I think he's more than willing to do that. But I also think he's adjusting to a lot of the things that were maybe a little bit easier for him at the different levels before he got to the NBA.”

Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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