White's point guard education accelerating at right time originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Let’s play name that player.
Player 1 is 21 years old, in his second season and averaging 15.2 points, 4.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 turnovers in 31.2 minutes per game. He’s shooting 41.9 percent overall, 36 percent from 3-point range and 90.6 percent on 2.1 free-throw attempts per game.
Player 2 is 23 years old, in his fourth season and averaging 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 turnovers in 31.8 minutes per game. He’s shooting 41.4 percent overall, 37.8 percent from 3-point range and 78.1 percent on 1.2 free-throw attempts per game.
Player 1 is Coby White.
Player 2 is Lonzo Ball.
Now, of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Ball is more of a pass-first point guard whose defense is widely considered better than White’s for reasons beyond the 1.5-to-0.6 steals average discrepancy.
But the point is: White’s numbers dwarf Ball’s from his second season with the Lakers. And they compare favorably to this season’s for Ball, who is looking to get paid this summer as a restricted free agent. White, meanwhile, remains on his rookie contract.
None of this is to suggest the Bulls shouldn’t stop their pursuit for a true point guard. Heck, Artūras Karnišovas tried to trade for Ball at the deadline. It’s more to say that giving up on White or writing him off at this age and this stage, regardless of his position or role, would be shortsighted.
And how Karnišovas addresses that position this offseason will be fascinating, especially since the Bulls have a choice to make when it comes to free agency. The Bulls can get aggressive this summer, but choosing that path would come at a cost -- renouncing the cap holds on Lauri Markkanen and Daniel Theis and waiving one, if not both, of Thad Young and Tomáš Satoranský.
Or they can work to retain some of those players and work the margins using exceptions and perhaps short-term deals for a potentially significant windfall in terms of 2022 cap space.
No matter what path management takes or whichever way Karnišovas addresses point guard, White is playing himself into being a big part of the future.
His double-double of 17 points and 10 assists (plus five rebounds) in Thursday’s 114-102 victory over the Raptors is the latest proof. It marked White’s first double-digit assist game since Jan. 10 and first points-assists double-double since Dec. 31.
‘I really have loved the way he has matured and grown,” coach Billy Donovan said.
White, who lost his starting job to Satoranský for 15 games, clearly is playing better in this second starting stint. Donovan has consistently theorized that playing on the strong side aligned with Nikola Vučević has benefitted both players. With the Bulls emphasizing post-ups for Vučević, the pace has slowed too.
White wouldn’t touch a question on which starting group he fits better with between the one he played with earlier this season and the current lineup. But he did agree that he’s playing better now.
“I just feel like over the season I've gotten better and I've matured a lot,” he said. “Obviously, this stint I’ve been playing a lot better. But over the course of the season, I had a lot to learn.”
To White’s credit, that education continued even when he lost his starting job.
“A lot of guys my age, especially getting taken out the starting lineup, you could've handled that two different ways. You could've pouted and just said, ‘Forget it, F it.’ Or you could've just kept playing and continue to get better and continue to stay on the grind. And I chose to continue to stay on the grind,” White said. “And then my number got called and I took advantage of it.
“I've always had perseverance. But this year, with ups and downs and being pushed constantly, from the coaching staff to front office to my teammates, I think for me learning to play the point guard position at a high level in the NBA, which is continuing to stay focused and continuing to stay within yourself.”
In fact, White agreed with Donovan’s decision to start Satoranský. And he flashed maturity that belied his age when talking about it.
“I felt like it was going to help the team. And the coaching staff felt like it was going to help the team. That’s how I took it,” White said. “Everybody knows I’m all about winning. If I felt like it was going to help the team, then I was just going to play my role. And I feel like that’s what I did. I didn’t pout or nothing. I respected the decision and I respected Billy for telling me upfront and bringing me to the office before he announced it to the team and whatnot.
“So I just continued to play my role coming off the bench and bringing that energy and being positive and uplifting my teammates. That’s all you can do. I feel like any other way you handle it it’s selfish.”
And he’s not done learning or growing.
“Y’all know me, man. There's always room for improvement, for me especially. I'm going to continue to get better, continue to grind and that's all you really can do. I love playing the game of basketball, so I feel like I have the best job in the world. I don't even look at it as a job, really. I look at it as a dream come true. I'm going to continue to get better and continue to grind. I still have a long way to go.”