Is Coby White the real deal?

Have the Bulls found their point guard of the future?

Matthew Rago, Editor-in-Chief

A collective groan resonated throughout Chicago after three teams leapfrogged the Chicago Bulls in the 2019 NBA Draft order. The Bulls, in desperate need of help at the point guard position, finished 2018-19 with the fourth worst record in the NBA. They entered the draft lottery with a 12.5% chance of landing the first pick in the NBA Draft, which they undoubtedly would have used on potential franchise cornerstones Zion Williamson or Ja Morant. Instead, the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers all danced with Lady Luck that night, knocking the Bulls down to the seventh pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. 

University of North Carolina’s Coby White was universally viewed as the third best point guard in the draft behind Morant and Villanova’s Darius Garland. Bulls fans harbored the faintest of hopes that Garland would somehow slip to No. 7, though that dream was quashed once the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him fifth overall. With no other feasible options remaining at the point guard position, the Bulls selected White with the seventh pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

White had an exceptional freshman campaign at UNC, where he averaged 16.1 points per game (ppg) and 4.1 assists per game (apg). He was lauded for his advanced scoring touch, though his facilitating abilities left a bit to be desired. He ranked in the 97th percentile in pick-and-roll passing, but had only one assist out of isolation, meaning that while he was able to make the right read, he was unable to individually manufacture points as a passer. Finally, scouts viewed him as a streaky scorer who struggled around the rim due to a perceived lack of explosion and athleticism.

It may be early in the 2019 season, but some of those projections look to be inaccurate. In his first four games, White has averaged 13.8 ppg and 3.3 apg. White has shown a first step that allows him to bypass his primary defender and exploit angles at the rim. Through four games, his finishing has been superb, almost reminiscent of a young Ben Gordon.

When it comes to projections, White seems to be penalized for the perception that surrounds draft selections outside of the top five. However, the current landscape of the NBA proves that draft slot does not matter. Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry was drafted seventh overall in 2009; 2019 MVP finalist Paul George was selected with the 10th overall pick in 2010; 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was drafted 15th overall in 2012; Reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th in 2013. 

The Bulls have also had success with drafting outside of the top five. Luol Deng, Lauri Markkanen and Kirk Hinrich were all drafted by the Bulls with the seventh overall pick. Joakim Noah was drafted at No. 9. Current Bull Zach Lavine was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 13th pick. There’s franchise-altering talent dispersed all throughout the draft.

By all accounts, White is a great person. He’s also a great teammate, as evidenced by his since viral reaction to UNC teammates Cameron Johnson getting drafted 11th overall. He’s coachable and receptive to constructive criticism. He doesn’t possess the type of ego that will hinder growth. 

It’s easy to root for the guy.

While it’s still too early to make a definitive statement on Coby White, it’s apparent that the potential is there. Additionally, he has seemingly already usurped Kris Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono on the depth chart and it’s only a matter of time before he replaces Tomas Satoransky as the starting point guard. If White can continue to develop his game and learn to read defenses, it is very possible that the Bulls have found their long-term solution at the point guard position.