After last nights loss to the Knicks we can now unofficially turn our attention to next season. According to Tankathon.com, the Bulls have the highest strength of schedule of any team over their final 22 games.
As Tankathon correctly points out, a high strength of schedule is good for tanking. However, it is also good for evaluating.
The NBA draft certainly has proven to be a game changer when the Bulls landed Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose. Smart trades and a top ten free agent can be just as effective though. With rumors flying that Gar Forman will be out after the season, one would expect that the new general manager will be busy on all three fronts come spring.
I certainly hope that the potential candidates for that job are paying close attention to what one player in a Bulls uniform is doing. That player is Coby White and before any moves or draft picks are made, let’s talk about how good of a rookie the 19-year-old has been.
One cannot ignore that Coby has not missed a single game all season. After scoring 33 plus or more for three straight games, NBA.Com had him ranked 4th on their Rookie Ladder. Ahead of him are two big name players, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson and the surprising Kendrick Nunn. Not to discount his accomplishments, especially since he is a Chicago product and former Illini player, but Nunn is actually in his second year out of college and four years older than Coby.
So how good is Coby White? I decided to make a few comparisons to other well-known guards and how they performed in their rookie year over 36 minutes per game.
The jury seems to be out regarding whether White is a point guard, a shooting guard or a combo guard, so I decided to make three sets of comparisons, starting with point guards. I chose Kyrie Irving who came out of Duke as the number one overall pick in the 2012 draft, and Kemba Walker who was the ninth pick that same year out of Connecticut. They were chosen because they are scoring point guards and even if Coby eventually winds up at the point, his mentality will always be to score.
Irving, who basically was handed the keys to the franchise after Lebron‘s first departure started in all 51 games he played that year. He led all three players in assists and points.
Coby on the other hand, has not missed a single game, has not started a single game, averages over five minutes less a game than Irving did and over 2 minutes less a game than Kemba. Yet, he leads all three in rebounds per game and is second in scoring.
Coby is having a stronger season than Kemba Walker had and has proven to be way more durable in first year than Kyrie Irving was. No one can argue that Walker and Irving today are two of the top five point guards in the league. Coby is right there though as far as rookie performances.
Then I compared Coby to two shooting guards, his teammate Zach LaVine who was the 13th pick in the 2015 draft and Bradley Beal, the third pick in the 2013 draft. Both LaVine and Beal were considered snubbed from this years all-star game. All three were 19 years old during their rookie year.
Again, without starting a single game (Zach started 40 and Beal 46), Coby attempts more field goals a game, has the most rebounds per game and the most points per game. There is no doubt, especially with Coby averaging 27 points in the last five games coming out of the all-star break, that not only has White taken his game to another level but he is having a rookie year on par with two of the best shooting guards in the game today.
The fact that one of them is his teammate really makes things interesting. One has to wonder whether having Coby White makes Zach LaVine expendable? On the other hand, can it be we have a back court similar to CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard?
So for fun, I compared Coby’s rookie year to those two, who many consider the best scoring back court in the NBA. McCollum had been the tenth pick in 2014 and Lillard the sixth pick the previous year.
As you can see, Coby is the leader in points and rebounds. Damien, having played at point guard had more assists. Yet, both Lillard and McCollum came in the league as 22-year-old rookies.
Considering Coby’s age, and that he has played in a system that his entire team has struggled with, and a system that limited his mid range game most of the year, he is still on track to have a career on par if not better than the two players who make up the best back court in the NBA.
The Bulls have a potential star. Period. They once thought the same of Laurie Markkanen, who will finish his third season no better than his second. However, something with Coby is different.
He set a North Carolina high school scoring record and in his only year at the University of North Carolina he set a freshman scoring record. He is a proven elite scorer at every level he has played at. The emergence of White has got to affect the teams long-term plans, considering their best player, Zach LaVine plays the same position more or less.
The Bulls and the new general manager must decide among three alternatives after the season.
Firstly, they can decide to play Coby at point guard, thus moving Sato out of the picture, a picture he should not be part of regardless, as he is not a starting NBA point guard. Even Kris Dunn would be a better back up. Shame on the Bulls for signing Sato, instead of extending Dunn.
Secondly, they can play Coby at shooting guard and acquire a starting point guard through the draft, a trade or free agency. That would however require moving Zach to small forward, if he can handle it. Remember that Coby is a strong 6’4″ guard and Zach is 6’6″. With improved defense, uncanny hops and a complete offensive game, Zach could wind up being a nightmare for some small forwards to keep up with.
However, head coach Jim Boylen has so far refused to start Coby in any capacity, saying White is in a good place coming off the bench and needs to continue to develop from there.
Still, if the Bulls can see past the teaching aspect of this season, it would be nice to evaluate White as a starter for these last few weeks, whether it be at point guard or shooting guard, It would also be cool to see how Zach would do at the three spot, considering we need a long-term solution at small forward and perhaps he can be that guy.
The final alternative would be to trade Zach for either a point guard or small forward, depending on who they draft or sign in free agency. This may become more of a possibility after next season when the Bulls must decide if they want to make an offer to extend Zach past his current four-year deal.
I dreaded thinking that the highlight of the year would be seeing Zach LaVine participate in the three-point shooting contest. Now though, I can happily report on the emergence of number zero, Coby White. He fears nothing and no-one.