Three games in the Las Vegas Summer League is not exactly a tell-all of what Coby White’s Chicago Bulls career will look like. We’re not going to find out what White really is until the games start counting and he’s up against real NBA players (even if they’re primarily backups).
But one could say the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft has lived up to the billing so far in his first professional action for the Bulls.
He’s shown off the speed and multi-faceted offensive potential, along with some underrated defense, that made him one of the top guards in this year’s draft class.
He also clearly has a long way to go as a playmaker before he can be trusted to run the Chicago Bulls offense regularly and must continue exploring how to score best in the pros.
Here are a few observations I have from White’s first few games as a Bull. Let’s start with the good stuff first.
- White’s offensive potential is apparent.
He still has to figure out when and how to properly utilize his scoring ability (more on that later), but there’s no doubt he can get some buckets.
Look no further than this funky one-legged step-back that leaves this Cleveland defender on the floor.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) July 8, 2019
Having the body control and pure creativity to attempt (and convert) a move like this is no run-of-the-mill play. It’s the mark of a guy who can create and make tough shots when called to do so.
His mid-range game has looked smooth so far and honestly, might be the most consistent part of his offensive game at this point. He always seems in rhythm when he rises up for a free-throw jumper, with his legs firmly underneath him and no rush in his stroke. Analytics might say the mid-range is a poor shot choice in today’s NBA, but I think White needs to utilize that area more to set up the rest of his repertoire.
White also has mixed in some strong drives and finishes at the rim on occasion, taking on contact without fear.
And once he gets a few baskets under his belt, it appears to help his confidence from behind the arc. He capped off a second-quarter 8-0 run against New Orleans with these two long balls after converting a tough finish at the rim.
What a sequence from Coby White. Two threes in 25 seconds pic.twitter.com/pBXPtNbljq
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) July 9, 2019
And when he’s attacking downhill in transition, there’s a little electricity to his game both as a scorer and as a passer.
— NBA Draft (@NBADraft) July 9, 2019
If White can learn to play as instinctively in the halfcourt as he does on the break, his game will start to elevate.
- He’s better defensively than anticipated.
As predicted in his scouting report, White occasionally still helps out unnecessarily on drives and leaves shooters open, which has resulted in a few easy 3-pointers for his matchups.
But his understanding of rotations and help defense, in general, has been a pleasant surprise thus far. The Athletic’s Stephen Noh threw in a few good examples of that from the Bulls’ first game against the Los Angeles Lakers’ squad.
White's only 19 years old, but he was already nailing his defensive rotations in that first quarter. Flashing a good understanding of when he's supposed to pull over to bring help to the middle of the floor. pic.twitter.com/01U7QQNEZl
— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) July 6, 2019
White’s kept that up through each game to this point, discouraging passes or at least making his presence felt when a cutter thinks he has a wide-open lane to the rim. He even picked up a steal against the Pelicans by sliding behind a cutting big man and stripping the ball.
He doesn’t look like a lock-down on-ball defender just yet, but he’s also had good possessions in that regard, forcing a traveling violation on one possession against New Orleans with a good shot contest.
The more solid his defense is, the more he’ll be able to stay on the floor as a rookie while sorting through his rawness offensively.
- His play-making needs a ton of work.
Simply put, White does not look like he’s ready to consistently handle point guard duties in the NBA at the moment.
One big reason for that: his passing, especially in the halfcourt, still looks rough despite a couple of gems.
He’s had multiple unfortunate turnovers in pick-and-roll situations where he tried to thread a pass through traffic unnecessarily.
Obviously, there’s no better time to learn what you can and can’t get away with than in Summer League, so it does not cause for alarm yet. But he must develop a better feel for when to pull the ball back out and reset the offense when there’s nothing open.
White also could stand to improve his timing even when he does make the right play. At times when he draws double teams in pick-and-roll, he’ll hesitate slightly to make a pass to a wide-open shooter for some reason. It doesn’t hurt him when playing against other inexperienced players, but he can’t allow defenders extra time to rotate or recover once he starts playing real NBA minutes.
Also — this is a more basic fundamentals point — White needs to develop his handle. He has the skill to string together moves and make flashy plays, but he’s also given the ball away far too easily because he dribbles too high and away from his body. Taking care of the basketball is especially paramount for rookies, so this is something he needs to drill heavily.
- His shot selection is all over the place.
White could, in theory, be an adequate jump shooter if he works at it; as mentioned before, he just has good natural ability as a scorer.
But he’s settling for some of the really bad jump shots he became known for at North Carolina. Whether not he can make step-back 3-pointers isn’t the point. They’re not high-percentage shots, and he’s definitely not making them at a high percentage.
Coby White through 3 Summer League games:
19.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 5.0 turnovers
Shooting 39.6% on 17.6 FGA, 10.5% on 6.3 3FGA#MixedBag, but had his best game tonight.
— Mark Strotman (@markstrot) July 9, 2019
White also hasn’t yet made consistently good decisions in trying to get to the rim, which is going to be an essential part of his ability to score.
There are times when he seems to have an angle to drive but hesitates, allowing his man to recover to contest the drive or a big man to rotate and protect the basket. On top of that, he has to stop driving straight into shot-blockers as he lacks the size to consistently force his way through contact and the athleticism to go over guys. White has essentially run himself into a few blocked shots already this summer by driving out of control.
Right now, White is a volume shooter without great feel or efficiency, relying on a streaky jumper and drawing fouls to get points. That has to get better if he wants to earn more playing time come the fall and beyond.