The Chicago Bulls have several options at their disposal in the wake of Lonzo Ball’s second surgery in the last eight months. This procedure, slated for September 28, is expected to knock him out for four to six weeks.
He will be re-evaluated at that time meaning a return to the floor for Ball could come closer to the trade deadline in February than Christmas.
In the meantime, who the Bulls put in Ball’s place matters as they were lost without him.
Among the many potential solutions, the Bulls have veterans Alex Caruso and Goran Dragic as well as youngster Ayo Dosunmu. All have seen plenty of arguments made for them to be the starting lead guard in Ball’s absence. The only realistic option that doesn’t seem to be under consideration is Coby White and that might be a mistake.
Coby White Unlikely to Start
“Defensive concerns will keep White from getting serious consideration to replace Ball as the starter,” writes Darnell Mayberry for The Athletic. ”Last season’s acquisitions of Ball, Caruso, and Dosumnu, coupled with last season’s shift to Dosunmu as the emergency starter and this summer’s signing of Dragić, also raises the question of how much trust management and the coaching staff have in White to run the team as a lead facilitator.”
To Mayberry’s point on the Bulls’ trust in White, they also added Dalen Terry with the 18th-overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
But they aren’t necessarily down on White overall.
“You can say, ‘Oh, they didn’t move him, they didn’t move him,’ and I’ve written that,” K.C Johnson said during the ‘Bulls Talk Podcast’. But…I think if they had gotten the right offer they probably would have moved him. They just didn’t feel like they got the right offer.”
Still, Mayberry’s stance on White’s defensive shortcomings is warranted after he posted the third-worst defensive efficiency rating on the team last season, per Cleaning the Glass.
As for his ball handling, White spoke of wanting to get stronger this offseason.
White a Sneaky Option
In White’s defense, he offset a severe drop in his assists with a career-low in turnovers this past season while setting career-highs from beyond the arc shooting 38.5% from deep. And on a team that is still light on three-point shooting, he could still offer a nice blend of that and playmaking if his connection to Bulls center Nikola Vucevic is still strong.
“White always has displayed good rhythm and timing with Vučević, setting up the big man for several open shots out of ball screens. It could be a pairing [Billy] Donovan dusts off to spark Vučević, although Goran Dragić seems more likely. But White’s sharpshooting allows him to be a threat off the ball as well. Whenever LaVine or DeRozan — or dare we say Patrick Williams? — initiates offense, White can provide appropriate floor spacing.”
Mayberry notes the Bull’s 11-6 record in White’s starts and that the fourth-year guard shot 40% on more than six triples per game over his final 52 appearances last season.
He also mentions that White’s time at lead guard isn’t as disastrous as critics say.
White was on the floor at point guard for two of the Bulls’ three qualifying non-Lonzo Ball lineups that posted a positive efficiency differential. One of those lineups ranked in the 96th percentile defensively.
Coby White’s Value
White is in an odd position where his current team would seem to have a dire need for his skill set. But, for one reason or another, the partnership does not seem destined to last with reports that the Bulls will explore his trade value at the deadline. That seems more plausible if Ball and his 42% three-point marksmanship are back in the fold in earnest.
Until then, as White plays for more than just minutes on this team, he will provide value.
Since there is no expectation for a new deal being struck between White and the Bulls, the only question is what it would take for the Bulls to trade him.
“It probably hurt his reputation, that he was not a point guard, by putting him in that spot,” a rival executive told Heavy’s Sean Deveney. “You’ve got to get him to the right role, a scorer off the bench who can pass a little bit. He will get his reputation back when that happens.”
Their asking price was a young rotation player and a draft pick. If they are stuck on that price they could be waiting until next summer – and restricted free agency – before the situation is settled.