Third-year guard Coby White has had a rough start to the season for the Chicago Bulls, but appears to now be finding his footing with this new roster.
White scored 24 points in the dramatic New Year’s Eve win against the Indiana Pacers, where DeMar DeRozan hit a running three-point shot at the buzzer to steal the win away from the Pacers in the final seconds.
The Pacers game marked the fourth solid contribution in the five recent outings for White, including averages of 18.0 points, 5.3 assists and 1.7 steals over his past three games. He’s made 4.0 made three-pointers per game on 52.2% accuracy during the same three-game span.
This stands in stark contrast to his production after coming back from shoulder surgery during the offseason, where he made just one shot over his first three games, and averaged 3.8 points over his first six.
Just nine games into his return, White entered health and safety protocols, missing an additional five games, before returning against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 19.
It appears the time off provided some clarity for the 21-year-old guard, who has come back on a mission. White looks significantly more engaged defensively, having even broken up plays and gotten into passing lanes to disrupt opponents.
Furthermore, White is passing the ball better this season.
During his 12-assist game against the Atlanta Hawks on December 29, White made a series of complicated reads, which he wouldn’t have made last season when he functioned as the Bulls’ starting point guard.
That role never fit his playing style, but it seems that the experience did provide him with some court-vision, which would go a long way in his personal development.
While White is technically starting at point guard these days due to Lonzo Ball being in health and safety protocols, the ball is primarily going through the hands of DeRozan and Zach LaVine, allowing White to play off of those two offensively, hunting for perimeter shots.
So far, per Basketball-Reference, White has been assisted on 79.2% of his made three-pointers, which underlines that his best attribute is as a high-volume spot-up shooter, who feeds of defensive attention geared towards self-creating ball handlers. This, too, was the word on him coming into the 2019 NBA draft.
Future in Chicago
The Bulls currently have the first seed in the Eastern Conference, which again raises a question that will dominate news cycles for the next month: Should the team sell off their young players for established veterans, as to further strengthen their chance of a run to the Finals?
Opinion remains split on this question, but it is worth noting that White’s resurgence will do wonders for his trade value. Earning just over $5.8 million per Spotrac, White’s contract would act as a rather enticing salary-matching component in a larger trade.
However, the Bulls have sorely needed an offensive spark coming off the bench, suggesting that retaining White is also in play, especially as he now seems to be returning to form.
That said, the clock is ticking.
After this season, White becomes eligible for a contract extension. If no deal is agreed to, he will enter restricted free agency in 2023 where the Bulls could in theory lose him for nothing. If another team signs him to an offer sheet which Chicago can’t stomach to match from a financial perspective, White will then join his new team without any compensation coming back to Chicago.
As such, it could make sense to flip White for a veteran who is locked in on a longer deal, simply as to avoid ending up playing the restricted free agency game altogether.
Finally worth noting is that White’s trade value diminishes considerably if the Bulls wait until the offseason to move him, as he’ll only have one year left on his rookie deal, which many teams will find unappealing.
In many ways, his future with the Bulls is likely to be determined over the next month. At least for White, he’s making himself more and more attractive to potential buyers – or the Bulls themselves – by playing well.