As soon as the Chicago Bulls drafted Coby White with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, I bought my ticket and hopped aboard the hype train alongside plenty of other Bulls fans. Since then, however, I’ve seen folks getting off at stops like “shooting 37.2 percent town” and “scoring-less-than-three-points-in-four-straight-games-ville.” But that’s too soon. Those are the wrong stops.
Sure, I understand the drop in excitement for the rookie. Compared to some of his lottery-pick peers, White has left plenty to be desired.
For example, White sits 12th in points per game (11.1) among all rookies this season, with several players drafted after him (Rui Hachimura, PJ Washington, Tyler Herro, and Brandon Clarke) ahead of him on the list. And in the assists category, White ranks 7th (2.3 per game), which isn’t very encouraging for a team’s supposed point guard of the future. Not to mention, his 37.2 field goal percentage ranks 211th among NBA guards who have played over 40 games this year – none of which is good to hear.
However, this all has much more to do with expectation-management (and probably a little to do with rebuild desperation) than it does his actual projected performance. White, 19, is still very young and was considered more of a project-guard than a sure-fire, everyday starter from the beginning. The potential is there, and we’ve all seen it. Whether he is knocking down seven 3-pointers in one quarter or dishing out a career-high nine assists against the New Orleans Pelicans, there are enough solid performances for White’s potential meter to still be resting confidently on “high.”
Zach Harper’s commented on White’s rookie campaign in his latest Power Rankings at The Athletic. And therein, he made sure to remind everyone watching at home that a player’s rookie numbers are rarely a good indication of what’s still to come.
White’s rookie numbers thus far actually show quite a few similarities to Kemba. Walker averages 12.1 points on 46.4 percent true shooting. White gives the Bulls 11.2 points per game on 48.0 percent true shooting. A lot of their numbers across the board project similarly with their respective rookie seasons. I’m not saying White will be the next Walker, but it goes to show you that freaking out over bad shooting efficiency in rookie seasons doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Like Harper, I’m not here to anoint White as the next Kemba Walker – they’re entirely different players – but there’s value in the comparison and a broader lesson to be learned. I think it’s also worth mentioning that Walker has never been an exceptional passer, yet he’s still perceived as one of the best point guards in the league. From an IQ perspective, I don’t see why White can’t reach similar heights. He may not be the most naturally talented facilitator, but he’s smart enough to become a player who can make the right decision at the right time.
Harper also mentioned that White would be only the 12th rookie in NBA history “to average at least 10 points and take at least 500 shots while shooting worse than 38 percent from the field and less than 35 percent from deep.” Obviously, that’s not the best news, but some of the other players who fall into that category include Lonzo Ball, Chauncey Billups, Jason Williams, and, of course, Walker.
Point being: One season doesn’t define a career.
Moreover, it’s important to take who’s leading the charge into account. White didn’t necessarily walk into the best environment with Jim Boylen at the helm of the team, and the Bulls have been suspect when it comes to player development in the past anyway. I mean – for crying out loud – the Bulls’ current offensive “system” is 29th in the NBA and doesn’t fit with practically any of the players on the court. Fortunately, front office (and on-court) change could yet be on the horizon at the end of this season. Fingers crossed.
The moral of the story here: White is a raw, talented, and young rookie still trying to find his footing on one of the most dysfunctional teams in the NBA. The potential to be a really valuable, starting asset for this franchise in the future is just as high as it has ever been. And with some new voices around him (again, hopefully) and some more experience under his belt, I don’t see any reason to be down on White yet.
I know Bulls fans don’t like to hear this, but just be patient.