Before the start of the 2019-2020 season, I was hoping Zach LaVine could help the Bulls turn a corner as soon as this season, especially with the help of an established, veteran facilitator like Tomas Satoransky joining the squad. But alas … it hasn’t quite worked out.
LaVine still had (is still having?) a fine season overall – and Satoransky is still a useful player – but that particular duo wasn’t quite able to unlock that next level of performance out of LaVine or the starting lineup. And that’s something the Bulls must figure out if they don’t want to start the rebuild over … again.
Fortunately, the Bulls drafted a very different style point guard with the 7th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Coby White (aka the most exciting thing about Chicago Bulls basketball right now). The rookie just started to come into his own before the hiatus. And, when paired alongside LaVine, the two haven’t looked too shabby. In fact, it’s not hard for me to say: A LaVine-White backcourt will likely pose some serious problems for opposing defenses down the road.
Sure, traditional wisdom contends that two high-volume scoring guards like White and LaVine can’t (or probably won’t easily) co-exist, but while that can certainly be the case, it’s not always true. Several teams across the NBA rely on two natural scorers in their backcourt to varying degrees of success, including the Portland Trail Blazers (Lillard-McCollum), Golden State Warriors (Curry-Thompson), and Houston Rockets (Harden-Westbrook). I’m not here to make lofty or empty comparisons, but my broader point remains: It has been done, and it has been successful.
Mark Schanowski discusses as much in his latest at NBC Sports Chicago: “White’s assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7 assists to 1.7 turnovers) is hardly what you’d expect from a starting point guard, but … with regular play at the point, White’s assist totals should grow to around five to seven per game …. [Also,] LaVine is very high on White’s potential, and having another explosive scorer playing with him should help reduce the defensive pressure LaVine faces on a nightly basis.”
At the beginning of the season, White was pigeonholed into the microwave scoring role, while his future as the Bulls starting point guard came into question. Skepticism regarding his ability to facilitate and play alongside LaVine was probably warranted at the time, but as he continued to improve and break out, and particularly over the Bulls last nine games, it became clear that he must be given a shot as the team’s starter. And if another high-scoring, high-energy distraction can pave the way for an even better version of Zach LaVine, that’s exactly what the Bulls should aim to do.
Of course, I understand why many assumed LaVine would play better alongside a pass-first, traditional point guard (like Satoransky), but it’s hard to say that his presence made that big of a difference for LaVine or the team. He’s averaging only 5.4 assists per game (which is less than one assist better than White during his last 14 games), Chicago still has the 29th offensive rating in the league, and the Bulls have obviously kept on losing. Plus, LaVine continues to draw practically all of the opposing team’s attention, which doesn’t exactly open up the possibility for individual improvement.
With White on the court, however, the floor should open up a bit more, providing LaVine more space to work. Not to mention, their sheer speed alone should give plenty of teams problems, particularly in transition.
Indeed, when LaVine and White are at their best, most teams will simply not have the defensive firepower to stop them at the same time. I mean, already this season we’ve seen them enjoy nine games of 20+ points apiece. They may not have started alongside each other in those contests, but they did clock their fair share of minutes together on the court, which is arguably more to the point.
As a whole, the two have played 746 minutes together thus far, and that’s the second-most minutes White has clocked alongside any other player this season (the first being Thaddeus young), per Basketball-Reference. As the months have gone by, the two have grown used to playing alongside one another, and more specifically, closing out games together (409 of their minutes have come in the 4th quarter). More often than not, Jim Boylen and his coaching staff are stuck having to play these two together at the end of the game for a last-second offensive boost. While I understand not wanting to hurt the second unit, in theory, the Bulls should hopefully have less catch-up to do if these two take the court together from the beginning.
Ultimately, if the organization can find the right players and the right system, playing these two alongside one another could be a recipe for success. So if the front office rumors are true and there really is change coming for the entire organization (including the head coach), then there’s no reason to believe this duo can’t build on the energy and success they left on the court before the break.
That’s not to say it’ll be easy. It’ll be a journey. But it could work … for LaVine, for White, and for the Chicago Bulls.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.