It’s not very often that a player’s breakout season coincides with a players scoring average dropping from 12.7 points per game to a career-low 8.4.
But that’s exactly what has happened this season with Coby White.
Since he was drafted to the Bulls in 2019, White has been one of the most divisive players on the team. He can play out of control at times, but the shooting and shot creation cannot be denied. An obvious talent who has experienced non-linear progression.
“You can say that it’s slowed down a little bit,” White said. “Just trying to make the right decisions. When to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive.”
“If you look at the numbers, it might not show, but [you can see it with] ball handling, decision making, defensive end.”
Despite White’s name circulating in the rumor mill, the Bulls have rebuffed offers made on one of the two Bulls holdovers from the previous management regime. In large part, that is due to the fact that he is quietly putting together his most complete season as a basketball player. He’s coming off the bench and addressed the weaknesses in his game: defense, decision making, play making.
Growing up, White was faster than everyone he played against. But in the video below, he admits that was no longer the case when he made it to the NBA. Without being able to use his biggest strength to his advantage, he looked rushed and out of control. He needed to develop other ways to be successful, and improving his ball handling has been the gateway to learning how to manipulate the game around him.
“I’m gonna just be honest, when you get to the NBA, there’s guys that are faster than me:”
White spent the summer working with Johnny aka @Dribble2Much, a famous Instagram trainer who specializes in ball handling. His unique drills for hand-eye coordination and activating his body from feet to waist to hands. And after fighting through the awkwardness, he learned the dance and has felt the fruits of his labor in game.
“I just notice the improvement in general,” White said. “Setting up pick-and-roll, getting downhill, ball control in tight spaces. I feel like all year, I’ve been noticing a difference.”
Improved ball handling has helped the game slow down for him. In turn, it has helped his court vision, ability to create angles and get downhill. That combination makes him an exponentially more dynamic scorer and passer.
White has also taken a step forward on the defensive end. His steal rate is a career-high, he tracks his matchup much better off the ball and works significantly hard to get over screens and blow up dribble penetration before it happens.
“Shit, honestly, if I knew I didn’t defend, it was going to be hard to get minutes,” White said. “This summer I worked on that too, as many ways as I could. I wanted to improve overall. I knew that was an area I lacked my first three years.”
“You don’t want to be a guy out there that other teams target. You don’t want to be that guy. That’s disrespectful to me.”
Most importantly, he’s helping contribute to winning (or something resembling it) basketball. The Bulls are +3.4 points per 100 possessions better with White on the floor, compared to when he sits. That’s fourth-highest on the team behind only Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan and Javonte Green. Not only is that a career high for White, it’s the first time in his career that swing has been positive.
“The minutes might not be there every single night, but when I do get them, I feel like I got to take advantage of them and show them what I’ve been working on,” he said.