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Takeaways: Why Coby White isn't done getting better for the Chicago Bulls

Will Gottlieb Avatar
December 12, 2023

The Chicago Bulls gave a convincing effort in a 133-129 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but couldn’t extend their win-streak to five games. Here are my takeaways from the game:

1. Alex Caruso (ankle) was a listed as questionable heading into the game and was a ultimately late scratch. He suffered a sprain on Sunday against the Spurs, a different injury than the left toe that was previously bothering him. Billy Donovan said Sunday after practice that he hoped Caruso would be back at some point this week.

2. DeMar DeRozan was sensational, scoring 41 points and adding 11 assists, the first time a Bulls player has reached those thresholds in a single game since December 23, 1992 when Michael Jordan last did it. Not bad company.

After a poor shooting first half on Friday against the Spurs, DeRozan got back to his usual ways and went 14-of-30 from the field with 10-of-12 free throw shooting.

He also hit the game-tying shot in the final moments of regulation to send the game to overtime.

But the facilitation has been the most impressive. He spoke recently about the importance of keeping everyone involved — how that makes his teammates more dangerous and unpredictable to opponents and creates openings for him later in games.

DeRozan now has 10 or more assists in three games out of the last four.

3. Coby White continues playing at an elite level. He scored a season high 33 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-10 on threes and 3-of-4 from the line. He has made 53 of his last 102 three-point attempts over the last previous 11 games and has emerged into an offensive weapon the Bulls will feature regardless of the direction they take over the coming weeks.

The hot shooting will inevitably cool off, but there is reason to believe White could actually become much more dangerous.

As well as White has played, he’s shooting only 45.3 percent on two-point field goals this year, the worst figure since his rookie season and nine percent worse than last season.

White was 2-for-3 at the rim and 6-of-10 on two-point shots against the Bucks and the way he’s changing pace and manipulating bigs in drop coverage, and now finishing at the rim and in the mid-range, could mean he’s bound for even more scoring improvement.

4. To get White some good open looks, the Bulls have been leaning on this flare set in half court offense and after timeouts.

The action is simple — White enters the ball to DeRozan on the wing, and flares to the top of the key over a screen from Nikola Vucevic.

These types of quick hitters are really useful, especially when executed so swiftly. Defenses are often prepared to settle in against DeRozan isolations from the mid-post area, so if he can whip the ball back across as soon as the defense lets up, it is often open for a three.

5. There was some frustration later in the game that DeRozan went a little too iso-heavy down the stretch, and that White was left out to dry a bit despite playing one of his best games.

There’s probably some truth in there, but I thought the Bulls handled the fourth quarter and overtime well. They continued to play well through DeRozan, moving White around the court as a screener to draw attention away from DeRozan and open up scoring outlets if necessary.

They opened the overtime period with two plays that put White in position to make plays out of pick-and-pop with DeRozan.

More, White was at his best playing off the ball rather than dominating it. That’s precisely why the offense has functioned as well as it has of late. At times, with Zach LaVine in the off-guard role, the ball sticks with him as he surveys the floor to create isolations for himself, whereas White has done well to fluidly move onto the next action, whether that’s a drive, kick, or shot from himself.

There is a tendency to want to pour more and more responsibility onto younger players when they are performing well to see how much they can eat. But sometimes it’s smart to let them thrive in a somewhat smaller role because it’s working for them.

6. With a shortened rotation, Dalen Terry got some early minutes.

Terry has been working on his shooting with new Director of Player Development Petter Patton, and it looked like he was much more comfortable letting it fly. He made 1-of-2 threes in his 11 minutes and had something to say to the Bucks bench after nailing the one.

Terry has struggled to earn minutes because defenses leave him alone. He’s not a strong enough ball handler to get all the way to the rim against sagging defenses and he can’t bully his way through defenders if he gets there.

He had a couple possessions during his first stint coming to set screens for DeRozan. Catching the ball in the short roll, he had the ball going straight downhill playing 4-on-3. This allows him to unlock his best passing skill by giving him an advantage to play with.

Other Notes:

— Ayo Dosunmu got the start in place of Caruso, in place of LaVine, and pulled a Tony Snell. In 26 minutes, he logged 0-of-6 field goals and a foul. I’m not too worried, Dosunmu has been awesome for the Bulls in LaVine’s absence. Let’s talk again if this continues for a few straight games.

— Nikola Vucevic (14 points on 6-of-16 shooting, 10 rebounds, five assists) had a rough go of it offensively. He had some nice passes but never really found a scoring rhythm, with his 5-foot flip shot failing to fall.

— Torrey Craig struggled shooting the ball, but had a couple of key defensive plays late in the game that helped keep it close.

— Patrick Williams scored 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting and grabbed seven boards. He wasn’t the most efficient, but he was active on the glass and stayed aggressive. He continues to do a solid job on Giannis Antetokounmpo, despite his impressive statline (32 points, 9-of-13 shooting, 14-of-18 free throws, 12 rebounds, six assists).

— Andre Drummond had 16 boards in 14 minutes, 11 of which came on the offensive end.

— Despite shooting just 41.2 percent from the field, the Bulls made 15-of-34 threes. The lost the free throw battle 20-25 to 30-37, but had six turnovers to the Bucks’ 11, and 18 offensive rebounds to the Bucks six.

— Up next: Bulls are back home for the second leg of a back-to-back against the Nuggets on Tuesday night.

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