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The second half of Coby White’s rookie season in the NBA tipped off Wednesday night, and already, the Greenfield School product has hit the wall.
No, it isn’t the famed “rookie wall” that first-year players tend to rub up against when exposed to the rigors of an 82-game schedule for the first time. That can be overcome by experience, and capable youngsters throughout the league deal with the growing pains and go onto productive careers.
Instead, White faces a much more existential threat. The wall erected inside the Chicago Bulls organization, specifically designed for him to run into at the same breakneck speed with which he plays the game, is set to curtail 33.3% of his arsenal.
White’s calling card, both at Greenfield and as a freshman at North Carolina, was and is an above-average ability to score at all three levels of the defense. Want to face guard him? The ABA-era hairstyle will get by defenders on the first step off the dribble.
Sag off at the 3-point line, and the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school basketball history can inflict damage from long range. But hair and personality aside, it’s the mid-range game that goes a long way toward personalizing White from his peers in the draft class of 2019. In an instant, White can abort a defended drive to the rim and take a stepback mid-range jumper. Some are more contested than others, but White knocks them down at a good enough clip to where defenders have no choice but to account for it.
However, the Bulls are committed to making the No. 7 pick in the 2019 NBA draft infinitely easier to defend. Instead of giving their fans the 3-D version of White that North Carolina denizens know all too well, the analytics team at 1901 West Madison Street in Chicago prefers a bland two-dimensional model off the bench that’s had an appendage surgically removed.
In speaking with Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic, White disclosed the extent of the procedure.
Deep breaths, Coby. Deep breaths. Count backward from 100. This won’t hurt a bit. We know what we’re doing.
“When I first got here, I took a couple of midranges and they were, like, ‘Nah, we don’t want that. That’s a bad shot,”’ White told Mayberry. “So it took some getting adjusted to because the midrange was a tool that I had in my bag that I liked to use. But if it’s a bad shot, it’s a bad shot.”
The Bulls, in the brief tenure of head coach Jim Boylen, don’t exactly orate from a position of authority on what constitutes a good shot. After Wednesday’s home game against the Washington Wizards, the Bulls were 25th in a 30-team league in scoring at 106 points per game and sit 26th in field-goal percentage at 43.6% That’s despite pleasing the analytics department from 3-point range, where the Bulls have made the ninth-most 3-pointers per game in the NBA at 12.5 per contest.
With Wednesday’s game serving as the 100th for Boylen on the Chicago bench, he and his staff’s distaste for a competent midrange game has helped yield a 32-68 record. At 15-27 this season, the Bulls aren’t out of playoff contention in a mediocre Eastern Conference, but the dysfunction in the organization suggests they’ll get nowhere close as long as Boylen, general manager Gar Forman and the current scouting department remain in place.
To be fair, the hyper-focus here is on White, with years of games and mental notes at the ready.
The Bulls don’t have that luxury in their pre-draft prep, as their scouts are responsible for the totality of the draft class. However, in watching film and evaluating White at the college level, the Bulls, at the scouting level, should have taken note of his mid-range game and realized that White’s proficiency there could and would clash with what Boylen wants to put on the floor.
Instead, the disconnect that is pervasive throughout the Bulls took White anyway, eager to get the rest of his game while not just altering, but eliminating a critical component.
Here’s the tragic part. Coby White is a basketball player that accepts coaching. He trusts it, from Rob Salter to Roy Williams to Boylen. He wants it and at the very least, won’t question it publicly. The Bulls know that and are preying on what should be a positive character trait in any locker room.
But in the process, Chicago is gleefully pumping poison into White’s development as an NBA player.