(photo by Tomek Kordylewski)
Last year, I had Coby White 10th on my big board. There were some aspects to love. White displayed the potential to become a legitimate three level scoring threat; a skill with a premium placed on it in today’s league. He also routinely showcased an advanced shot creation package filled with stepbacks, sidesteps and crossover pull-ups.
There were some question marks, however. How would his subpar wingspan and average positional athleticism translate to the NBA? What’s more, White often missed wide open teammates due to playing with tunnel vision and a score first mentality. This was topped off by a handle that is surely polished for shot creation purposes but, lacks functionality for setting up teammates.
White was a terror throughout his last 10 games, averaging 24.7 points on over 40 percent shooting from deep. This would suggest he could become a starting guard in the NBA. Evidence from the whole season, however, might indicate that he is better suited for a high impact, high volume bench scoring role ala Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford. To become a solid starter, White must improve one particular skill: his ability to playmake off the bounce.
High, Loose Handle Impacts Scoring
When people first think about his handle, most envision Coby White using a combination of hesi moves and crossover dribbles to shed a defender. Like Eminem for angsty, suburban teens, you could tell White has looked to guys like James Harden for inspiration. Those moves can be effective and when they hit they look flashy. Plus, when done well, those moves serve a purpose.
More frequently, however, White lets the ball fly above or right near his shoulder. Considering he does not get too low to the ground when handling, this is a major concern. He has a low launch point and short arms to begin with. Such a high dribble gives defenders the millisecond needed to contest and alter his shot.
Frustratingly, we’ve seen White handle the ball like a true pro before. This leads me to believe that his affinity for scoring off of hesitation moves created a default of sorts. In other words, that ball comes so carelessly high off of the floor because it mimics the hesi move White loves to do before pulling up. When a clean shot isn’t there though, he must continue his dribble or force a shot that is contested.
Every time Coby fails to turn that high dribble into a jumper, the backpedaling defender gets a chance to return to proper defending position. It often results in blocks, which Bulls fans saw a lot of this year. A lower dribble negates this chance and puts the pressure on defenders not to foul. It also will make for a tighter, cleaner pull-up release.
Limits Vision, Impacts Creating For Others
Let me clarify. There are specific instances and ballhandling moves that Coby White excels at. His crossover jab is filthy. In fact, any type of crossover from him is deadly. Oh, and when that hesitation, deceleration dribble is kept relatively low, it leads to elite level scoring moves. Keep that sassy, unoriginal hate-tweet in your drafts, I think White can be a special player.
Still, there are particular moves White needs to tighten up. His behind the back dribble can come and go. When it goes, like in the example below versus the Nets, it precludes him from spotting open men. Having to regather the handle commands your vision and takes it off of teammates.
It also leads to missing wide open cutters despite multiple teammates pointing out the right pass. It results in obliviously eurostepping into awaiting bigs and failing to spot perimeter shooters in the process. Fastbreaks suffer as well. All can be seen below.
Guards of White’s draft stock should not dribble the ball off of an opponent’s foot during transition. Nor should they have to recollect the ball during behind the back moves. When this happens, White doesn’t see easy assist opportunities. His teammates were literally holding defenders away from perimeter shooters. Multiple men were open during backdoor cuts – one of them being a legendary dunker – and White missed them all.
This, combined with his tendency for tunnel vision around the hoop, could lead to frustrated teammates and a stagnant offense. Rewatch the video and you’ll see some examples.
Limits Vision, Impacts Creating For Himself
For a rookie, Coby White showed that he could one day become a bailout shooter when the shot clock is winding down. His wiggle can be well, wiggly, and I’ve already mentioned which ballhandling moves work well for him. In spite of this, White can be caught staring at the ball as he pounds it into the floor before lofting midrange twos.
In this next clip, not only does White gain the step on Ky Bowman but, he nicely shoves him away for extra space. He never lifts his head up, however, and can only travel after being surprised to see a help defender in his face. This could have been a 8-10 foot, uncontested pull-up jumper. Or, White could have taken advantage of his jump stop to shoot over the helper. He never saw him coming.
“Early targeting” is a key to pull-up shooting. Kyrie Irving is a master of this. Whenever White eyes down a defender or stares at their feet, his hand-eye coordination suffers. This is reminiscent of my tee-ball days, before I knew I needed glasses.
Spotting the hoop early before your shot helps make for a cleaner, more high percentage attempt. Improving handle plays a prominent role in this as it unlearns tunnel vision by making the player more confident to scan the court with his head up, something White didn’t do in the play above.
Offseason To-Do List
White must work on his handle. Yes, his shot creating package is special but his ability to keep that ball on a string to create for others is lacking. It has ripple effects, too. There is enough footage in this blog alone which shows teammates growing upset when White misses a pass or fails to make the right read.
Some consider ballstopping to be a sin in today’s game. I think that iso scorers still have a role and some ballstopping can be tolerable. But when White is running with starters he needs to keep his eyes up and ensure that thing is flying around. Unlocking his handle is the key to that. It’ll allow him to scan the floor when he plays and find open men.
Additionally, Chicago’s new brass also has some homework to do. They must take a long, hard look at White to chart out his developmental route. If they envision him a starter then improving his handle, vision and feel for the game is a must. According to Cleaning the Glass, White is in the 13th percentile for assist to usage ratio. In other words, he does not look to set up teammates often at all.
Although I can already hear the pushback from Bulls fans, Chicago could be best suited to transition White into a full time bench scorer. Think Ben Gordon. White is a score first guard who truly struggles to create meaningful offensive chances for others. That’s okay! He can be an impactful player who helps winning in that role. Chicago might want to see how Coby develops this offseason and make a decision whenever their next season begins. But what does the Twittersphere think?
Opinions From Smarter Bulls Writers
There are folks out there whose opinions on White’s rookie year are surely brighter than mine. Let’s look at their quotes about his first season.
Rob Schaefer – NBC Sports Chicago:
On what White did well – “For Coby, the scoring ability at all three levels is obvious and tantalizing. And fortunately, he was able to parlay that into consistent, tangible results by the end of his rookie season. It lends credence to a lot of optimism moving forward”
On areas for improvement – “Defense and playmaking are going to be the popular two answers for this one. I lean more towards the latter. His size and competitiveness at the 1 alone should make him viable enough defensively if there’s solid infrastructure around him. Where he can really make the jump from sparkplug scorer to legitimately impactful player is if he bumps his assist count into the 5 or 6 per game range. Make opponents fear kickouts on drives (cause he gets downhill so fast) and use the gravity he naturally creates to his and the team’s advantage.”
On starting vs coming off the bench – “All of that is to say: For now, I’d say on a good team, White’s best role is as the first sub off the pine with the sole focus of shooting flames from his fingertips. But Bulls are not currently a good team. So, if they don’t go lead guard in the draft, his best fit (in the context of a rebuilding squad) is continuing to start and seeing how he responds. Someone as mature, hard-working and talented as he is should be given more than one season (which was fraught for so many reasons) to prove he can grow into the role the Bulls need him to play.”
Josh J. – Bullish Hoops
On what White did well – “Coming into his rookie campaign, Coby White definitely exceeded my previously set expectations. He showed flashes of being an elite shot maker, a viable passer and willing defender as the season progressed.”
On areas for improvement – “n terms of areas of improvement for White entering his sophomore year, him making strides as a playmaker is extremely important if he wants to become a legitimate point guard. Not necessarily am I asking him tripling his assist count, but more so improve his ability to make consistent actions out of the pick and roll while being able to find cutters and open shooters. He trains with Chris Paul every summer, who hard can that be?”
“Aside from passing, for me personally watching every Bulls game this season, he has to learn where his spots are from the floor. He shot 39.4% from the field this year and struggled to stay consistent until the backend of the season, where he was 47% from the field and 41% from three. The more he gets to his sweet spots on the floor, the more his efficiency will increase.”