Coby White, the former seventh overall pick for the Bulls in the 2019 NBA draft, has had a rollercoaster-type 2021 year.
Recently, White updated his 2021 year with a season-high 24 points against the Houston Rockets, shooting 7-of-15 from the floor and 5-of-9 from three-point range.
This performance would be a little more impressive if the Rockets weren’t the third-worst defense in the NBA, letting up 113.8 points per game. However, barring the hurdles White’s jumped through in 2021, his performance against the Rockets is remarkable.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
White’s sophomore season had high expectations for the high-volume point guard. Yet, he let them down midway through the season.
White was benched for Tomas Satoransky in March, playing a total of 15 games off of the bench from mid-March to mid-April before returning to the starting lineup.
At the time, Lauri Markkanen got the same treatment as he was moved to the bench for Thaddeus Young. Both Markkanen and White were inconsistent on defense and the starting lineup needed a spark.
White, during this span, averaged 9.7 points and was a combined -29 from the floor. He played inconsistently but had a string of games with positive offensive results.
Even during this embarrassing period off the bench, White remained positive.
“I played every game off the bench last year besides one, so I’m already adjusted to it,” White said according to Sun-Times Joe Cowley. “I’m already accustomed to it so I’ve just got to come off the bench ready and focused to bring that spark. The second unit, we talk a lot about just maintaining that same level of energy at least or bringing it higher. So for us we try and sustain or level up when we come in.’’
His positive mentality off the bench proved successful, as he was promoted back to the starting lineup and averaged 17.6 points per game in the last 18 games of the season.
White’s sophomore season ended in triumph.
In June following the end of the season, White suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery in his labrum and a four-to-six month timeline on his return.
Optimistically, if White could return on the early side, he would be playing mid-October at the beginning of the season. Still, his injury kept him from getting in a solid training session in the summer.
Now White can’t even play basketball.
Then came early August, the Bulls signed Lonzo Ball seconds into free agency opening up to a four-year $85 million deal. They signed him so quickly, the NBA stripped the Bulls of a second-round pick.
Ball would soon be White’s replacement. Yet again, White was optimistic and thrilled about Ball’s presence in the starting backcourt.
“It was dope,” White said according to NBC’s Rob Schaefer. “Lonzo’s gonna help the team as a major piece. He’s so unselfish, and as a point guard, he’s great defensively, which is one thing that I can [learn] from him.”
White opened up the season on Nov. 15 against the Los Angeles Lakers, starting what became a rocky and short-stinted three-game stretch.
He didn’t score a basket until his third game back from injury, where he scored two points on 1-of-7 shooting against the Denver Nuggets. White was still finding his groove on the floor, showing his absence of summer training in his game.
White finally had a hot hand against the Orlando Magic in late November, where he scored 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field, resulting in a +20 rating on the floor.
December 2021 – A down and an up
While White continued to try and find his groove on the floor, he revealed another setback in an already tumultuous year for him. He entered the league’s health and safety protocols due to Covid-19, as did most of the team this month.
White missed five games and went 2-of-7 from the field for five points against the team he first played against after returning from injury — the Lakers.
Yet, it was the next game that White finally struck gold after panning for over a year. He scored 24 points off the bench in 31 minutes of play, leading to a dominant and important win against the Rockets without plenty of the team ineligible to play due to Covid-19.
“He’s been great and I’m happy that he’s playing aggressive,” Donovan said after White’s performance against the Rockets.
Donovan praised White for his ability to overcome the obstacles he faced this season and also adapt to his request of playing off-ball, which is atypical to the first two seasons of White’s career as the starting point guard.
Nonetheless, White has proven to be an adaptable, optimistic player for the Bulls in a time where they need that from him. His adjustments from injury, health and safety protocols and the roster changes are admirable.
White will look to continue adjusting to the floor Sunday versus the Pacers.