20-year-old Coby White will tell you he's had an up-and-down rookie campaign adjusting to life in the NBA but he's focused on finishing the regular season strong by having more comfort with the ball in his hands.
The Bulls have a lot of decisions to make.
The Bulls begin post-All Star play Thursday in the United Center against Charlotte with 27 games remaining and five games behind eighth place Orlando in the Eastern Conference. There's much discussion about what's ahead for the Bulls in this disappointing season, and for now who is returning among injured players with practice resuming Tuesday.
Wendell Carter Jr. indicated during All-Star weekend he hopes to play Thursday. Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are believed close to returning from their injuries. Can the Bulls make one final push and salvage the season with a playoff berth? Does it matter? Is it too late? Is it time to consider another NBA draft?
One of the larger questions not much discussed is the role and future for rookie Coby White.
Coby White shoots a fadeaway jumper from the corner against Charlotte.
He was the No. 7 pick in last year's draft, the third point guard selected. He's been in the Bulls' rotation all season, which is encouraging. He hasn't missed a game, which is even more encouraging. And though there's not exactly urgency for him, the question is where he fits.
Is he the lead guard for the future? Is he another high level scoring option? Starter? Sixth man? Damian Lillard or Lou Williams? White has shown glimpses of both.
Do the Bulls go full development the last two months to prepare White for next season and beyond? Does the team make a last, significant push to see what they have with Markkanen, Porter and Carter, who all figure to return next season?
There are plenty of issues still to point to on the basketball floor for the Bulls.
"I think I see a fearless guy who is developing into a lead guard at our level," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said about White just before the All-Star break. "We started the season just getting him in the game, having him play and getting a feel for it. He had some very good offensive games. He's a developing player at the offensive end and at that lead position. I see him as a basketball player first. I'm not going to put all these labels on him.
"I think he's grown a ton," said Boylen, who added he doesn't believe White is ready to start. "If you look at his Summer League compared to where he's at and how he's played and the decisions he makes, I think he's really grown."
Coby White is averaging 11.1 points per game so far in his rookie campaign.
And, of course, growing can be painful.
"I knew coming in it was going to be a struggle," White acknowledged. "A lot of people told me your rookie season always is a struggle, that there were ups and down. I didn't know what to expect, so I just tried to take it day by day and experience it. Now I see what they mean. It's not only on the court, but your body taking so much with so many games and travel. At the beginning of the year, I would let it get to me a lot. But people told me, especially coach (Shawn) Respert, you play 82 games, way more than any schedule you've had. So there are going to be just as many good games as bad. You have to keep moving forward. What I learned early in the season is you can't dwell on one game. The next day or the day after you have another and you have to get ready.
"For me to be able to play, knock on wood, the whole 82 would mean a lot," said White. "It was a goal coming into the season. You just have to keep working and next year try to make it better."
For comparison, Michael Jordan, also born in February, had another year of college left when he turned 20.
But while pleased to be playing regularly, contributing and healthy, White admits basketball has become very different.
"I'm so used to scoring 15, 16, especially in college," White pointed out. "Some nights I don't even get to double digits. So it's difficult sometimes just for me being who I am. Scoring is what I've done my whole life. After the game you finish with six points, it's like something doesn't feel right. But I know I have to be patient, that my time is coming and I just have to continue to grind, stay positive."
White has an energetic and upbeat attitude. He's attentive to the coaching, relentlessly optimistic, cordial and cooperative with media, and capable of going on scoring streaks.
He is averaging 11.1 points, fifth on the team, but less than a point from third. Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Tomas Satoransky have played more minutes. He's shooting just 37 percent overall and 34 percent on threes, but lower lately as the learning curve increases.
White began the season in spectacular fashion, averaging 21 points in the team's first two games while making five of 12 threes and shooting 16 for 29 overall. It looked like maybe the Bulls had stumbled on third scorer to support LaVine and Markkanen. After all, that's what the NBA is about these days. White played with the sort of confidence and swagger which helped explain how he surpassed Jordan as the state's top prep scorer.
Coby White hits seven three-pointers against the Knicks in the fourth quarter against Knicks earlier this season.
Defenses reacted and White failed to reach double digits for the next five games. But he got rolling again with five consecutive double digit scoring games, culminating with 27 points in a win over the Knicks and 26 in a loss to the Bucks. White averaged 18.2 in that five-game period and made 13 of 24 threes in the Knicks and Bucks games. But after White scored 28 points in a win in Charlotte about 10 days later, the scoring spigot slowed to a drip.
White exceeded 20 points in a game just once in the next two months.
Rookie wall? Defenses adjusting? Slump? Not getting the point?
Though White came advertised as a future point guard and sort of played the position at North Carolina, his expertise is scoring. The Bulls seemed satisfied to leave him in that comfort zone, especially with the offseason acquisition of Satoransky and Kris Dunn playing well and igniting the defense. But with Dunn now injured perhaps longterm, the Bulls seemed to have accelerated White's schooling at point guard.
What that actually is in this NBA remains unclear since many of the top so called point guards are scoring-first players.
"I think that's the way the position is trending if you look at Lillard, at Russ (Westbrook), all those guys," said White. "I think that fits my mode better than the traditional point guard role because of my natural scoring ability. Also I want to be a guy who trusts his teammates and can make the right play and get them involved."
Which is a lot to ask of a rookie just turning 20. White never has asked the point of it all. While others may be asking what's best for White and the Bulls.
Satoransky and Dunn don't seem to be long term point guard answers. But is White? And is this the time?
White is averaging six assists in the four games in February, but 11.5 points, which is fewer than he averaged in the first two months. Plus, White is shooting a season low 28 percent on threes this month and a season low 31 percent overall. It's not a huge sample, and White has made some nice plays. So maybe it's time.
Coby White shoots a three against Milwaukee.
But perhaps the larger question may be whether White's best strength is with the ball or just getting ready to shoot the ball. The latter is a good job, too, and the Bulls need scoring support for LaVine. With Markkanen due to return soon from injury, perhaps a scoring threesome would be more appealing.
"The start of the season I had a couple of good games and things kind of died down a little bit," White said. "I think at the start of the season I was inconsistent a lot. I had some really good games and I had some bad games. Now I think I'm stringing together more consistent games. The biggest thing for me is to try to get better each and every game and I feel I've done that. I'm still not at the level I want to be, obviously, but I feel I've been solid.
"The goal for me is to be a point guard in the NBA," White said. "Early in the season, I didn't have the ball in my hands as much to be the predominant ballhandler. But now the coaching staff has been trusting me with that. So I've tried to be a point guard, facilitate more, try to put my teammates in position to score and try to create. But still taking my shots when they are there and attacking the rim. I'm starting thinking about being a point guard out there, especially with guys out.
"It's a bumpy road for me (to become point)," White pointed out. "But I feel like I am getting better. Just do what I can to help position our team for the playoffs, continue to grind, continue to get better and stay positive. And for me become more of a point guard."