Rookie Coby White had perhaps the best game of his young career so far with 33 points on 11-for-22 shooting but the team's 26 turnovers were too much to overcome, falling to Phoenix 112-104 on Saturday night.
Zach LaVine has a dream, a basketball dream. Bulls rookie Coby White appears in it, and Zach is smiling.
"You love having a dude like that on your team," LaVine was saying late Saturday night after the Bulls 112-104 loss to the Phoenix Suns in reflecting on White's career high 33 points.
"He was due for one of these games," said LaVine, the Bulls scoring leader. "He really could have had 40 the way he was shooting the ball; he kept us in the second half. He's an explosive scorer. We've seen that so many times where that dude will catch fire like gasoline; he gets hot quick. You need scoring threats on the court (the way the NBA is now). And that's something he definitely brings.
"We'll see what this turns into," said LaVine. "But we could obviously be a good one/two punch scoring wise because he can score with the best of them."
Highlights from Coby White's 33-point performance against Phoenix.
The Bulls have to search for hope in this disappointing season with an eighth consecutive loss Saturday and the record dropping to 19-38. With Luke Kornet joining six other regulars out injured—Otto Porter Jr., Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison—the chance for a playoff spot continues to dim.
But if that dark cloud of misfortunate continues to hang over the franchise, the shaft of light is the play of White and what it might be alongside LaVine.
Though White is a rookie and has come off the bench in limited minutes at times, he is tied with Miami's Kendrick Nunn for most three pointers made among rookies. White hasn't missed a game and is 10th among rookie scorers at 11.5 per game. Only one rookie scoring more points is playing less, Memphis's Brandon Clarke.
White has been in the Bulls rotation all season, though with varied roles and playing time, sometimes 33 minutes and the next game 17. But now with the injuries, Bulls coach Jim Boylen has been forced to use White more. The rookie has responded and often has been the fan favorite in the United Center. He is averaging 19.7 points the last three games.
"Like I said at the beginning of the season, the main thing for me this season was just to get better each and every game and throughout the season," White said. "I feel like I am doing that and I'm getting better and I'm improving. I feel I've improved tremendously since Summer League. I'm just trying to get better, help my team get wins. That's what I am focused on. I still get a lot of minutes coming off the bench. As long as I'm on the floor, that's all I care about."
Coby White joined Brandon Jennings and Landry Shamet as the only rookies in NBA history to hit seven three-pointers in multiple games.
Boylen said he prefers to keep White with the reserve unit, especially because it gives him more opportunity to be the lead guard for that unit. Though White Saturday had two assists in 34 minutes.
"I like where Coby is at," Boylen said. "I like his position. He has a voice in that second group. He's learning how to play the lead guard position in that second group. We're going to keep him right there for now."
And those deep bench minutes men almost carried the Bulls to the streak breaker with a 51-15 bench advantage despite LaVine being pressured into seven turnovers while scoring 20 points and a team high five assists. But Tomas Satoransky was scoreless in 23 minutes missing all eight shots. Fellow starters Thaddeus Young and Ryan Arcidiacono each scored 13 points.
"I thought we got a lot from our second group," said Boylen about the reserves with Cristiano Felicio, Shaquille Harrison and Adam Mokoka joining White. "The pace and the energy they played with was the difference in that first half. Got to give those guys credit. They basically had one shootaround together with Mokoka at the four. They battled and played the way we wanted to play. We knocked some balls loose in the first half. We turned them over 16 times (for 24 first half points). We had a good thing going (with a 57-47 halftime lead). I didn't like the start to the third."
That old bugaboo bit again as the 23-34 Suns ripped off a 13-0 second half start against the Bulls starters, and then it was a see-saw the rest of the way. The Suns led 83-80 after three quarters when Devin Booker scored 13 of his 29 points in the third quarter. The Bulls rode nine White points in two minutes to a 94-90 lead with 8:49 left in the game. But Suns center Deandre Ayton with 28 points and 19 rebounds, seven offensive in the fourth quarter, finally dominated the Bulls series of shaky four-guard lineups. The Bulls committed 15 second half turnovers and 26 for the game leading to 30 Suns points. Though it was mostly entertaining as the Bulls had 25 fast break points. Phoenix got ahead by eight with with 3:10 left and weren't threatened.
It led to a brief post game meeting between Boylen and LaVine as the team attempts to navigate through the minefield of defeats and explosions of their hopes in the distance.
Zach LaVine drives past Phoenix's Devin Booker on Saturday night.
"When we're not organized it gets a little hectic out there, especially with the group we have now," said LaVine. "It just gets frustrating when you are not winning. I think everybody gets frustrated. I just wish we were in the game at the end of games. It gets tough when you start losing; I want to be a winner. We were just talking about some things throughout the game, player-coach things we talk about every once in a while. Sometimes we call a play and dudes are on the wrong page and you get forced into something you don't want, a bad play or bad shot. It's easier when you are organized at the end of games. We've got dudes who haven't played out there for awhile; so it's tough. It's just where we're at."
Though the larger question may be where they are going.
With LaVine and White, the Bulls have two potentially exceptional backcourt scorers. Both are about 6-5, so they can switch defensively, and both are high level three-point shooters, an appealing possibility in today's game.
Though the Bulls appear to be working White toward a point—or what's now called lead—guard role, he seems much better and more comfortable in an off the ball scoring role. Most of his points came that way against the Suns.
"Coby is going to score when he's on the ball, he's going to score when he's off the ball.," said Boylen. "He's not a guy that's always on the ball and he's not a guy that's always off the ball. That's the beauty of his game; he can do a little bit of both."
White generally agreed.
"It doesn't really matter," said White. "I feel the same on or off the ball. It was just today Jevon Carter really denied the ballhandler, so it would just be easier for Arch or Shaq to bring it up."
Chuck Swirsky recaps Chicago's loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Of course, White just turned 20 in his rookie season. So it's premature to consider what he can and can't do. Though he has a special ability, as LaVine said, to get to a boil fast. Even while everyone is looking.
In recent months, it's seemed like White has concentrated on being a facilitator. As a result, he only scored more than 20 points once since Nov. 23. But in that first month of the season when the Bulls were using both LaVine and White as scorers, the Bulls were 3-1 when each scored at least 25 points in a game. The only loss was to the first place Bucks.
It does appear the way White can go into shooting streaks and score off the dribble with his speed, his combination with LaVine could prove exceptional. Perhaps like a version of Portland's Lillard and McCollum, but with more size. It seems like there are possibilities. Of course, all the pieces aren't exactly there. Can LaVine be a wing scorer? Can the Bulls find a distributor who can also be a potent offensive threat? DO they have one? How about when Markkanen can join them? If the Bulls really want to play that perimeter based shooting game, those three together might be a requirement.
The Bulls still hope to work injured players like Markkanen, Porter and Carter back into the rotation in the coming days or weeks. So roles and playing time will fluctuate. But there just might be some there there to relieve, at least, some of Zach's anxiety and frustration. Maybe give it a shot. Give the Bulls that shot in the arm, as it were.
"I just hit shots; that was the difference," said White. "My mom's here, so she put me a good mood. I'm just trying to stay more consistent on both ends of the court. Offense and defense, just trying to stay more consistent and build some consistency. Some games I shoot the ball well; some games I don't. I know there are ups and downs. I'm just trying to find the line where I can do it consistently on most nights."