White & Gafford Make Strong Impression on First Day

The Bulls are excited about what Coby White & Daniel Gafford will bring to the table next year, but preached patience from fans to allow the rookies to develop their games at the NBA level.

We have a pretty good idea about Bulls second round draft pick Daniel Gafford, even if hardly anyone had heard of him before last Thursday. He's an athletic, dunking 6-11 center who, in his own words, "runs like a deer" and in NBA language is another version of Clint Capella, DeAndre Jordan and Nerlens Noel.

The Bulls with 6-10 Wendell Carter Jr. slated to start at center next season and free agent Robin Lopez unlikely to return, the bouncy 38th pick in the NBA draft seems like a comfortable and welcome fit for the Bulls.

"I'm mainly a center," the first Arkansas player to be drafted since Bobby Portis told reporters Monday at an introductory media session. "Sometimes, I try to be a forward, but I get ahead of myself a little bit. The Clint Capela comparison, I've been having that comparison ever since freshman year. I've watched his game a lot. I see similar aspects of our game. He does pick-and-roll situations, finishes around the basket, finishes through contact or at least tries to. He runs the floor like a deer. And he has built his game defense first and offense second. Some of those aspects are similarities."

Though the larger question for the Bulls coming off what they said was a successful draft night is just who is Coby White, the No. 7 overall selection from North Carolina, a flashy 6-5 guard who one day could be driving an exciting Bulls backcourt alongside Zach LaVine.

So who are you, Mr. White?

"I guess Coby White," the genial White said as he sat alongside new teammate Gafford, Bulls executive John Paxson and coach Jim Boylen.

Family members, friends and business partners filled the low slung bleachers along the side of the basketball court in the Bulls Advocate Center as White and Gafford met reporters, posed for pictures and began to get accustomed to the practice facility where they'll spend perhaps more time than sleeping these next few years.

Gafford, equally congenial and approachable and excited to be throwing out the first pitch at a Chicago White Sox game later this week, was expected by many to be a late first round selection last year. That he fell somewhat to No. 38, he admitted, was a bit of a disappointment. But in an encouraging sign of his maturity, he admitted he wasn't emotionally ready for NBA life last year, decided to return to school and has no regrets. You'd hope more youngsters maintained his perspective.

Paxson was quick to point out once you are in the NBA, you can excel no matter your draft position. Recent second rounders emphasize the point, like Draymond Green, Nikola Jokic, Patrick Beverley, Marc Gasol, Malcolm Brogdon and the aforementioned DeAndre Jordan.

Gafford, who turns 21 before the start of the season, appears to fill a role immediately for the Bulls as an athletic, defensive oriented center to support Carter. Gafford won't score much and never even attempted a three-point shot in two years at Arkansas. Though he set school records shooting 66 percent. He's very good from three inches away.

His models have become important players in the new spaced out, three-point shooting NBA in which a guard and big man run a high pick and roll. The center screens and then rolls, presumably taking with him a defensive player for a lob dunk if there is a switch or perhaps for a guard to pass for a corner three.

Which could be White, who may be the very important enigma for the Bulls.

White is a tall point guard — Boylen repeated several times about how vital his "positional size" is to the Bulls — who is fast and a competent shooter whom some talent evaluators ranked second among point guards in this draft to the highly regarded Ja Morant. Point guard Darius Garland from Vanderbilt, a more skilled facilitator but smaller, was selected No. 5 by Cleveland. Some believed White would be selected No. 6. So for all the disappointment of dropping to No. 7 in the May draft lottery, the Bulls believed they got a measure of providence with White being available at No. 7.

The Bulls were bubbling with enthusiasm, especially since Paxson said general manager Gar Forman was lighting up Paxson's phone after watching White blitz Texas for 33 points and seven threes in November.

"All I can tell you is Gar saw Coby play out in Las Vegas early in the year and my phone was blowing up with texts from Gar," Paxson said. "That was the moment he was on the radar for sure."

But just who is this kid as a basketball player?

White was one of the TV stars of the draft with his Bulls baseball cap sitting atop his expansive hairstyle like a small boat in the ocean. But especially for his passionate and animated response to hearing his teammate, Cam Johnson, also was a lottery pick. This sure looked and sounded like a great teammate. Plus, earlier in the week in the Players Tribune web site White wrote a touching dedicatory piece about his late father.

"He has a soul and a spirit, which I think is important, and he's been just awesome to deal with," Boylen said about White. "By the grace of God he fell to seven. I don't know how, but he did, and we're thankful for that. Moving onto Daniel, there's an art in the world of kind of knowing who you are, and he has a great feel for who he is as a player. He adds to our vertical spacing, he adds to our athleticism, our length, our competitiveness, and again (like White), he looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He has a great spirit, and so we've got two high-character guys that we targeted, and wanted, and got. So it's a great day for us."

Paxson was quick to attempt to lower expectations, and he was correct to do so. Especially regarding White, a 19-year-old who was a long shot to even be drafted this year coming into North Carolina last fall.

"I'll say this too about this process leading up to training camp," said Paxson. "These two young men, this is going to be their first experience with the NBA in any setting. We've had guys over the years who have been juniors and seniors in college who come in and Summer League can be difficult. You can struggle with the newness of the game and all that is thrown at you. Our goal is to put them in the best position to succeed."

"We're not going to judge anything on what happens in the next week or couple of weeks through Summer League," Paxson said. "We just want them to learn and grow. We had Ben Gordon. He struggled in Summer League (Paxson didn't add, but so did Derrick Rose). We've had guys like that. We all hope they go and light it up. But this is part of the process of getting them ingrained in the league and this organization and what we're about. We'll provide them with the support and resources."

But No. 7 get scrutiny, especially after a 22-win season, especially a point guard in this NBA era in which the point guard is the most important player, the center of the 1960s and 1970s. The previous four league MVPs have been point guards with Giannis Antetokounmpo winning this year, and he does the majority of the Bucks ball handling.

The teenager joins a team on which the incumbent point guard, Kris Dunn, who was a former No. 5 overall pick in the draft, is on shaky footing after two injury-plagued seasons. Can White win the job? Should he even be asked to given his age and experience? Sometimes success can come too fast for the long term benefit.

"I'm just coming in ready to compete," White said. "My whole life, I've competed for everything, I've earned everything I've got. When I came into Carolina, there were questions, 'Would I start?' I competed for that spot and I earned it, so it's not new to me."

The possibilities of a 6-5 flash like White playing with a super athlete like the 6-6 LaVine are tantalizing. Which with the 6-8 Otto Porter Jr., the seven foot Lauri Markkanen and the 6-10 Carter sets up that so called positional size Boylen talks about. Which, in theory, translates to improved defense.

But is it fair or even realistic to begin thinking about White in that regard?

The scouting reports have seen him more as a shooting guard trying to become more of a point guard. That doesn't translate often in the NBA. Though that's more of an antiquated description in the NBA. Guards primarily are scorers now with playmakers also at forward and center, often in setups teams consider "positionless."

White did acknowledge in college he played primarily at one speed—fast.

Which sounds entertaining, though most NBA offense comes out of half court play because NBA teams are too good at getting back in transition.

"At Carolina, coaches kind of wanted me to really just go one speed and that's fast all the time," White acknowledged. "I think coming into the league, I can use my change of speed and change of pace better. I've been trying to work on that a lot. Those two things are really key for me."

Though Boylen wasn't diminishing what a player with White's speed and abilities could do for the Bulls sometimes sluggish offense.

"The most important thing for us is when the ball is in his hands, we have to run with him," Boylen said. "We want to play faster. We want to play smart, but we want to play faster when it's appropriate. He's a guy that can make decisions on the move. We've got to get the rest of our team to run with him. That's going to be our job, and I'm excited for that. That was part of our meeting we had on how do we use his strengths of being able to push the ball and get the ball over the timeline as fast as anybody, I think, in the league right now. We're not going to put him in this box where he just has to play this way. We're going to use what he does well and we're also going to add to what we think he can do."

Which means probably patience, exploration, hope and anticipation.

Does this mean the Bulls have their starting five? Dunn still will have a say in that. Coby White has the size and speed. He figures to produce superlatives. Will it lead to success? And if so when? Or how much?

Paxson knows the Bulls hardly are a finished product despite the possibilities. And the anticipated free agency period which begins this weekend should lead to several veteran additions to the roster.

"We're in the process right now of evaluating the talent that's out there," said Paxson. "There's a lot of money out on the market this summer (for free agents) and a lot of teams are going to be out there spending. They'll be a tier that goes and then there will be some fallbacks. We have a very good idea of what we want. But we're going to have to wait until the 30th to go at it. We know we need to add some veterans. With that said, we also have Otto Porter and Zach. Lauri is entering his third year now. Through experience, there's some leadership that goes on through that. But definitely we're looking for a couple of veteran guys that fit well with this young group, be pros, show these guys every day what it means to be a professional. Most guys that last a long time in this league, they last because they've been pros. They take care of themselves, they've played well, they've done all the right things. And that's always best example for young players."

Paxson said he's seen some glimpses of that already from White.

The precocious point started the season uneasily, averaging 11 points against teams like St. Francis, Elon and Wofford. Then came the breakout game against Texas, but then a wakeup in the ACC with nine points and six turnovers on three of 14 shooting his first game at Duke.

"As we watched Coby and we talked a little about it when he was here, the first time he played at Duke, he kind of struggled," Paxson noted. "He talked about it when we did our background that he wasn't going to have that happen again and the next two times he played Duke, he had really good games and learned from it."

White had 21 points and four three pointers the next game against Duke. That was just after 34 points against Syracuse and 28 against Clemson to close out the regular season. But White then showed his age in the NCAA tournament, shooting 35 percent and 27 percent on threes.

"They're young men who have yet to experience the NBA," Paxson noted. "They're going to take some lumps along the way. But if they keep working and persevere---they're both very talented---we believe that combination of talent and ability to persevere and that heart and desire you're going to be a success that way. What that means, that's up to them. They're going to be as good as they want to be."

And so the work begins. The Bulls will have a closed mini-camp next week and then Summer League starting July 5 in Las Vegas.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," White admitted about coming to the NBA. "I'm still in awe. It just feels crazy to me just because of what I've been through and how this wasn't really the plan for me coming into college. So I think overall, it's obviously a blessing. I'm very excited, especially the organization I'm coming to. I still have a lot of stuff to work on. It hasn't really hit me yet. I'm still looking for that moment.

"I don't want to be compared to anyone," said White. "I don't know what else you want me to say. I'm Coby White."