You get that, right, Coby? You get why it can’t be you?

Why the Bulls can’t run back next year with Coby White as the starting point guard

In the second season of the wildly popular and oft-memed Netflix show, I Think You Should Leave, there is a sketch where Sam Richardson plays a bizarre emcee for an even more bizarre form of entertainment at a corporate meeting. Richardson parades in a collection of Little Buff Boys, pre-teen boys in “goose suits” flexing their “buff little bodies” for a kayfabe competition. The corporate boss is corralled by Richardson’s emcee character into being the judge of the competition. Against his wishes and better judgement, the Boss makes a tossed-off choice that Troll Boy should be the winner, to which Richardson’s emcee says, “Nah, no. Not Troll Boy. It’s not gonna be Troll Boy. We’re not doing Troll Boy. I mean you get that, right, Troll Boy? You get why it can’t be you? Yeah. Okay, see? It can’t be him. Just can’t be Troll Boy.”

I couldn’t help but think of this sketch when I read today from the Sun Times’ Joe Cowley that the Bulls are “all in” on matching any Coby White restricted free agent offer and “White showed enough for the organization to believe in him taking the starting reins.”

Let me start by saying that I really like Coby White. In fact, I think the Bulls absolutely should bring Coby back this summer as a restricted free agent, because he is a good young player on a team with not enough of them. In addition, he plays an entertaining brand of basketball, appears to be beloved by his teammates, and he did improve in a fairly major way this season. To look at just one publicly available All-In-One metric, Bball-Index’s LEBRON, you can clearly see that this was Coby’s best season of his career and the first year that he was a positive impact player in his minutes:

White has also shown a very consistent track record of improving every year in the league. This season he markedly improved his ball-handling and decision-making while maintaining the catch-and-shoot skill that has been his bread-and-butter since he entered the league. He will also be just 24 years old next season and could improve yet again.

Still, I have serious doubts about whether White makes sense as a starting point guard. Even if Coby improved by the same average amount that he’s improved over each of the last 3 seasons (+0.62 points per 100), that would land him at +0.72 which would put him at 23rd on the list of point guards who played at least 1500 minutes this year in LEBRON. That’s not really what you want from your starting point guard.

Besides that, there are huge questions of fit with the Bulls’ maximum contract star, Zach LaVine, on the defensive end of the floor. Both White and LaVine have improved and put in admirable effort on defense, but they are both never going to be positives on that end with their propensities for ball-watching, getting back-cut, and just plain blowing coverages. Playing the two of them together consistently against the best lineups the opponent has to offer seems untenable.

But there are additional concerns to worry about with Coby as the Bulls’ starting point guard next season. White is not a particularly good passer, as he has the natural instincts of a scorer and still very much plays like it, despite improvements on this element of point guard play. This season he had a 6.1 Passer Rating (Nikola Jokic’s 9.9 is the top of the scale) according to Ben Taylor’s Thinking Basketball Stats Database. For an idea of what a random assortment of elite offensive point guards look like on this metric: Tyrese Haliburton sports a 9.7, James Harden is at 9.3, Trae Young is an 8.8, and Dame Lillard comes in at 7.9. In addition to concerns about the quality of Coby’s passing is the fact that he does not bend defenses in a significant way for a potential primary ball handler. He generates about 4.5 open looks per 100 possessions for his team, according to Taylor’s Box Creation metric, a fairly anemic rate for a potential primary ball-handler. For context, a 4.5 Box Creation is the same rate of generating open looks that disappointing Knicks third option RJ Barrett produces.

A response to this is that White wouldn’t really be the primary ball-handler as those duties will likely once again fall into DeMar DeRozan’s hands next season. I have more to say about this in a separate blog, but I am of the opinion that the Bulls probably need to move on from DeRozan this summer and try to get some value for him. Ideally that value will be something along the lines of a couple of solid role players who can play defense and shoot threes on volume plus some draft capital (at least one first round pick, please). If the Bulls do bring DeRozan back, White is probably fine as a stopgap point guard, but I do not think it is his best role. White remains a fairly ideal 6th man, but the Bulls simply do not have enough good players to consistently place him there. Ayo Dosunmu did not meaningfully improve this season and was thoroughly miscast as a starting point guard and the combined lack of confident shooting and ball handling from Dosunmu and lottery disappointment Patrick Williams severely undercut the starting unit’s effectiveness.

If the Bulls are able to convert DeRozan into multiple good players and either sign or otherwise acquire, as part of a DeRozan trade maybe, a more compelling lead ball-handler than White, they should do so. Coby’s good and even better against second-unit talent, but to me, it can’t be Troll Boy and it can’t be Coby White as the Bulls’ starting point guard of the future. Coby White for a future 6MOY push, on the other hand, is something I can get behind.