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Coby White continues to improve

Coby’s game against Gonzaga was a mixed bag of success

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

With another week before UNC takes on Kentucky, there’s some down time to review the first 10 games of the season. Coming off an impressive win against Gonzaga, there were a few noticeable developments. Cam Johnson continued his ascension to the title of “MVP” for this year’s team. Luke Maye finally showed up against a top opponent with 20 and 16. Not to mention, the Heels withstood multiple jabs by the Zags in the second quarter, but were able to avoid the major uppercuts that have knocked them down against Texas and Michigan.

However, perhaps the most fun development was the continued dynamic duo performance by point guards Coby White and Seventh Woods. Akil touched on it in yesterday’s Three Things Learned, and today we’ll start a two-part film review. First up is is Coby White’s performance against Gonzaga. Let’s dive in

Passing Coby

As a high schooler who nearly averaged a triple-double his senior season, Coby doesn’t mind getting teammates involved. That passing ability has been a growing development in his game. His 6 assists against Gonzaga brought his total to 18 in the past three games. Specifically, he can break down the defense with minimal help, get into the lane, and dish to an open big man. Exhibits A, B and C are below.

Assist #1

This was the second possession of the game. UNC’s secondary break offense goes through it’s natural progression, and exploited the defense. Things to watch:

  • Cam actually brought the ball up and Coby ran the wing.
  • Garrison Brooks followed his reverse pass with a ball screen
  • Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura tried to set a hard hedge. Coby splits the screen.
  • Coby takes advantage of space, gets deep in the lane, and forces the defense to adjust.
  • Maye is wide open and scores 10 second into the shot clock

An equal mix of patience, poor defense, and quick recognition by Coby led to the first points of the game. Coby running the wing with more frequency may also be a developing wrinkle to UNC’s offense.

Assist 2

The team had cycled through the secondary break options, and were in a free-flowing motion offense. Brooks set a ball screen in the corner, and Coby split the defense again. Smart read on a questionable spot to execute a ball screen. Cam took care of the rest (but Luke Maye was open too).

Assist 3

Coby is running down the wing after a loose ball put the ball in Cam’s hands. Cam gets into the lane, draws the defense, and kicks it out. Catching it in mid-stride, Coby attacks the defense in the middle of their shift, and gets to the baseline. The confusion (and terrible defense) leaves Brooks open for the dunk.

Coby’s other three assists were Cam Johnson and Garrison Brooks hitting open shots. Hey, those count too.

Impatient Coby

This is tricky, due to Coby’s scoring ability and speed. A natural scorer, he often hunts his own shots. That has benefits and drawbacks. Here are four examples that bear zero fruit for the UNC offense.

Miss #1

Coby is given some space, and launches a three. With four Heels outside the arc, Gonzaga easily gets the rebound before UNC and races down the other end.

Miss #2

This time Coby waits a little longer for Maye to set a ball screen to initiate the secondary break. Coby realizes a mismatch with Hachimura on him, and launches a contested three. Gonzaga again gets the rebound.

Miss #3 (Turnover)

A dribble hand-off from Cam, Coby makes a solid read. However, as he often has, Coby accelerates into the teeth of the defense without assessing the situation. Turnover. (Maye was open after his man collapsed).

These have been common and two similar plays could have been added just from this game.

Miss #4

Again, heading down the wing in the primary break, Coby gets the pitch ahead from Cam. White breaks the ankles of his defender, but misses another three.

These plays all happened in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock and the first five minutes of the game. When Coby left for the bench at the 15:32 mark, North Carolina had only scored five points. All five were a product of getting into the paint. Luke Maye’s lay-up, a Kenny Williams drive, and a Garrison Brooks free throw after getting fouled.

Reasonable minds can differ on what a “good” shot is. Due to his streaky nature — Coby is just 10-32 from three in games not played in Vegas — it’s tempting to overlook shots that would bring criticism for others. Remember the times you shuddered when Theo Pinson launched an early three?

However, those decisions have an impact on the offense, especially when shots aren't falling and wild drives result in turnovers. Players get tight, some start hunting for their own shots, and the offense stagnates. The opening sequence on Saturday was not an isolated event this season. There are multiple ways to push the pace and get quick shots. Coby is still learning how and when to use all available options.

Patient Coby

When Coby reentered the game, the Heels had turned a 7-5 point deficit into a 27-16 point lead. White got his own offense going with the following plays.

Field Goal #1

Coby lets the team cycle through all of their secondary options (notice 12 seconds remaining on the shot clock). The Zags have switched to a zone defense, and Coby catches Perkins wrong-footed on the recovery. Coby nails a step-back, fadeaway from 15 feet.

A good shot? Maybe. A better shot than his previous attempts? Definitely.

Field Goal #2

Here’s a different angle on the three nobody saw on TV. Coby received the ball after the inbound and fed Maye in the post. The defense collapsed, and Maye kicked it back out. ‘Twas an easy three, and much more preferred shot than a pull up 24-footer with 26 seconds still on the shot clock.

In both of these plays, the ball went into the post at least once (not shown on the jumper). Ball movement was improved, the entire team was involved and a higher quality shot was the result.

Field Goal #3

Realizing he doesn’t have numbers, White drifts over to follow Manley. It appears he even directs Manley to maintain his lane as he runs to the block. That natural screen gives Coby the space needed to pull up and take a three in rhythm with the pace of play. (He also had an open passing lane to Manley as another option).

Using patience, maintaining pace, directing his teammate, and reading the defense White finds himself open for the bucket. It’s a very different shot than his misses in the first half even if it’s taken just as quickly.

What’s Next?

So there you have it. The full Coby experience. A few made shots, some playmaking, some ill-advised decisions, and a turnover (he finished with five).

It should be noted, for as prolific as Coby’s offense has been, his defense is still a major work in progress. Against Gonzaga, UNC was actually -3 with Coby in the game. His overall efficiency for the season is 17.1. Not bad, but not much better than Seventh Woods. Though not as fast paced when running the offense, Woods has an efficiency of 16.6 because of his play on both ends of the court.

Just 10 games into White’s college education, none of this is a surprise or a major concern. White has been as good as advertised and improving with every game. With freshmen, you take the good with the bad. It’s a delicate balance to allow players like Coby to stay aggressive while being patient with mistakes of inexperience (an important distinction from mistakes caused by selfishness and/or stubbornness).

Check back later this week for a breakdown of Seventh Woods’ game.