It’s been a weird NBA season, and the pre-bubble times are but a distant memory, but that doesn’t make them completely irrelevant, as the first wave of NBA awards has been announced: including Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and the All-Rookie First and Second Team. That last one is the most important for our purposes, as former Tar Heel, and 7th overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, Coby White, has been named to the All-Rookie Second Team:
2019-20 NBA All-Rookie teams:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 15, 2020
First team: Ja Morant, Kendrick Nunn, Zion Williamson, Brandon Clarke, Eric Paschall
Second team: Coby White, Tyler Herro, Terence Davis II, PJ Washington, Rui Hachimura
While the NBA’s press release says that media votes for these teams regardless of position, the voting tends to be somewhat by position anyways: you can see that generally speaking, both teams above have a point guard, two wings, and two forwards. This means that Coby was voted the 2nd best point guard in this rookie class, ahead of Darius Garland (taken 5th overall), and only behind Morant, who was this year’s only unanimous selection to the all-rookie First Team. Overall, looking at the vote tallies, White was the 8th-highest vote getter among all rookies, with 8 votes for the first team and 74 for the second team (of 100 total voters). Of note, Cameron Johnson received three votes for the second team (and should have received more) as well.
After being drafted by Chicago, to the everlasting delight of our own Brandon Anderson, White came off the bench most of the year for the Bulls in the midst of nonstop coaching malpractice by Jim Boylen, who had a lot of problems but chief among them an inability to commit to roster development with a young roster that clearly wasn’t going to make any playoff noise. His role was, simply put, to be a microwave scorer and sharpshooter rather than a true point guard (most of his early minutes were spent backing up the 2 rather than the 1), and he had his ups and downs doing so. To start the season, he was shooting the ball almost every time he touched it, but at only okay efficiency at best - about average 3-point shooting, below average 2-point shooting. He got more comfortable as the season went on, though, periodically popping in explosive scoring nights such as a 25-point game in October (his second ever NBA game), efforts of 26, 27, and 28 points in November, and then a mostly quiet winter before, near the end of February when it became clear internally that Chicago had nothing to play for and Boylen’s job was doomed, Coby simply exploded. Over the Bulls’ last 10 games of the regular season before COVID-19 put an early end to non-playoff teams’ years, he scored 12, 33, 33, 35, 22, 19, 22, 22, 26, 21, and 20 points, shooting 47% overall, 41% from distance, and 89.5% from the free throw line en route to being named February’s NBA Rookie of the Month. Nearly every game of his was a highlight reel, including a more diverse scoring portfolio than he’d had previously (only about half his shots were threes) and, as he played on the ball more, a workable average of 4.3 assists per game. He was good enough even to start the Bulls’ last game at point guard after an entire season of reluctance. The Bulls won against the Cavaliers, possibly a good omen for White’s career going forward.
Coby finished the season with averages of 13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 0.8 steals per game on 39% shooting overall and 35.4% three-point shooting on 6 threes per game, though his final stretch showed clearly that he’s got room to get a lot better in volume and efficiency in the right role and on a team that’s playing for something. The eye test showed that he’s already progressed mightily as a passer since his time at Carolina, making off-hand passes into tight spaces and using his eyes to look off defenders, in addition to the scoring prowess he showed in his time as a Tar Heel. The Bulls are currently looking for a new head coach who will know how to put the pieces on the team’s roster together, including, presumably, putting Coby at the head of it all. As he’s already shown, he’s got the stuff to take them pretty far. This accolade, hopefully, is just the beginning. Now have some season highlights from his rookie season: