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The Dean’s List: Coby White has what it takes to be a star in the NBA

In year two of his NBA career, former Tar Heel Coby White is doing everything he can to show he belongs.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to The Dean’s List! The weekly segment that brings readers hot takes, freezing cold takes, and everything in between from the world of Carolina athletics.

Former UNC point guard and current Chicago Bull Coby White has been going through a rough time as of late. Ever since he dropped a career-high 36 points against the Sacramento Kings, White has been struggling with his shooting efficiency, and on Sunday night it was so bad that he left the game without a single point. He followed up his tough shooting night the next day with a 10-point performance against the Houston Rockets, but he only managed to knock down four of his 12 shots from the field. So what did White do right after the game? If you are familiar with his work ethic well enough, you likely know the answer: he returned to the court to work on his shot.

Keep this in mind for later in this article, but for now let’s discuss what I left out of this story. Over the last five games in which he has struggled shooting the ball, Coby White has averaged 6.6 assists per game. For Tar Heel fans we know how big of a deal this is, because with the exception of the game against Davidson when he had one field goal and seven assists, a lot of White’s game has been attached to his ability to shoot the ball. His best games in Carolina blue were the ones that he shot 50% from the field and from deep, and in all three of those games he had eight assists and three or less turnovers. Perhaps no recent performance was more shocking than his 9-point 13 assist game against the Los Angeles Clippers, a game in which he only made 36.4% of his shots and missed all four attempts from the perimeter. Ladies and gentlemen, this is growth.

So why did it take so long for this growth to start to show? Rob Shaefer from NBC Sports Chicago spoke with his teammate Denzel Valentine to get the answer:

“I think last year kind of hurt him a little bit, because he’s a point guard, you know, but last year he was more of a coming off the bench and scoring,” teammate Denzel Valentine said after the Rockets game. ”So that kind of hurt his development a little bit. But he’s figuring it out. People gotta give him credit. He’s switching to a new role this year, being the starting point guard, and it comes with a lot of pressure. People just expect him to just come in and get the point guard position right away when he had a whole different role last year.”

So, about last year: imagine going through the NBA Draft Combine as a point guard, getting drafted as a lottery pick, and then being given a role in which has absolutely no definition, and oh by the way, has you as the fourth option off of the bench behind Tomas Satoransky, Kris Dunn, and Ryan Arcidiacono (at the beginning, anyways). In theory White was given the “point guard” role when he was on the court, but the fact of the matter is that former head coach Jim Boylen had no idea how to use his rookie, his star player, his big men...really anybody. White was essentially a positionless guard in a terrible system, and it was only when Billy Donovan arrived this season that a definitive role was established. He is the starting point guard for the Chicago Bulls, but he is also very much a point guard in development.

To this point, however, his development is going really well. Over the summer White learned to become a lot more vocal, and is truly improving in the facilitation aspect of his game. It helps that Donovan’s system actually looks like a NBA system. Last year was NOT that. With that said, every game White only seems to be getting better and better and is doing so without needing to score all the time. Sure, there are still some habits that haven’t died yet, like his turnover issues, forcing his offense at times, and getting killed on ball screens. These are all very fixable things, and that brings us back to where we started: the young point guard leaving extra sweat on the court after a win against the Houston Rockets.

Anybody who knows what kind of person Coby White is knows that the only thing that is going to defeat him in life is himself. He is an extremely gifted, highly motivated, relentless player that will win at any cost. Does a win mean scoring zero points against a team with one of the best players in the NBA? So be it. Does it mean logging a rebound double-double against the Portland Trailblazers? Sure, why not? But whether it’s a win or a loss, one thing is for certain: White doesn’t just want to be a good NBA player, he wants to be special. He doesn’t want to be just a scoring guard, he wants to be a point guard. He doesn’t want to just hang 36 points on a team in a loss. He wants to win.

A lot of Bulls fans have debated whether or not he is a point guard and/or whether or not he will be a good fit for this rejuvenated Bulls team. I for one find any doubt in just who this kid is to be hilarious, and quite frankly a bit insulting. This season in all intents and purposes Coby White’s rookie year. Forget what happened last year, because it truly is worth removing from our memories to be lost in a black hole of horrific sports memories. Coby White WILL be special, and he will achieve everything that he is setting out to do by any means necessary.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Denzel Valentine.

“He’s gonna get it. He’s a great basketball player, he’s a hard worker, he’s gonna figure it out. And he’s putting up shots. He’s gonna figure it out one way or another.”