All we’ve heard about Coby White is that he’s fast. ‘‘Blazing’’ and ‘‘lightning’’ have been used to describe his speed. And if you watched him go all-out, his very tall hair bowing to the breeze he creates when he’s running, you know those words to be accurate.
Here’s hoping Bulls coach Jim Boylen sprinted, White-like, to his chalkboard when the team took the North Carolina guard with the seventh overall pick Thursday in the NBA Draft. If Boylen doesn’t amp up the Bulls’ 10 mph-under-the-speed-limit offense, then White’s talents will be wasted. Handing the kid the keys to a methodical attack would be like handing a songbook of folk standards to Yo Gotti. And, yes, I did just do a Google search of rappers.
‘‘Jim wants to play faster,’’ Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said Thursday. ‘‘Jim has a philosophy [that] the multiple-ballhandler system is something that lends itself to playing faster because you can grab the ball off the board, hopefully, and guys can push it themselves.
‘‘But you need a commitment to running. And I don’t think we’ve always had guys committed to running. And that will be something from training camp and hopefully this summer [that] I know Jim wants to emphasize.’’
The debate about what White is, a point guard or a shooting guard, isn’t really a debate. He’s a 6-5 blur when he’s zooming upcourt with the ball. He should be doing that often with the Bulls and dragging Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. with him. Who’s playing what position won’t matter much when everyone is on the run.
White can get to the basket or dump the ball to his shooters. I worry that his 185-pound frame won’t be able to take the pounding that comes with going to the hoop in the NBA. Then I think about Stephen Curry’s regular forays into the lane, and the worry eases a bit. But just a bit.
We’re always looking for comparables in sports, which is why I just ventured into Curry territory. That’s unfair, heading toward ridiculous. There’s no one like Steph. No one has his shooting touch. But lost in all the talk about White’s speed is his jumper. He has a sweet stroke. The combination of a track star’s burst and a shooting guard’s touch is why he broke Michael Jordan’s freshman scoring record at North Carolina. And now I’ve mentioned Curry and MJ while discussing White. Good luck, Coby!
Rebuilding teams need to hit on their lottery picks. Did the Bulls hit on this one? I don’t like to waffle, but I’m going to go all Eggo on you here. I like the idea of this pick. I like the idea of a speedy guard who hopefully will prod Boylen out of his old-school, half-court mindset. I like that White has an outside shot and isn’t a sawed-off Ben Simmons.
But I do worry about the abuse his body is going to take at the next level. That was always the concern about Derrick Rose, who attacked the basket first and thought about his body second, if not fifth. And White has a much more willowy frame than Rose does.
White was sloppy with the ball in his one season of college, and that’s not going to work in the NBA. It hasn’t worked for Kris Dunn, who was supposed to be the Bulls’ point guard of the future but wasn’t. There’s a looseness to White’s game that leads to turnovers and other mistakes. He needs to tighten that up.
Inside those criticisms are a couple of quandaries for White and the Bulls: If he puts on more muscle to withstand the NBA grind, will it take away from his speed? And if he buttons down his game to become a more responsible guard, will he cease being the player who energized the Tar Heels and their fans?
That’s for Boylen and Paxson to figure out. Bears coach Matt Nagy’s mantra to his players is ‘‘Be You.’’ Do the things that got you to where you are now. Do them to the best of your ability. So the questions involving White are: Will Boylen loosen up the offense enough for White to be himself? Will White be able to streamline his game without losing what made him so effective in college?
This is what happens when you choose seventh in the first round. There’s no slam-dunk pick at that stage of the draft. After the first few selections, everyone has question marks. There’s no running away from those questions, but a good first step by Boylen would be letting White try. Run, Coby, run. And take the Bulls with you.