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Bulls are still defensive about making Coby White a starter ... for now

White has been stellar his last two games, scoring 33 points in each and putting his name in the record books. But Bulls coach Jim Boylen wants him focusing on defense, as well as what he’s been doing on the offensive end. That’s why starting is not an option right now.

“This year for me wasn’t about starting, it wasn’t about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season,’’ the Bulls’ Coby White said.
“This year for me wasn’t about starting, it wasn’t about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season,’’ the Bulls’ Coby White said.
Nick Wass/AP

Coby White didn’t hit the rookie wall in December and January

That would be too kind.

No, the rookie wall actually hunted the first-year Bulls guard down, cornered him, and made sure to not only hit first, but hard.

In 17 games played last month, White scored in single digits in eight of them, shot just 33.3 percent from three-point range, and averaged 1.9 assists to 1.5 turnovers per game.

Back in December, White averaged just 9.4 points per game, shooting just 37.7 percent from the field.

That’s why his last two games have been so impressive.

It isn’t often that a 20-year-old — and White just turned that two weeks ago — can flip the switch on a spiraling rookie campaign to not only score 33 points in back-to-back games, but do so off the bench.

Heck yeah it was historic.

Not only did White join Michael Jordan as the only Bulls rookie in franchise history to score 30-plus points in back-to-back games, but was the first rookie reserve in league history to accomplish that feat since the NBA started tracking such stats in the 1970-71 season.

Maybe it was being overlooked in the Rising Stars Game over the All-Star Weekend, or maybe it was simply White going with a new hairstyle. He wasn’t dismissing either scenario in sparking his sudden turnaround, but coach Jim Boylen credited the No. 7 overall pick for just some good old fashioned extra work in the gym.

“I think he’s been aggressive in transition, I think his finishing has been terrific, he’s had the ball up and out, he’s got it out of his stomach, something he’s working on,’’ Boylen said of White since the All-Star break. “I think his work pre-practice, post-practice is paying off.’’

And at what price is it paying off? Enough to move White back into the top 10 for rookie scoring this season, but not enough to change Boylen’s mind on how to use him.

With Kris Dunn (right MCL) likely out for the season and the Bulls basically in developmental mode, why not just start White and give that experience to him?

“We got a second group that’s playing pretty good again, and we’re also melding Coby into that first group at times in the game,’’ Boylen said, when asked about starting White to help jumpstart an inconsistent first unit. “So, coming off two 33-point games, I don’t know if it makes sense to [start him].’’

An explanation that White is surprisingly all behind.

In his mind finishing games is much more important than starting them.

“This year for me wasn’t about starting, it wasn’t about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season,’’ White said. “That’s the main thing in this league, you just keep getting better. You don’t want to be a guy that just stays the same the whole time.’’

That’s why this recent scoring burst is so important for White. While asking for 33 points each night is completely unrealistic, having White be a scoring threat, as well as tightening up his defense can go a long way in possibly changing Boylen’s mind over the final six weeks.

At least that’s the approach White is taking, focusing on the defensive side of the ball lately.

“Coach Boylen was preaching to me, you gotta play defense you gotta play defense, so I took it as a challenge,’’ White said. “I still can get better at it, but he pushes me, he pushes me to be a good player, so I can’t knock him for that and that’s the type of coach I want.’’