With Zach LaVine out, it could be time for Bulls to save Coby White

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bulls guard Coby White passes to Nikola Vucevic while stuck in traffic during Monday's win over the Celtics in Boston.

    Bulls guard Coby White passes to Nikola Vucevic while stuck in traffic during Monday's win over the Celtics in Boston. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/20/2021 5:06 PM

The NBA's play-in tournament has given some life to perpetually low-performing teams like the Bulls. And a little playoff experience would be good for this group.

But here's another important goal for the franchise before this season ends: Save Coby White.

 

Increase his usage. Throw him a life preserver. Just find a way to end his sophomore season on a high note.

Monday was a good start. White scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half as the Bulls pulled off a surprising -- let's call it very surprising -- 102-96 road win over a Boston Celtics squad that had won six in a row.

"Yeah, our M.O. has been we can't finish games," White said. "I think the last two games we finished very well and we took steps in the right direction."

I'll never defend the Bulls' decision to rebuild in 2017, and the No. 1 reason not to do it is the NBA draft is too unpredictable in the era of one-and-done college players.

Look at the Bulls' four top 10 picks since the rebuild began. Wendell Carter Jr. is gone, but he did help being back an all-star in center Nikola Vucevic. It feels like Lauri Markkanen has one foot out the door as he heads to restricted free agency, although the Bulls could choose to match an offer from another team.

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The jury's out on Patrick Williams, who won't turn 20 until August. That leaves White, who ended last season with a flash of brilliance. Over the last nine games, he averaged 26.1 points, while shooting 48 percent overall and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.

Early in his rookie season, he also had that two-game stretch of hitting 13 3-pointers in three consecutive quarters. The NBA record for 3s in a game is 14.

What happened to that version of White? He scored 36 points at Sacramento Jan. 6 and 30 against New Orleans Feb. 10. His third-highest scoring game was 27 on Friday against Memphis, the first game missed by Zach LaVine due to health and safety protocols.

In the first three weeks after the Bulls traded for Vucevic and four others, White averaged just 9.4 points. Now with LaVine out, it's the perfect time to focus on getting White on the right path.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Remember all the misguided criticism given to former coach Jim Boylen for not starting White until the last game before the season was paused? This year, Billy Donovan seemed to be an offense-friendly coach, but he pulled White from the starting lineup in March.

It was the wrong move. The Bulls are 18-21 this season when White starts, 6-12 when Tomas Satoransky starts. Satoransky's a good player, but he's not a starting-caliber NBA point guard. White might be someday. Or maybe bringing instant offense off the bench will be his best role. But the Bulls need him to be something.

After Monday's game, White was asked if this season has been any tougher to deal with than his rookie season.

"I've just got a strong support system," White said. "My family's behind me. My best friends are behind me. My teammates are behind me. No one said it would be easy. So I feel like this year, it's been hard, but I feel like I've learned a lot."

White's attitude is one reason to believe in him. There's no b.s. in his personality. He's a serious, enthusiastic basketball player.

And he's getting plenty of advice. In the three games since he rejoined the starting lineup, White has 23 assists compared to 6 turnovers. He credited assistant coach and legendary point guard Maurice Cheeks for keeping his turnovers low.

"He's been on me about it," White said. "Just telling me to make the simple play and go from A to B, not A to D or A to C. Make it simple."

Teammate Garrett Temple also volunteered that he's been in White's ear frequently.

"Coby probably thinks I talk too much," Temple said. "I definitely try to talk through things, we were just lifting together after the game. We watch film together every now and then."

White also talked about how he gets a text from his brother Will at halftime of every game. Monday's message was Daniel Theis was open on the double-drag. Coby said he already knew by the time he read the text.

These past two games have been an eye-opener, because just when it appeared the Bulls didn't have the personnel to play solid defense, they held Cleveland and Boston below 100 in consecutive games, something they've done just six times all season.

There were some winning defensive plays late in the fourth quarter. White got a steal with about a minute left. Vucevic blocked a shot to stop a Celtics fast break.

The biggest difference is likely the steady veteran guidance of Temple, who missed 15 games with a couple of injuries. Monday was his fourth game back and he scored 13 points, his first double-digit scoring night in two months.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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