Why The Bulls’ Coby White Could Be An X Factor Vs. Dollars – NBC Chicago
Why White could be an X factor in the Bulls-Bucks series originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The odds are against the Chicago Bulls in their first-round playoff game with the Bucks. Not only have the Bulls dropped all four regular season meetings with Milwaukee, they’ve lost 16 of the last 17 to their interstate rival.
But there is a player – unnamed DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine or Nikola Vucevic – which, if sharp, could turn out to be an X-Factor. If not by upsetting a colossal series, at least by keeping the procedure competitive.
This player is Coby White.
There aren’t many NBA teams White has done worse against this season than the Bucks. In four encounters, the Bulls goaltender shot 27.5 percent from the field and an even paltry 5-for-26 from 3-point range, averaging 7 points per game. That’s well below his season average of 12.7 points, which he racked up using career-high shooting splits from the field (43.3%) and 3-point range (38, 5%).
“I just didn’t hit any shots,” White said after practice for the Bulls on Wednesday morning, particularly in reference to his struggles against the Bucks. “I had a lot of open shots. They’re a heavy team. They help a lot. I just have to knock them down, at the end of the day. I don’t count it for anything, I don’t have everything just don’t hit any punches against them.
This is where the key lies. When White refers to the Bucks’ assist bliss, he’s referring to their schematic emphasis on packing the paint on the stone opponent’s discs. It’s a strategy that has helped Milwaukee develop one of the stingiest interior defenses in the league during Mike Budenholzer’s tenure, and the numbers to shift increased focus to the downhill attacks of DeRozan and LaVine.
It also presents an opportunity.
The Bucks’ commitment to defending the rim has, for years, resulted in allowing opponents a high volume of 3-point attempts from the opponent. This season, Bucks opponents have averaged 40.6 3-point attempts per game, by far the most in the league. In three of Budenholzer’s four seasons, they placed 30th in that category. In the other, they were 28th.
It’s not an area, on paper, that the Bulls are well equipped to exploit. Lonzo Ball, the team’s leading 3-point shooter, has already been dropped from the series. The Bulls shot a combined 32.5% from the deepest of the Bucks’ season streak. And despite a torrid overall percentage at the start of the season, the Bulls were the weakest 3-point shooting team in the league all year, and connected on just 34.8% of their long-range attempts. in 23 post-All-Star break games, a last-10 mark.
Whether you attribute the latter dynamic to natural regression, Ball’s absence, schedule hardening, or some combination of the three, it’s a problem in this game. White ended a generally strong third season with a steep drop, shooting 35.9% from the field in his last 11 appearances. This sample featured two lopsided losses to Milwaukee. At one point, he’s flown 22 of 24 3-point attempts over a four-game span.
But White also shot 40.1% from 3-point range on 5.9 attempts per game before the All-Star break and proved powerful enough in his NBA career to catch fire at any moment. This shot provides the ability to swing games, as long as his decision-making and defense are good enough to keep him on the court.
“You always need another guy who can make a play and can make a shot. Clearly at this time of year with the level of players that Milwaukee has, on the right, you don’t keep Giannis (Antetokounmpo) with a player or (Khris) Middleton with a player or (Jrue) Holiday with a player. The reason they (the Bucks) are good is because they will move the ball, split the ball and find open people,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “These guys get a lot of attention, just like Vooch, Zach and DeMar get a lot of attention. So having a guy like Coby to be able to play in that second team and have opportunities would be really helpful.
Taking advantage of those opportunities would go a long way to easing the defensive pressure directed at DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević, and give the Bulls’ stars some space to operate.
But as Donovan pointed out, it goes beyond the point shot. The Bucks compensate to allow as many 3s as they do by spinning hard and using their length to contest. Those closures could open up traffic lanes if the Bulls are willing to exploit them — and that means all of the team’s auxiliary offensive options, not just White.
“Not just me, but for everyone else. AC (Alex Caruso), Ayo (Dosunmu), Pat (Williams),” White said. “For all of us, we are going to have opportunities to have open eyes and we just have to take advantage of them.”
He may be the Bulls’ best hope.