Coby White has topped 30 points in three straight games, but does it really matter if he continues to come off the bench for the Bulls?
The Chicago Bulls lost a close one, 124-122, to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night. Zach LaVine led the way in the losing effort with 41 points, while rookie Coby White scored a career-high 35 points to extend his streak of 30-plus point games to three.
White has come off the bench in all 59 games this season, averaging 12.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game along the way. But he has had a nice breakout in February, averaging 19.9 points, 4.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds while making 40 percent of his 3-pointers. Perhaps not coincidentally, he has also had an uptick in playing time this month (30.9 minutes per game). That increase in minutes has come at least partially due to Kris Dunn suffering a knee injury before the All-Star break, which may cost Dunn the season.
With a 37-80 record as Bulls’ head coach, and a lot of missteps along the way, it’s easy to criticize every decision Jim Boylen makes. So it’s natural he is being asked about starting White, and he answered the question again after Tuesday night’s game. To further press the issue, when White and LaVine were on the floor together the Bulls outscored the Thunder 81-61.
White has played 30 minutes or more in five straight games, and in six of the last seven. So he’s playing plenty, and over the last two games he’s a robust +31 (a team-high +15 against Oklahoma City).
There is a strong case for White to be starting, if only in a cosmetic, traditionally procedural sense. But he has been playing starter-level minutes lately, and even as he inevitably cools from what has been a historic hot streak good production and positive impact should continue.
Boylen may ultimately have to relent and put White in the starting lineup. But it’s really a distinction without a difference, as long as White is playing a lot and being a productive player. Among the straws that may break the camel’s back, i.e. lead to Boylen being fired, keeping White on the bench at the beginning of games is a small, inconsequential one.