Chicago Bulls

Bulls' DeMar DeRozan, Coby White finalists for NBA awards

Veteran scorer in running for Clutch Player of the Year, while 5th-year guard could be Most Improved

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

Two days after the Chicago Bulls season ended in disappointing fashion, two players received some individual consolation.

As expected, the NBA announced that DeMar DeRozan is a finalist for the Clutch Player of the Year award, while Coby White is one of three players who could be named the league's Most Improved Player.

It's the second year of the Clutch Player of the Year award that is named after Jerry West and it's the second straight season in which DeRozan is a finalist. Stephen Curry and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are the others.

"It's always an honor. I don't ever take any of that lightly," DeRozan said recently in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Leading the league in fourth-quarter scoring means a lot. It just shows the trust my teammates and coaches have in me. Ayo (Dosunmu) always tells me to bring us home. That's a cool thing to have with my teammates pushing me."

DeRozan led the NBA in fourth-quarter and overtime points, scoring 550 and a franchise-record 56, respectively. He ranked second in clutch points with 182, trailing only Stephen Curry. He and Curry were the only two players with at least 130 clutch points---defined as coming in a game within five points or less and 5 minutes or less---while shooting at least 45 percent.

DeRozan shot 48.7 percent in the clutch as the Bulls led the NBA in clutch victories with 27, overtime victories with seven and clutch minutes played. He led the NBA in clutch free throws made and ranked second behind Curry in clutch field goals made.

DeRozan, who had back-to-back 17-point fourth quarters, long has been known as one of the game's best closers. As a student of the history of the game, he also appreciates that the award, won by Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox last season, is named after West, the Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Famer.

"I just always try to relish the big moments of the game," DeRozan said. "I'm a big fan of football. And at a young age, I always used to pay attention to the quarterbacks in the 2-minute drill. I tried to apply that mindset to basketball.

"I've also made boxing references before. Championship rounds go to another level mentally, emotionally. I try to channel my energy to those moments. And the game slows down for me then a lot. At that point, you're three quarters in and you've taken in as much data as you need. It's kind of like a chess game come the fourth quarter. And I always want to take on that moment."

As for White, he averaged a career-high 19.1 points per game with the highest points-per-game increase in the league at 9.4. He also finished seventh in minutes played, with his 13.1 minutes per game jump also representing a league-high.

White was one of three NBA players with at least 1,000 points, 350 rebounds, 375 assists and 200 made 3-pointers, joining Luka Dončić and Dejounte Murray. His 209 3-pointers broke Zach LaVine's single-season franchise record of 204.

Tyrese Maxey and Alperen Şengün are the other finalists for the award.

"There are a lot of guys playing well this year. It would mean a lot if I would get that award---just to show the work," he said in a recent interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "And I always say, it would set a standard for other young guys in the league who maybe wasn’t looked at as a power right away. Like, ‘Aw, he was the seventh pick’ and not written off so much but looked at as, ‘He can’t make that leap.’ A lot of people say the leap comes from your second to third year. Mine came from my fourth to fifth year. There’s always still time. I’m only 24. Just continue to trust that work."

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