Coby White

Bulls Q&A: Coby White on new responsibility and routines, Most Improved Player chances

Fifth-year guard is characteristically introspective during shooting slump in otherwise breakout season

NBC Universal, Inc.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

NEW YORK --- This has been a different and demanding season for Coby White---in a good way.

That may lead to some down moments, like the current 38-for-112 shooting slump (33.9 percent) he’s in over his last seven games. But ultimately, say the ones who are around him the most, this explosive mix of more minutes and higher usage and greater leadership and playmaking responsibilities will lead to a competitive response.

“I’ve asked a lot of him,” Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “And he’s been great trying to lead.”

At first glance, White’s fifth season resembles his second. He started 54 games that season and averaged 15.1 points with a usage rate of 22.5. This season, White has started 69 games and averaged 19.3 points with a usage rate of 22.8.

But from sitting fourth in the NBA in total minutes to playing through a left wrist injury all season to growing as a two-way player to drawing more defensive attention, this season feels totally different. He’s no longer merely a scorer who can get hot and go on a binge. He’s a team leader who has become a foundational piece for the franchise moving forward.

“This has been really great for his growth this year. Because he’s starting to see what it’s like to be an elevated and elite player in this league,” Donovan said. “What it comes down to is consistency.

“And he’s never been a complainer or a guy who makes excuses. That’s something I admire and respect a great deal.”

Against this backdrop, White, who will be in the running to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player, offered his characteristic introspection during an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

NBC Sports Chicago: Does this season feel different to you?

Coby White: As in, what way?

You take the answer any direction you want.

It’s different, yeah.

My turn: In what ways?

My role. Vocal, being more of a leader. Having more responsibility, more usage, more challenges, more minutes. So I think everything has changed from my previous years.

Yeah, because when you look at it, your second season looks somewhat similar statistically. But this season just feels so different to me as an observer.

My second season was cool, bro. But we weren’t as competitive as we are now. I think that’s what makes a huge difference. We’re playing for something now. My second season, it was cool. I averaged whatever. But I just feel like this year . . . my second year I was just out there playing. Like, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I was just out there hooping. This year, I know what’s going on. I know more of what I’m doing. Obviously, I still have to get better. But I feel I’ve grown as a player and person so much since that second season that this feels different.

How comfortable are you with using your voice?

I’m comfortable. I’m growing. I was talking to AC (Alex Caruso) last game. I was telling him: I found my voice last year. OK, cool. The challenge this year is with the importance I have on the team, with the role that I have, with the amount of minutes I play, how can I continue to lead on a consistent basis? In the course of a game, emotions are high. A lot of variables go into each game. You’re human. You’re obviously aware of how you’re playing in any given game. And that’s what I was talking to AC about and he said being consistent with your voice no matter how it’s going for you was one of the hardest things he had to learn. No matter how the game is going or how I’m playing, I want to continue to consistently use my voice and bring my spirit to uplift my teammates and not do it on an inconsistent basis. I feel like I have to continue to grow there.

This may seem like a small thing, but your media responsibilities have grown too and you don’t like to talk about yourself.

That’s a difference too, bro. You gotta make some sacrifices. Most of us here have routines. We like to do everything to a pinpoint. Sometimes for me, it’s not like I don’t want to do media. But it messes up my routine and my flow. I still do it because it’s part of the job and it’s important. But learning how to deal with and navigate the increased media responsibilities has been a learning point for me. It’s tough. You all do ask some tricky questions sometimes. That’s your job. For me, it’s been how can I navigate this and answer the questions properly while keeping some sort of routine.

Your offdays are different now too, right? They’re more like recovery days instead of work days. How have you handled that?

I haven’t handled that very well, if I’m being honest. Coming into this season, I didn’t expect to be playing all these minutes. I just wanted to come in, prove I can be a starting guard in this league and lead my team. With injuries, opportunity presented itself. And I wanted to take advantage. It started early on. I was working out a ton. I think I worked out a little too much early on, too. That played a part. It’s difficult for me. I’m a workout guy. I like to get in the gym and actually get work in, not just get up shots. It’s been difficult for me to navigate. Everyone is telling me---and what I’ve come to understand is---that the game is the most important thing. So for me to have legs during the game is the most important thing. It’s been hard for me. I’ve been getting better at it.

Is that going to be part of your evolution for this offseason?

That’s something me and (player development coach) Ty Abbott talked about too. He talked about me solidifying myself as a player now so going into next season, we have to sit down and figure out a way where you still feel comfortable and in a rhythm without putting too much wear and tear on your body on those off days. I’ve had to change a lot of stuff in my routine, even game-day routines. After every shootaround, I used to shoot for 30 or 40 minutes. Now it’s down to like 12 to 15 minutes. It’s been a learning process. It’s an exciting learning process. This is what you want as a player. But it has been difficult to adjust.

You’ve talked about what winning Most Improved Player would mean to you. But I’ve never asked you if you think you deserve the award?

Yes, I think a lot of guys deserve it. 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. 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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