North Carolina Tar Heels freshman Coby White is one of the most exciting players in this class. ESPN’s 23rd ranked recruit of 2018, White’s well-rounded, dynamic scoring package made me consider him a lottery pick before the season. As of now, he has only solidified that ranking, usurping the highly touted Nassir Little as North Carolina’s best NBA Draft prospect.
Unlike the other top guards in this class — the Ja Morants and Darius Garlands of the world– White is less of a true point guard. Standing 6’5″, he fits into the mold of a combo guard rather than a true facilitator type. Compared to Morant and Garland, he’s the best scorer of the trio. Him vs Garland as scorers is an interesting debate, but I’d give the edge to White, as we’ll see shortly.
What is momentum? At it’s simplest, Google defines momentum as “the impetus gained by a moving object.” Momentum is a powerful concept. A non-threat when it is stationary, a massive boulder barreling down a hill is nothing to mess with. Why? Momentum.
Coby White’s offensive onslaught comes on the back of his unique ability to harness the powers of momentum. From a standstill, White’s offense is significantly less threatening. His burst from a standstill is solid, but nothing special, certainly less than Ja Morant:
Without momentum, White can struggle to create an advantage on offense. Because of his high handle and lack of arm length, he struggles to beat high pressure and loses the ball far too easily:
When Coby White plays, he almost always pushes the ball right when he receives an inbound pass or corrals a rebound. This is the method to White’s madness; when he gets that head of steam, stopping him from scoring is a difficult task for any defender.
White is what happens when a mad scientist combines a Chevy with the brakes of a Ferrari. While he isn’t the most threatening accelerator, Coby White’s ability to decelerate is reminiscent of Russell Westbrook; he goes from 60-0 in an instant:
White’s stepback prowess comes from his technical precision as much as his physical gifts. On the above stepback three, Coby White extends his left leg to 45 degrees parallel to the ground to come to a skidding stop, before swiftly picking up his feet, setting himself for the shot.
That leg extension is the secret sauce for any great stepback artist; think James Harden, Luka Doncic. Watch Luka stab his right leg to force Andrew Wiggins to backpedal, opening up the window he needs to fire the three:
Shooting 38.4% from deep on 7.4 attempts in ACC play, Coby White is a bonafide shooter. That number is far from a fluke, as White passes the free throw percentage test (82%) and the 2-point percentage test (53.4%). He’s shooting 38.5% on triples at or beyond the NBA line and the eye test propound White’s limitless range:
Running in transition or semi-transition, White has a slew of moves in his bag that he whips out with regularity, fooling defenders and creating space. His favorites are the moves which facilitate his changing of speeds/directions: snatchbacks, behind the back dribbles, hesitations, etc. White’s movement style can best be described as jittery and herky-jerky but in the most complimentary way possible.
Emulating Chris Paul, White can change speeds and directions whenever he wants, keeping defenders on their heels. White breaks out a wicked dribble combo, putting his defender in the torture chamber with the between the legs/high cross/between the legs into the jumper:
With a quick behind the back dribble, White stops his movement completely and sends his defender to the floor. His thighs parallel to the court and his dribble tight and succinct, the defender has no chance to stop White from draining this trifecta:
What White lacks in strength and speed as a driver he makes up with that change of direction ability. While not the most athletic or strong, White can get into the paint with regularity because he controls the defense like a marionette. Wielding deadly hesitations and crossovers, White zigs his dribble all across the floor, getting to his spots with sharp cuts, as a great receiver would:
At times, White can become too reliant on moving away from the bucket to get his shots. Where a player like Ja Morant is always looking to go towards the rack (sometimes to his detriment), White looks to move away from it:
Let’s revisit this stepback three I showed earlier:
While White creates a hefty amount of space to get his shot off, he often eschews open driving lanes for these lower efficiency stepbacks and pull-ups. He’s not a great finisher but getting into the paint would open up his game more. Check out this freeze frame, where White has his defender beat but doesn’t take the open lane:
Again, White has a step on Jones here. Instead of looking to penetrate, White settles for this difficult stepback three:
And the freeze frame:
When White decides to take on the defense with some cajones, the result is often positive. His hesitation dribbles throw defenders off of their paths and his strength and balance help him absorb contact to finish plays:
Another issue with Coby White is his inability to switch between his passing and scoring programs. White has good vision and the gravity to make his passes effective, but often suffers from bad tunnel vision. He ignores dump offs and open shooters and takes difficult layups in their place:
Coby White is one of the best offensive prospects in this class. While score-first combo guard types are not usually archetypes I like to bet on, Coby White breaks the mold in more ways than one. Though not a focus of this particular breakdown, White’s defense is far above average for players of his age and position:
It isn’t hard to envision Coby White fitting in at the NBA level. At worst, his shooting volume and proficiency provides value as a floor spacer. However, his self-creation ability could be special for a team who chooses to optimize his skillsets. White’s future NBA team should have him move off of the ball often: not only to weaponize his shooting but to give him the head of steam he thrives off of.
Throwing White to the wolves–in pick and roll after pick and roll against the elite defenders of the NBA– isn’t going to yield positive results. Run him off of screens, let him push the ball after every rebound and reap the benefits of an elite offensive creator. If a team wants to unlock all of the offensive goodness that comes with Coby White that makes him worthy of a lottery pick, they must let him play with his favorite toy as often as possible: momentum.
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