For the longest time I couldn’t read the tattoo on the back of Coby White’s right(?) arm. It looked like a bar code or maybe a series of ancient glyphs. It seemed impossible to cipher. It finally dawned on me earlier this season that the tattoo artist had used negative space to form the words “Be You” on Coby’s arm. Very nifty. It’s a decent piece of ink, and far better advice for the young scorer than anything I could come up with. For most of this season, White has struggled to be something he’s not. He’s tried to turn himself into Chris Paul, a super guard that makes all the right reads and routinely plays the defense for chumps, but that’s not who Coby White is.
In fact, that piece of ink is also good advice for fellow Bull, Lauri Markkanen. He has been trying to fit himself into other peoples expectation boxes for so long, we no longer recognize the 7 foot, athletic, running and gunning big we all fell in love with his rookie season. Markkanen hasn’t seemed comfortable on the court for 2 seasons. His head has been filled with so many ideas about who he should be and how he should play, he can’t be himself anymore. He can’t play his game on a consistent basis.
Last night, Coby White was Coby White, and Lauri Markkanen was Lauri Markkanen, and the Bulls beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 106-96.
After the game, Coach Donovan spoke about his expectations for Coby and Lauri the rest of the season. Donovan wants them to make it hard for him to substitute them out of games. That’s the goal he set. Make it hard for him to pull them off the court. He didn’t talk about how many points they needed to score. He didn’t set arbitrary numbers for assists, or rebounds. He just wants them to play up to their capabilities, to be active, contributing, members of the rotation.
… And they’re going to need to be if the Bulls are going to make the playoffs, or play-in tournament this season. If you haven’t heard by now, Zach LaVine will be missing the next 8 or so games (at least) while he deals with Covid 19. There’s not much else to be said about the situation except that it’s unfortunate, and I hope Zach and his family get through it.
For Lauri and Coby, this means the spotlight will continue to focus on them. As the remaining “core” of the GarPax rebuild, they are still extremely important players for the immediate success of this Bulls team. They need to be themselves. They need to block out the expectations, ignore the criticisms, focus on what they do well, and play basketball.
We saw it in the Cleveland game last night…
White was breaking down the defense with his dribble, and making easy passes to his open teammates. Whether or not those teammates hit their shots or swung the ball to another, more open, player, White was making the passes he knew he could make. He kept the game simple, and it paid off. He was scrappy on defense, getting over screens, sticking as best he could to the player he was defending, diving for loose balls, grabbing rebounds, and making effort plays. He didn’t quit on plays, even picking up a hard foul as he tried to chase down and block a Cleveland fast-break dunk. And even though he scored less than 10 points the entire game, it was the most “Coby White” game I’ve seen from him this entire season. In terms of effort, energy, and enthusiasm, Coby White was Coby White.
Lauri had just as enthusiastic a game as Coby did. He scored from all three levels. He scored in the post early, from mid-range late in the game, and from beyond the 3 point arc all throughout. He moved without the ball, cutting across the basket, making himself available for passes, and contributing to the flow of the offense. He wasn’t a stationary shooter along the arc. He moved the ball well, making good passes when he didn’t have a lane or a shot. Like Coby, he played defense to the best of his abilities. He had a couple of brilliant weakside help plays, where he anticipated the baseline drive, moving off his man in the post in order to block the path to the basket, completely cutting off the Cleveland ball handler and forcing some difficult shots at the end of the possession. He was active on the glass, ripping down rebounds, and fighting for positioning under the basket. He had a strong performance, the kind that will get a player paid when done consistently. Lauri Markkanen was Lauri Markkanen.
For all the harsh criticism White and Markkanen have endured this season, there is still plenty of time, and now with Zach out, plenty of opportunity, for them to change some minds. This week alone, the Bulls will be facing stiff competition in the form of the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, and Miami Heat, oh, and a rematch with Cleveland smack-dab in the middle of it all. The Bulls will need strong performances from White and Markkanen against some of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, especially if they intend on holding onto, or rising above the 10th seed.
Markkanen and White are still young players, and both are still trying to figure out who they are on this team, and in the NBA, but the best advice for them is already inked into Coby’s skin: Be You. It is certainly necessary for them to grow and adapt as professionals, to try new things and stretch the limits of their game, but they can’t abandon who they are as players in order to appease the masses. They need to work on integrating their unique gifts with the rest of the team.
In short: Be You, Coby White. Be You, Lauri Markkanen.
Until they are, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!