The 2018-19 Knicks were a middling team in pace while holding court for dead last in offensive rating, assist percentage and effective field goal percentage — not exactly signifiers of a team that plays fast, smart, or together. The problems obviously ran deep and Coach Fizdale never got the requisite contribution from his stable of guards. All of whom were handed the keys at some point during the year.
When searching for a lead guard who will ramp up the tempo without forcing the issue, Coby White should be front and center. White could prove to be the best guard in the draft but right now looks like a back half of the lottery type guy. Always playing full steam ahead, an excellent shooting touch and keeping teammates engaged are the long and short of his appeal. More gumption on the defensive end, combined with an uptick in playmaking savvy will be the things that drive him toward the top of the heap.
To get a little deeper into the strengths and shortcomings of Coby White, I had a little chat with my good friend, Ashwin.
Stingy: So what sticks out for me with Coby, first and foremost, is that he constantly tests the mettle of the defense. Off misses or makes, he’s rushing downhill and seeing just how deep the water gets.
Shwinnypooh: Yes! Coby is very much the push-the-pace type of attack guard that Fiz craves so bad he actually compared Emmanuel Mudiay to Dwyane Wade. There’s something just about how he plays that I find extremely infectious. He really puts defenders on their heels and he’s a threat to breakdown a defense even when it has a chance to get set. He also has a knack for finding little crevasses inside to jitterbug his way to the rim between and around defenders.
For lead guards in the NBA to have a chance at becoming elite, there are two prominent scoring skills they must have: pull-up three point shooting and being able to break down a set defense from the top of the key. Coby has demonstrated his ability to do both of these things with some consistency at UNC, but you have to wonder if his 6’4” wingspan makes his finishing ability more of a concern in the NBA than it was in college. He’s also more of a pure drive-and-kick passer at this stage of his development rather than one who can direct an offense and make advanced reads.
So, I guess, my question to you is whether you see Coby as a combo guard or somebody with the necessary chops to be a full-time primary ball handler at the next level?
Stingy: I like to think of Coby as a “scoring lead guard”. He is perfectly comfortable initiating offense, but he isn’t exactly a work horse that you can just hang an entire offense on. If you have someone curling around a screen or a big that needs an early entry, White provides clean, actionable passes. The majority of his pure point guarding revolves around testing the water and seeing whether or not he should dive in. If a shot isn’t immediately available, he’ll swing or kick out and relocate. What you will see with White is that his handle is fairly strong but not elite level.
He has pet moves that are sharp, but what do his counters look like? We don’t get to see that so much. He may need to get under defenders to create space for his shots on the move, but he displayed the type of poise to render a somewhat unimpressive wingspan neutral, as opposed to a deficiency, by shooting 67% at the rim (per hoop-math.com).
Where his reach may turn into a real problem is on the defensive end. White hasn’t shown the natural instincts navigating screens and often just tries to use quickness to overcome bad footwork or suspect effort. Something that drives me crazy is seeing him jump to a spot defensively. Yes, it’s effort but I’d like to see him chop his feet to close down space, that way he can react appropriately to what the opponent is trying to do.
He also has an annoying tendency to shuffle in and look at defensive boards, rather than find a body to box out, gang rebound and stay connected with his assignment. Add on his wiry build with slim waist and shoulders, there should be some concern over how much beef is on this hot dog. Are these just the foibles of youth or is Coby content to have a good looking gallop to go with his clean shooting stroke?
Shwinny: That’s a good question. It’s hard to say with any certainty which way it goes. Coby does have that Russell Westbrook competitive in him, but as we’ve seen with Russ that doesn’t always mean the defense will come around. Coby’s a good athlete, but nowhere near that type of freak, so he doesn’t have close to the margin for error to overcome poor defensive fundamentals as Russ.
I worry about that stuff with him. I worry about his raw point guard skills and upside to develop into a shrewd offensive orchestrator. I’m not sure those are going to flip in his favor.
Shwinny: But then I’ll watch games like UNC’s early season showdown against Michigan in Ann Arbor. A game in which the Wolverines laid a beatdown so bad on the Tar Heels from the opening tip that Roy Williams was beet red for most of the contest. While most of his teammates looked like they’d be happy to be anywhere else but there, Coby was still looking to make shit happen. There he was taking Zavier Simpson off the bounce, challenging Jon Teske at the rim, and hitting jumpers over Charles Matthews, desperately trying to turn the game from a laugher to more of a butt cheek clencher.
It didn’t happen, but not for his lack of effort. That indomitable spirit and willingness to keep going, keep trying when it would be much easier to check out is a talent in it’s own right, and it’s certainly one Coby comes out among the best in this class.
Stingy: I really like this kid. He came in as a freshman with the more highly regarded Nassir Little and it was White who took control of this team, asserting his brand of play. Right from the jump, he kept upperclass players happy, got the team into their sets and really gave the Tar Heels their overarching identity. It ain’t easy to strike that balance as a young point guard but he put it together. I don’t think he’s showed enough to push his way into the third pick, but he would be an excellent candidate in a trade back scenario.
As with pretty much all draft picks, hope for the best right away and give him several years to really figure out his role in the NBA game. If you treat these kids right, they might turn around and give you everything they’ve got. Let us know what you think about Coby White and stay tuned because next up, Shwinny and I will talk about the enigmatic, Darius Garland.