EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Coby White: A combo guard who needs to be more for Suns to draft him

Jun 7, 2019, 2:43 PM

North Carolina's Coby White (2) drives to the basket against Louisville during the first half of an...

North Carolina's Coby White (2) drives to the basket against Louisville during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Murray State’s Ja Morant is the electric, productive point guard whose raw skills exploited lower-level college basketball.

Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland is the shooter and ball handler without much tape to evaluate over the past year after a knee injury ended his freshman year.

And Coby White is the point guard prospect who played against the best competition before entering the 2019 NBA Draft. He played as a lead guard at a blueblood North Carolina program with high highs and low lows.

There’s a fair argument he could end up as the most productive player of the consensus top-three point guards in this draft class. He can stroke it, has the best size of them and brings a tenacity about him.

The 6-foot-5 scorer by nature averaged 16.1 points and 4.1 assists per game as a freshman, erupting for more than 30 points on three different occasions. White also shot 35% or worse from the field in 12 games, and those outings mostly came against the toughest, most athletic competition: Stanford, Wofford, Kentucky, Davidson, Louisville (twice), Virginia, Duke (twice), Florida State, Iona and Auburn.

Considering he put forth so many ugly shooting outings as a labeled scorer and shooter, raise the red flags.

OK, there’s a lot to like. For one, White can shoot.

His low release isn’t so much a problem because of his compact delivery and readiness to let it fly off the ball.

He took 6.6 threes per game — about half his overall attempts — and hit 35% of them. Per ESPN, he was in the 93rd percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and that’s easy to believe if you watch film of his scoring outbursts like a 27-point, six-assist game against a No. 10 Virginia Tech squad.

White is a maniac all 94 feet. He used his speed and size to push the pace even after opponent makes, and 31% of his offense came in transition, according to ESPN. That helped him finish 67% of his shots at the rim, a pretty good number.

But why did he shoot just 42% overall as a freshman with transition opportunities — in theory — bumping up his percentages?

Shot selection is a problem. Among White’s flaws are his trigger-happy nature. He too often went after threes off stepback jumpers.

About a quarter of his shots came in the mid-range, according to Hoop-Math, but he only shot 35% on two-point jumpers. Only 15% of those attempts were assisted.

He doesn’t have a good time on pullups (27th percentile, per ESPN) and doesn’t have a floater game that would benefit him in the NBA if his short, 6-foot-3 wingspan hurts him finishing at the rim.

White’s handle isn’t as sharp as it could be, nor is his court awareness. That led him into turnovers trying to split screens too often, taking contested shots at the rim, charging into multiple bodies on drives and missing wide open passes to teammates.

Even in transition, he was out of control, turning it over a fifth of the time, according to ESPN.

All that said, his vision and the creativity flashed.

He made strides over his freshman season reading ball screens and remaining patient, allowing lanes to develop.

A guy with that tenacity, you’d think, can become a great defender in the NBA. White’s build appears decent enough where he could defend most any point guard and smaller shooting guards.

There’s no doubt he shouldn’t be written off as a true lead guard, someone in the mold of a Chauncey Billups if his shooting and tenacity can meld with more refined pace and decision-making.

White’s floor is a third guard off the bench who can stretch the floor. A real Rodney Stuckey, if we’re going to stick with Pistons call-backs.

Is it good that a scorer by nature has the most upside if he turns himself into a true point guard? Read that again.

No, it is absolutely not.

Even a team in dire need of a point guard should not draft someone sixth overall if scoring, shooting and working off the ball is his projected role. The Suns should draft White sixth overall if they believe he has the personality and an open enough mind to mold himself into a floor general.

It’s good news for White that he has the potential to both drastically improve upon his scoring inefficiencies or mold himself into that starting point guard. It’s just that, for Phoenix needing a point guard (and soon), taking White is ultimately swinging for the fences. Maybe that’s fine for a down draft class.

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