The next time the Chicago Bulls (21-24) have Lonzo Ball back on the court will be the first time in over one full year. They have played 87 games without him – more than a full regular season – after Ball only suited up for 40 games last year.
They are 40-47 in that span but have gotten 10 of those wins in the last 16 games providing some reason for optimism going forward.
Guard Coby White has benefitted from Ball’s absence and his own hard work.
The fourth-year guard is making no bones about just what the Bulls are missing without the player they had hoped to get back this season, a proposition that seems increasingly unlikely with each passing day. And, if they do get Ball back, White is certain he can help take this team to another level.
Coby White: Lonzo Ball ‘The Ultimate Connector’
“He…makes things happen on defense,” White told Brandon Robinson of Bally Sports. “His instincts can’t be taught. And then on offense, I think he’s just the ultimate connector for, especially, those three All-Stars out there. Just getting the guys the ball in spots where they need it and just being someone who makes winning plays.”
Ball has made slow but notable progress from two surgeries in nine months in 2022 most recently undergoing an arthroscopic debridement to remove loose cartilage from the first surgery. Initially given a 6-to-8-week timeline, Ball remains hopeful that he can return to the floor for the stretch run.
He has also admitted that there will come a point where it won’t make sense to return this season.
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has operated under the assumption that Ball would not return since training camp adding that it would be a tough ask to drop him into a playoff race or, if Chicago is fortunate, the actual playoffs.
It’s certainly not as if they couldn’t use him.
Lonzo Ball Would Enhance Surge From Bulls’ Big Three
White’s reference to “those three All-Stars” is notable with the Bulls big three of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic playing better since the calendar turned with a plus-3.5 net rating, per NBA.com.
That includes their 126-108 win over the Detroit Pistons in Paris, France on January 19.
But they have been prone to long stretches of stagnant offense highlighted by iso-heavy possessions and porous defense without Ball. As well as they have finally started to play, they would be even better with him in the lineup.
“You can’t teach what he has on both ends of the court,” White said. “Just the ultimate connector between those guys.”
Coby White’s Renassaince
White has been on the trading block for the last year with no signs of a new deal on the horizon as he plays out the final year of his rookie contract. Despite all of that and depressed numbers hanging over him, White has put together a solid season and recent stretch of basketball.
“I feel like I improved a lot on the defensive side on the ball, with the ball in my hands – my handle has gotten a lot better, my decision-making has gotten a lot better,” White said while also noting that playing alongside the Bulls top trio makes things easier. “This year has been a good year so far.”
The former seventh-overall pick in 2019 is averaging just 8.4 points in a little over 21 minutes per game, both the lowest marks of his career. But his 57.7% true shooting clip is the best of White’s still-short career.
Perhaps he is increasing his value, be it to the Bulls or another team.