Coby White and Patrick Williams both top 20 in Bulls preseason loss

Courtesy of Sam Smith at

Coby White for Most Improved Player.

Start the campaign.

The Bulls lost 116-102 to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday with their Big Three starters resting, along with Alex Caruso.

But that didn’t stop White, the insouciant Bulls guard who looks like the starter for the season, to bouncily impress against the best of the defending champions with 20 points in 22 minutes, making three of seven three pointers and repeatedly criss crossing for difficult drives and pull-ups or laser guided threes that barely wriggled the nets.

It’s seemingly made this 1-2 Bulls preseason start a triumph for White in the apparent competition at point guard. White, averaging 22 minutes, starting all three games has run the team effectively with poise and aplomb while showing he can be a significant offensive option.

White is averaging 14 points in that brief time, shooting 57 percent overall and 38 percent on threes with 4.3 assists. The No. 7 selection in the 2019 draft barely has been on the national NBA radar because of his inconsistent use as a starter and reserve and nascent point guard or scoring option. But it’s beginning to look like White this season will have his first significantly defined role with the Bulls.

Patrick Williams was the other regular who started for the Bulls with Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Vučević all taking off. The Bulls play two more exhibition games before their season opener Oct. 25 in the United Center against Oklahoma City, the preseason games both at home Tuesday against Toronto and Thursday against Minnesota. Bulls coach Billy Donovan has said he’ll move the regulars closer to a signifiant rotation in those games.

Williams, perhaps, might not welcome that, at least for his offensive production.

Without what often appears like the gravitational pull of the traditional unit, Williams was more lively and animated, pulling up for jumpers and easing into smooth three pointers. He also scored 20 points, making three of five threes with Nuggets defenders bouncing off him like they were bullets hitting Superman.

Ayo Dosunmu moved into the starting backcourt alongside White with Torrey Craig and Andre Drummond also starting. Dosunmu stood out not as much with his 12 points and seven assists, but always with an eye up court throwing the ball ahead or pushing the dribble, driving hard in transition and finishing effectively and passing well once into the paint. On both kickouts and pocket passes, like that clever bounce pass late to Adama Sanogo for a score.

Though the Bulls never really were in the game since the Nuggets played their regulars until midway through the third quarter. The Bulls trailed by double digits late in the first half and just about all second half. They only trailed for less than 10 points for about 15 seconds in the fourth quarter when both teams played deep reserves.

It was disappointing that the Bulls didn’t play their primary starters against Denver’s since the teams were tied at halftime in the United Center last week when Denver visited and both starting units played the first half. But its commonplace in basically all of sports these days for the star players to sit out some or most of preseason games. In the NFL, starters often sit out the entire preseason. Many NBA All-Stars have yet to even play this preseason. At least the Bulls regulars disdain load management theory during the regular season.

So it proved an apt time for the irrepressible and often improvisional White to spread his scoring wings some and make a statement to the rest of the NBA that he can hoop, too. White’s name doesn’t come up on any of those preseason speculative lists among media and bettors in the Most Improved category. You’ll more often read about players like Tyrese Maxey, Anfernee Simons, Austin Reaves and Mikal Bridges. 

Move over for Coby White.

White started right out with a three when the Bulls took their largest lead of the game at six in the first few minutes. Patrick Williams added a pair of threes, but the Bulls didn’t launch as many as Donovan has hoped. The Bulls were accurate enough at 41 percent on threes, but attempted 29. Denver tried 40, which has been a Bulls goal for this season.

The Bulls defended aggressively, particularly Craig who seemed almost ready to brawl against his former team. But Denver again scored numerous easy baskets, 53 percent overall for the game. Though, spoiler alert, it’s difficult for that not to occur against the methodical Nikola Jokić. The Bulls, if active, also weren’t particularly disruptive this time with four steals (16 last week) and more turnovers than the Nuggets. The Nuggets had eight blocks.

“We got them (starters), for most part, the minutes we wanted to,” said Nuggets assistant David Adelman, subbing for coach Mike Malone following the death of Malone’s father, Brendan. “That’s the best thing about tonight. We won; that’s great. They (Jokić and Jamal Murray) got a good run out there, especially in altitude.”

And in aptitude, Nuggets rookie Julian Strawther from Gonzaga whom the Nuggets selected No, 29, continued to be one of the best shooters in preseason and led all scorers with 23 points. Murray had 21 points and Jokić had 15 with nine rebounds and five assists.

“We corrected a lot of things we didn’t do the best in Chicago,” Strawther said about the Bulls double overtime win over the Nuggets last week.

The Bulls again attacked the offensive boards rigorously, and Drummond had 10 rebounds overall. But he again missed several point blank layups, finally dunking in frustration to apparently limit his distance from the basket. Jevon Carter was a late entry into the game and seems like he’ll be more in a catch-and-shoot role than facilitator. He shot well again, making three of five threes.

Donovan, however, figures to have a few comments about the team’s large number of fouls that gave the Nuggets 36 free throws. The Bulls’ defense seemed continually behind the ball and reaching. For their part, White attempted seven free throws. But the other four Bulls starters on this night combined for three attempts, an indication of a failure to get deep enough into the lane. Which figured to contribute to the lesser number of three-point attempts. The Bulls won the rebound matchup, but accumulated just 21 assists despite credible shooting.

And then there were two. It’s almost time.

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