Maturing White Learning To Manage Games
RALEIGH – Coby White’s skills are undeniable.
He’s fast, is adept at attacking the rim, can handle, pass and shoot, is learning to defend and absolutely has a mind for the game of basketball. White is a big-time talent capable of going off against any opponent at any time.
But he’s also a point guard playing for Roy Williams, and a requirement of having that job at North Carolina is fine tuning the art of game management, an element that was fairly new to White when he arrived in Chapel Hill last summer.
Running the point for Williams is a gargantuan task, especially when the keys are handed to freshman who’d been a lifelong combo guard. White has had to learn plenty about the inherent nuances of the position coupled with the additional demands placed by Williams, whose three national championship teams have had juniors at the point, two of whom have had lengthy NBA careers and the other was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
But Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson and Joel Berry went through a similar process with Williams, though each were wired more as pure point guards than White. So his track is a bit different, but it’s also aided by having more length (he’s 6-5, the others were in the 6-0, 6-2 range) and he’s a better perimeter shooter than the other three were when they arrived.
A Willing Student
As for game management, that’s been a struggle at times for White, but he’s a willing student, which has started to pay off over the last month.
White is managing games better each time the Tar Heels take the floor.
“For sure,” he said, agreeing with that notion. “I’ve been talking with Coach (Steve Robinson) Rob about it a lot. It’s getting better and better each game, especially from the beginning of the year when I used to just go, go, go and now it’s like, ‘Alright, we’ve got the lead, we can run some time down on the clock, move it and then get into something.’ I feel like it’s gotten better.”
Game management isn’t just about end-of-game situations or getting the team into set plays. It’s about speed and tempo, including when to play at the break-neck speed Williams loves, when to attack after an opponent’s made shot and when not to.
One of the first things White had to adjust to was just how fast Williams wanted him to play. It took time but blessed with the natural gifts to appease that demand, White eventually got it. Then, he had to learn when to pull back.
Some of his drives into the lane in the half-court offense that derailed in November and December were examples of that process. White was learning when to dial it back and when not to.
He still gets caught in the lane crashing into opponents or putting up wildly contested shots, but it’s happening less often as each game passes. Understanding this is an enormous part of game management.
“I had a couple of miscues when I drove into the lane when I shouldn’t have,” he said following UNC’s win at N.C. State on Tuesday night. “But I’m aggressive so that’s just my nature. But I’ll get better at it.”
Slowing Down Matters
Learning when to slow down has forced White to see more of the floor, too. He knows where the other four Tar Heels are more now than he did in November. When he used to force things going into the lane it was often because he didn’t see or anticipate what his teammates might do, be it in a set or when running Carolina’s freelance motion.
But his head is increasingly up as each game passes, thus he sees more. That is a key to managing a game, as well.
“I feel like I’m just not dribbling with my head down,” said White, who is averaging 14.7 points and 3.9 assists per game. “I feel like it’s up more, surveying the court more.”
And the last part about game management is overall growth.
White understands what Williams wants on both ends of the floor. He knows what his teammates are supposed to do and articulates those things well. He knows the game, has the talent and is now gaining the experience that usually accompanies a higher level of managing games.
“One thing I’ve learned about myself is I’ve become more mature each and every game,” he said.
“One thing I feel like I need to work on, I’m just going to try hard to get better and just not turn the ball over,” he admitted. “That’s one of the big things for me is just taking care of the ball for the team like the point guard has to take care of the ball.”
And that’s the final layer.
Proof In The Results
White’s game is evolving, though the assist-turnover ratio doesn’t always reveal that. Yet, even with five turnovers in each of UNC’s first two ACC games, the Heels are still 2-0 and he’s played well overall and as a result the Tar Heels have.
The proof is in the numbers from UNC’s wins at Pittsburgh and N.C. State.
The Tar Heels have shot 44.2 percent from the floor, which is slightly below their season average, but a lot of missed chippies around the basket and having 15 shots blocked significantly affect that percentage. Minus the blocks, the Heels are shooting 49.6 percent, plus they’re at 40.8 percent from 3-point range, making 10 from beyond the arc in each of the two games.
In addition, Luke Maye is playing more like he did a year ago. He’s averaging 19 points in the two ACC wins shooting 48 percent from the floor, including 3-7 from the perimeter. Furthermore, Maye has attempted 15 free throws compared to attempting just 35 in the 10 games prior to starting ACC play.
That is a result of a better flowing offense, which stems in part from White’s growth managing the games.
White isn’t close to being there yet, but that process is well underway and there’s no reason to believe it will derail at any time.