Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This edition details North Carolina guard Coby White.
Coby White’s size/skill set/position combination likely represents something from which the Hawks will stay away, even if they are (unexpectedly) given the chance to draft him with either the No. 8 or No. 10 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, or even if they use their recently upgraded bevy of picks to move further up the board. The former North Carolina point guard stands at 6’3.5 (without shoes) and profiles as a shot creator for himself and others at the next level. He experienced an outstanding freshman campaign in the ACC and lead the Tar Heels to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament, where they ultimately fell to the surging Auburn Tigers.
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic ranks White as the No. 7 overall player on his most recent big board (subscription required), while ESPN ranks him as the eighth-best available player less than two weeks out from the 2019 NBA Draft. Both outlets rank him as the third-best point guard prospect in the draft, behind Ja Morant of Murray State and Darius Garland of Vanderbilt. With Trae Young firmly in place as the centerpiece of the Travis Schlenk era in Atlanta, it would be more than surprising to see the Hawks select White (or either of the other top-tier guards) come draft night.
White took 6.6 three-pointers per game in his lone collegiate season, making 35.3% of those attempts. He got his shots both off the dribble and the catch, with decent but not elite efficiency in both areas. White has a smooth shooting motion and his percentages should go up as he matures and gets more and more reps from range. This is one the biggest reasons he has shot up draft boards in 2019, as the freshman carried the Tar Heels in large stretches on the offensive end, in ACC play as well as the NCAA Tournament. The freshman actually increased his efficiency in conference play, shooting 38.5% from behind the arc vs. ACC foes. His high volume of three-pointers combined with his relentless and efficiency around the basket profiles him as a strong offensive weapon at the next level.
The pure volume of shots from three-point range bodes well for White’s rookie of the year chances if he’s given a starting job on a rebuilding roster, and his combination of length and quickness profile him to be up to par and more when slashing to the rim on drives. White was one of the better guards in the 2019 class at finishing at the rim, ranking No. 27 overall in points per possession at the rim, with almost exclusively big men ahead of him in this category. Comparatively, Morant ranked right behind White (28th) in this area, while Garland (in very limited action) ranked 51st before being injured early in his lone season at Vanderbilt. White is long, athletic, and has an innate ability to put the ball in the basket when he’s coming downhill. The driving prowess combined with the threat of the pull-up three gives him the ability to keep defenders off balance.
White also does a good job relocating off of the ball to get himself open for catch-and-shoot threes. He is quick to move without the ball when giving it up, finding ways to get open looks from the perimeter. This will be a key part of his development, as he played with the ball in his hands a ton of the time at Carolina. If he is able create space off the ball and knock down catch-and-shoot threes at the next level, it will make him even more of a weapon offensively, and also make him a better fit next to a ball dominant premier wing or post player long-term. His shooting while still on the move will need some improvement before he’s able to shoot off screens, but he has the tools to get there.
One area of improvement for White will be his facilitating. White improved drastically while at Carolina, but his assist rate is still a little low for a lead guard. Going back to high school, he’s been a score-first player, but if he’s going to be a lead guard in the NBA, he will have to learn to move the ball at a higher clip than he’s shown thus far. To be clear, this is no Collin Sexton situation — his assist rate isn’t that bad — it’s just not as big of a part of his game at this point as it needs to be going forward. This shouldn’t be too big of a hiccup, however, as he took tremendous strides in this area under Williams’ staff over the past year, and ended up finishing No. 9 in the ACC in assists per game in his lone collegiate season.
Defensively, the 19 year old has a long ways to go before he’s ready to slow down the NBA’s best point guards (which is to be expected from any rookie, especially from a one-and-done college player), but his combination of speed and a solid 6’5 wingspan set him up with the potential to be competent on that end of the floor long-term. He’s clearly the best defensive player of the top three guards in the 2019 class, though it’s a pretty low bar to be a better defender than Morant or Garland at this point. His length allows him to guard multiple positions in the backcourt, so he’s not too big of a concern on that end at this stage.
As stated previously, White is likely a player from whom Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk will stay away due to the presence of Trae Young, but he is a promising prospect nonetheless. Anticipate his name to be called early come draft night, and don’t be shocked if he’s among the rookie leaders in scoring with the right organization and opportunity. White over-performed as a freshman when given the reps on Roy Williams’ Tar Heel club, quickly becoming the go-to player offensively, so it wouldn’t be the biggest shock at all if he had an electrifying rookie season.