Draft Battle: Coby White vs. Darius Garland
After a good showing at the NCAA tournament, Ja Morant has all but solidified his position as the top guard in this year’s NBA draft. Who will be the next guard off the board?
Will it be Coby White, who has continually showcased his NBA range throughout the year? Perhaps his McDonald’s All-American teammate Darius Garland will see his draft stock recover as his knee does. Which one of these players is the better prospect? To answer this question I examined their skill sets across a few categories and considered their respective ceilings and roles.
Three Point Shooting
Breaking down this category isn’t as simple as looking at the numbers. Garland’s statistics cannot be trusted due to sample size. He may have shot a blistering 47.8 percent from deep, but he only played in five games for the Commodores.
White, however, played a full season for North Carolina, so we have more to work with. He hit 36.3 percent of his 6.6 3-point attempts per game and had five games with five or more triples, but he also had ten games in which he has gone 1-5 or 0-5+ from beyond the arc. Depending on the game, he looks alternately thrilling from three or disastrous from deep.
What does the eye test say? Garland simply has purer form. He shoots an easier ball than White and although White indisputably has NBA range, Garland’s extends a bit further. Trust your eyes. Despite some criticism about his low release point, Garland projects as the better perimeter shooter.
According to Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report, White is in the 98th percentile as a pick-and-roll passer. Wasserman attributes White’s 1.45 points per possession (PPP) to his ability to involve his teammates and uses the term “pick-and-roll passer” (instead of the more traditional “pick-and-roll ball-handler”), but this is misleading.
As I alluded to in a previous article, White struggles to create for others on the pick-and-roll. Due to an unrefined handle, his eyes tend to focus on the ball and not teammates in front of him, so his high pick-and-roll PPP appears due to his individual scoring ability, not his passing.
Garland has room for improvement, but is closer to a finished product. In the screenshot below, he sees two open teammates but picks wrong, slinging the ball back to the top of the key instead of hitting the corner man for an open triple. He made the incorrect pass, which ultimately led to a turnover.
Garland does not always make the right decision, but at least he has the decision to make. White will miss open players while looking down to re-collect his handle - something which is rarely said of Garland, if ever. Both of these players have pick-and-roll potential, but Garland has the slight advantage.
Take a moment to appreciate that Coby White is the state of North Carolina’s all-time leading scorer in high school basketball. White can beat you in a variety of ways: he can blow past you in transition or the half-court, break you down as a scorer off screens, and pull up from multiple levels. Even when he looks awkward, he still sinks tough shots, like in this clip of a half-spin move leading to a wrong-footed jumper.
Furthermore, White is the only freshman in North Carolina history to have three games with at least 30 points. Michael Jordan never did that, nor did Vince Carter, James Worthy or any other Tar Heel legend.
Garland is slippery and efficient at creating space, but this does not always translate into buckets. While I like Garland’s perimeter shooting more than White’s, Garland can struggle at the rim against length. White’s quick first step precludes this problem, and he commands a plethora of space-creating moves as well (sidestep, step back, hesitation.) Until Garland finds a way to become more efficient against NBA length, White will win this category.
Again, there is not much college game tape to soundly evaluate Garland’s defensive ability. The 6-foot-2 guard showed spurts of defending with high intensity, but in a league dependent more on switchability, Garland projects to be a below-average defender. Teams will hammer him on the pick and roll.
Conversely, White’s strong frame and lateral quickness suggests he could be an average to above-average defender in the league. Although he can have mental lapses, White still manages to show solid recovery technique after getting beat. On this possession versus Louisville, he absorbs contact, refuses to bite on fakes, and then gets the block. There is potential here.
If each of these players reach their potential, who will be the better NBA player? Largely due to his extra three inches and a stouter frame, White has the higher ceiling. Offensively, White needs to demonstrate that his shot will translate to the NBA, and tighten up his handle, but his size is such a difference-maker that his flaws are minimized in comparison to Garland. If White continues to develop as a pick-and-roll ball handler then he could flirt with being an All-Star talent.
On the offensive end, Garland’s ceiling is comparable to White’s. In a scenario in which everything goes right for Garland, he could be a dangerous floor spacer who averages six or more assists per game. Defense will always be a challenge for Garland, but he could channel his inner Kyrie Irving and be an average defender when the situation calls for it during meaningful games. There’s a decent chance that Garland gradually develops his game and one day gets in the All-Star conversation. Although Garland has the better odds of reaching his ceiling, White’s is a little loftier.
We live in a changing NBA world where more players than ever are omnipositional. At first glance this may give White the edge due to his perceived ability to play on or off the ball; I’m not totally convinced.
For White to reach his ceiling, whichever team drafts him must have a game plan for his development. Using him in a trendy multi-playmaker lineup (think Marcus Smart and Irving) may be beneficial to his team, but asking him to refine multiple roles at once could reduce his chances of reaching his potential. White should have the ball in his hands often to maximize his scoring prowess, but that really depends on him improving as a creator, something I am skeptical about.
Garland has a defined role in the league. His jumper will keep defenses honest and stop them from shrinking the court. He has yet to prove he can play off the ball; his footwork needs work. Therefore, expect Garland to assume a lead guard role from day one in the NBA. Focusing solely on one position helps Garland, bucking the current multi-positional trend in today’s game.
While evaluating players, it is important to do more than assign grades or “edges.” It helps to consider the players on an attribute-by-attribute basis, but it’s essential to think of the big picture as well.
Does Garland’s superior perimeter shooting and distributing justify him being ranked higher than White?
Is White’s defense so strong that it makes up the playmaking ground he gives up to Garland?
I side with Garland. His body movements resemble a shorter D’Angelo Russell, and he can separate from defenders like Kemba Walker. The current game is constructed in a way that makes it easier for a player with Garland’s skill set to thrive. White will be a great draft pick, but the game is moving in a direction that meshes perfectly with Garland’s strengths.
Winner: Garland, by an inch.