Chicago Bulls’ Coby White finishes 2nd in the NBA’s Most Improved Player award voting

The value of the 2023-24 NBA season for Coby White was never going to come down to a handful of votes announced on a Tuesday in April.

Still, when the TNT broadcast paused to announce the winner of the league’s Most Improved Player award, it felt like a final milestone for the Bulls guard at the end of his fifth season in Chicago.

White’s name was not the one called. He narrowly missed first place for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, finishing 14 points in the weighted voting behind Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey. Maxey earned 51 first-place votes (18 second, 10 third) while White received 32 first-place votes (43 second, 16 third).

But White’s ascension from a rotation player to a top candidate for one of the league’s most prestigious end-of-season awards reflected the sudden growth of the guard who became a prominent leader for the Bulls this season.

A year prior, the future was uncertain for White. He’d been struggling to work his way off the bench for the Bulls, battling a streaky shot while attempting to fill out the rest of his game as a playmaker and a defender. He had dedicated himself to changing his game after underperforming in the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs, but that growth wasn’t immediate and change was slow-coming on the court.

Last summer, his role began to shift. The Bulls needed a point guard. White won the job outright during training camp. And despite a slow start to the season, White quickly began to transform into one of the few silver linings of another losing season for the Bulls.

White improved his average scoring to a career-high 19.1 points, making the biggest leap (9.4 points) in average scoring across the league while playing 13.1 minutes more per game. Alongside DeMar DeRozan, he guided the Bulls from the No. 13 seed to the No. 9 seed after Zach LaVine went down with injury, stepping up as a vocal leader for the team. White finished third in the NBA in total minutes played, tallying 2,881 minutes despite missing three games with a thigh injury.

Most importantly, however, White felt that he worked back to a version of himself — both on and off the court — that was recognizable again.

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“I’m who I was before,” White told the Tribune in March. “I’m happy. This is who I was when I was 16, when I was 15, before everything changed. This is the first time in a long time I’ve felt like I could be myself.”

After re-signing in Chicago last summer, White will remain under contract through 2026 as one of the key pieces for executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas to build with as he reassesses the Bulls roster this offseason.