Getty Images

Chicago Bulls guard Coby White is on track to return to the lineup on Thursday against the Houston Rockets. He missed the Bulls' past three games with a right hip sprain after a scary fall last week against the Indiana Pacers, but practiced on Wednesday. In his first public comments since Pascal Siakam landed on him in an extremely awkward fashion, he sounded relieved that this absence was not significantly longer.

"That was one of those things that you can't control," White told reporters, via the Chicago Tribune's Julia Poe. "Like, a dude landing on me. But they say I dodged a bullet, so it could have been a lot worse. They say I'm pretty flexible, so that's what helped me in that scenario."

White added that he was "glad it was nothing serious."

White told reporters he had watched watched video of the incident. "To me, the replay is bad," he said, via NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson. "But I don't think it's that bad to where everybody was making it seem. It was just an awkward landing and he fell on me." He said that he was "in pain" at the time but "didn't feel anything pop."

According to the NBA's 4:30 p.m. ET injury report, White is still officially "questionable" for Thursday's game in Houston. If he is not upgraded to "available" before tipoff, then he will presumably make his return on Saturday against the Boston Celtics.

This time last week, White had missed zero games this season and was leading the entire league in minutes played. Now he is fourth in total minutes, behind his teammate DeMar DeRozan, Sacramento Kings big man Domantas Sabonis and Brooklyn Nets wing Mikal Bridges. (Bridges' ironman streak hit 500 games on Tuesday.)

White's minutes total (2,425) is a reflection of how much his game -- and role -- have grown in Year 5. Last season, he logged a total of 1,730 minutes. While he only started two games in 2022-23, averaging a career-low 9.7 points in a career-low 23.4 minutes, his improved efficiency and maturity were encouraging. But in no way was it obvious that he was about to break out the way he had in 2023-24, as evidenced by the fact Chicago was able to re-sign him to a contract worth only $33 million over three years in restricted free agency last summer.

This season, White's usage rate has jumped from 17% to 22.4% without taking a corresponding hit in efficiency. He's averaging 19.5 points in 36.7 minutes per game on a career-high 58% true shooting, and he's made 40.8% of his pull-up 3s. In a comeback victory in Sacramento on March 4, White exploded for 37 points on 14-for-19 shooting, seven assists and five rebounds in 44 minutes. That was his seventh 30-point game this season; in six of those games, the Bulls won. 

Chicago is 34-35 and its offense ranks 19th on the season, but, considering how little it got out of Zach LaVine -- he appeared in 25 games and the Bulls were extremely inefficient in his minutes -- this is actually pretty impressive. White's emergence has been one of the biggest reasons that the team hasn't gone in the tank. He is widely considered one of the leading candidates for the Most Improved Player award.

Before White's injury, Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George picked White for MIP on his podcast

"He turned the corner," George said. "He understands how to score, how to be efficient, how to be an NBA player and play at a high level. Like, this is the Coby White you'll see going forward. So I would say Most Improved goes to Coby White."

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey, who made his first All-Star Game this season and has taken on more minutes and more playmaking responsibility, is the other popular choice for the award. The Sixers have struggled, however, since franchise player Joel Embiid went down with a knee injury that required surgery. This race is not over, and if White and the Bulls finish strong, he'll strengthen his case.