San Antonio Spurs: Expectations for Derrick White in the 2019 Playoffs
By Dylan Carter
Playing point guard for the San Antonio Spurs comes with a certain standard of expectations that Derrick White is anticipated to meet in the playoffs.
The sophomore campaign of combo guard Derrick White far exceeded the expectations of the San Antonio Spurs. Unforeseen circumstances thrust White into the limelight after proving himself in the 2018 Summer League circuit and he ran with the opportunity. He’s set to appear in his first Playoff as lead playmaker under basketball connoisseur Gregg Popovich after logging just 15 minutes in the First-Round last season, so naturally this comes with a set of expectations.
Poise and advanced decision-making have been crucial in White’s success this season and despite his lack of experience, this will need to continue through the playoffs. On many nights, White will be tasked with guarding the best player on the floor because he’s displayed the defensive chops to keep up with the league’s elite.
At only 24-years-old, White finished with the highest Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus of any guard in the NBA, according to the BBall Index. He averaged 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per 100 possessions this season and is in legitimate consideration for an All-Defensive Team selection as a sophomore. The only precedent that we have for a player like that is the man whose role he’s fulfilling, injured point guard Dejounte Murray.
San Antonio’s playoff hopes are highly dependent on the two-way performance of Derrick White. His shot creation, floor spacing and craftsmanship in the pick-and-roll elevate the Spurs to another level on offense. The team has an 8-0 record through games in which White connects on eight or more field goal attempts and is 8-3 when he drops seven or more assists.
Though his usage won’t always be the highest, Derrick White can be the catalyst in a deep playoff run for San Antonio.
Next: Guarding the best player
Guarding the best player
Derrick White has been tasked with guarding the best opposing player in many situations this year. He’s gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Luka Doncic without an ounce of fear on display. Using his 6-foot-4 frame and quick footing, White can keep up with guards and extend his lengthy arms to disrupt jump shots on the perimeter.
Furthermore, he’s been exceptional at stripping the ball from opponents and interrupting passing lanes this year. His combination of physical assets, anticipation and exemplary basketball IQ make White an ideal perimeter defender that can adjust to any style of play. We’ll need this kind of play to carry into the playoffs and beyond in order for the Spurs to make a playoff run.
Across the scale, White’s On/Off numbers show that his presence transforms this team on defense. According to Cleaning the Glass, San Antonio allows 3.9 fewer points per possession with White on the floor and forces teams to shoot 1.6 percent worse in effective field goal percentage.
We’ve seen what he can do in the regular season, but the playoffs are a whole need ballgame. Luckily for the Spurs, Denver has very little playoff experience across the roster whereas San Antonio’s lineup is full of seasoned veterans who’ve experienced the postseason before. In this sense, White needs to adjust to the pace and intensity of the playoffs quickly.
Developmentally, White has noticeably advanced over the course of the season. With increased reps and comfortability with his teammates, we’ve seen that Derrick can come alive as an off-ball defender as well.
He recently joked with teammate LaMarcus Aldridge that he is the rim protector for this team, and he wasn’t entirely wrong. The point guard blocked 47 shots this year and is giving signs reminiscent of Danny Green as a chase-down artist. With expert-level timing and exceptional hops, White is known for pinning a layup off the glass from time to time.
These aren’t’ traits that just disappear once the playoffs roll around; this is simply who White has become as a player. The sky’s the limit for this Spurs team when he’s locked in defensively, so Pop should expect an increased sense of urgency from Derrick in the playoffs.
Next: Making the right plays
Making the right plays
Over his many years as the floor general of Gregg Popovich’s offensive system, Spurs legend Tony Parker exemplified ideal decision-making. While his scoring instincts drove him to attack the basket and create shots for himself, he was also very good at knowing when to defer to his teammates, especially in the postseason.
Derrick White needs to channel his inner-Tony Parker in his first playoff appearance as a starter.
For as crucial as White is to the success of the team, there’s no question that LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are the defined leaders of the team. There’s a hierarchy to the Spurs that will likely show in the playoffs and White is still working his way up the totem pole. White is an effortless scorer because of his quickness and soft touch on a high-arching jump shot. He’ll definitely need to put that jumper to use, but his primary function is to initiate offense for others within the system.
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The chemistry between Aldridge and White has been a treat for the entire fanbase this year. As the team’s go-to scorer and foundational rock, Aldridge needed the young guard to feed him the ball as seamlessly as possible. Utilizing his impressive passing vision, White has done a great job of finding Aldridge off of screens or cuts to the basket.
If this iteration of the Spurs wants any chance at making a Finals run, it will be because of smart decision-making both on the off the court. Pop trusts Derrick White’s judgement, he wouldn’t have elevated him to starting point guard without that. Throughout the course of the season, he’s praised the sophomore for his maturity. That level of maturity is what could make-or-break these Playoffs.
White turned the ball over three or more times in 11 games during the regular season, San Antonio lost nine of those games. There’s an obvious correlation between his offensive effectiveness and the team’s success that will carry into this postseason.
On the biggest stage in the world, Derrick White will be tested both physically and mentally. His journey in the NBA is only beginning, now he has the chance to prove to the world just how talented he is.