San Antonio Spurs 2018-19 Performance Review: Derrick White
By Kendall Garriss
Second-year point guard Derrick White’s breakout season was an unexpected surprise for the San Antonio Spurs, but he put the league on notice with several outstanding performances.
After spending essentially his entire season in the G-League, leading the Austin Spurs to a championship in 2018, Derrick White, second-year man out of Colorado, was poised for a big season. This sentiment was further strengthened after the unfortunate loss of incumbent starting point guard Dejounte Murray who suffered a season-ending ACL injury during the preseason.
Although one would never wish an injury upon a fellow teammate, losing Murray for the season would allow for an influx of minutes to flow in White’s direction. In the wake of that season-ending diagnosis, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich named White as the starting point guard as the beginning of the season rapidly approached.
In year two, Derrick White suddenly had the keys to the point guard position fall in his lap. Until he didn’t.
Just about a week before the Spurs began the season with a contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves they received more bad news: White would be out indefinitely due to a heel injury, specifically a left plantar fascia tear.
White’s foot aliments would persist throughout the season, as he struggled with a second bout with plantar fasciitis in his opposite foot midway through the year. However, despite those physical setbacks, it did not stop the Colorado product from having a sensational sophomore campaign.
During his rookie season White only saw action in 17 games, averaging just 3.2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game in just about 8 minutes of play. In his second year sporting the Silver and Black, White more than tripled his playing time (25.8 minutes per game), while recording 9.9 points, 3.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Although White didn’t see a ton of meaningful action until his second season, he was more than ready to step up when the moment present itself.
Virtually unrecruited coming out of high school, boasting only one offer from Johnson & Wales University, an institution best known for their culinary arts, White committed to the University of Colorado–Colorado Springs, a Division II school.
White played three years at UCCS before transferring to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he excelled during his senior season, earning both first-team All-PAC-12 and All-Defensive team honors.
The Spurs, who have never been a stranger to nabbing older, four-year players, selected White with the 29th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. I credit White’s ability to come in an make an immediate impact in his first year with real minutes to his maturity.
Many young prospects who have only spent a year or two playing college ball usually come into the league with a very raw skillset. However, players like White, who have had time to mature physically and mentally, had a great feel for the game and was able to figure out the best way to positively affect this Spurs team.
Offensively, White has shown confidence and grit over the course of the entire season. He’s a capable three-pointer shooter ( 33.8 percent) and can also operate in the mid-range, knocking down pull-up jumpers and floaters.
With a second year to grasp the offensive sets the team was running, White fit in perfectly. He found different ways to penetrate the defense, effectively using the pick-and-roll, back screens and cuts to facilitate easy offense for the Spurs.
While White was a consistent offensive threat, his bread and butter was defense. White was hands-down the best defender on the Spurs roster this past season and he should be in consideration for one of the NBA All-Defensive teams. White posted the fifth-best defensive real plus-minus rating amongst all point guards in the league.
White is a pesky defender who uses his active hands and great instincts to agitate ball-handlers and forcing them to commit turnovers. Despite being just 6’4″ and missing 15 regular season games, White was third on the team in total blocks (47), trailing only LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl.
White’s presence was sorely missed during the Spurs’ annual Rodeo Road Trip, when the Spurs posted their worst record (1-7) since they began the tradition in 2003. Throughout the course of the season White solidified himself as a legitimate two-way threat who needs to be respected in this league.
While White had been making small ripples all season, it was not until the first round of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets when Derrick White officially introduced himself to Paul Millsap and the rest of the NBA, in the form of an emphatic poster dunk that made the rounds on SportsCenter’s Top 10 and NBA Twitter.
This Derrick White dunk is insane ?
(➡️ @Gatorade) pic.twitter.com/EZJG2AYFgx
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 14, 2019
This would be White’s signature moment of his young career, but, just nights later, he would be back in the headlines after dropping a career-high 36 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals to lead the Spurs to a Game 3 victory at the AT&T Center.
In line with that offensive burst in Game 3, White’s play cranked up a few notches over that seven game series, bumping his scoring average from 9.9 points in the regular season 15.1 points in the playoffs. However, like all players early in their careers, White had his ebbs and flows over his first real playoff series.
After that 36-point outing in Game 3, White was basically MIA in Game 4, scoring just eight points in a losing effort that allowed the Nuggets to tie up the series on the Spurs’ home court.
Coach Pop responded to questions about White’s Jekyll and Hyde performances after Game 4 and viewed it as a constructive experience for him as he continues to develop and grow as a player.
Gregg Popovich on Derrick White's Game 4 performance: "I think this is a great education for him."#NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/tK3056Hijy
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 21, 2019
If you’re a Spurs fan, you may still be bittersweet thinking about what the season could have been had Dejounte Murray not suffered that season-ending injury in the preseason, but one has to be excited about the promise both White and Bryn Forbes have shown at the guard position all year long.
A guard triumvirate consisting of White, Murray and Forbes will solidify the Spurs’ rotation as being one of the deepest, most defensively stout and versatile in the league for years to come.