The 2017 NBA Draft class has panned out very interestingly and San Antonio Spurs combo guard Derrick White ranks amongst the best of a guard-heavy group.
Over the course of their historic playoff streak, the San Antonio Spurs have managed to become adept at picking high-quality talent at the backend of the NBA Draft. Before his promotion to CEO of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, R.C. Buford boasted tremendous scouting ability with his selections of late-round talent in recent years.
One of his best selections to date is combo guard Derrick White, whose two-way effort and intensity are matched with relentless ambition and unwavering work ethic – perfectly aligning with the Spurs’ values.
Although White wasn’t necessarily a marquee name coming out of his draft class, San Antonio became home to one of the game’s most exciting guard prospects who has most recently proven himself by working his way onto the 12-man Team USA roster for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. He’s proven himself to be one of the best players in his draft class and certainly one of the best guards of the group.
No. 1 overall selection Markelle Fultz was an astonishing prospect coming out of the University of Washington, but an array of exotic ailments and mysterious injuries have put him off track since entering the league. Fultz seemed to be a sure-fire pick for his unmatched athleticism at his size and stature, but things haven’t yet panned out for the 21-year-old.
Other notable guards to miss the top of the rankings for this draft class include Frank Ntilikina, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Hart. Although he narrowly missed a top-four ranking, Denver got a steal with Monte Morris at the No. 51 overall pick.
Still, based on draft placement compared to on-court value, Derrick White was an absolute steal for San Antonio. Here’s how he ranks against the best guards in his class.
Next: No. 4 - Lonzo Ball
4. Lonzo Ball – No. 2 Pick
During his short time in the NBA, turmoil has followed Lonzo Ball. Chaos in Los Angeles melted together with a handful of damaging injuries and familial drama that the average NBA player keeps out of the public spotlight. It’s hard to talk about the staggered rise of Lonzo Ball without acknowledging the outward presence that businessman and father LaVar Ball has portrayed to the public.
Lonzo is out of LeBron James’ shadow and has shed his ties with the dying Big Baller Brand, so the opportunity for him to fulfill the Jason Kidd-like potential that was cast upon him coming out of UCLA is real and alive with the New Orleans Pelicans. With that said, it’s been a bit of a struggle for Lonzo. The 21-year-old averaged 9.9 points, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals in roughly 30 minutes per game as a sophomore and finished with a nasty 48.7 percent true shooting percentage.
Regardless of his poor jump shot, which has improved dramatically over the course of his time in the NBA, Ball remains one of the most proficient playmakers in the sport at a ripe, young age. He’s an excellent floor general and sets his teammates up nicely when the offense affords him that opportunity but playing alongside the likes of LeBron automatically takes the ball out of your hands.
Lonzo could easily slide up this list with the proper development and dedication to his craft but for the time being, he’s only fulfilled a fraction of his potential.
Next: No. 3 - Derrick White
3. Derrick White – No. 29 Pick
For someone picked with the No. 29 overall selection, ranking third amongst guards in the draft class is impressive. White was a non-factor for the Spurs in his first season, spending most of the year developing his game and adjusting to professional competition with the Austin Spurs.
However, White participated in plenty of team practices and learned to embrace the culture of the organization from the jump. As a result, White has blossomed into one of the most exciting young talents in San Antonio.
Standing at 6-foot-4 with a long wingspan and an aggressive defensive mindset, White is in the midst of establishing his stature in this league between international play and a breakout 36-point performance in the first-round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. He’s older than the rest of the pack at 25-years-old and the maturity shows – White distinguishes himself through his maturity both on and off the court.
Through 55 games as a starter last year (he appeared in 67 games total), White put up an average stat line of 11 points, 4.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.8 blocks per contest. Furthermore, he ranked 11th for point guards in Player Impact Plus Minus (PIPM) and third in Defensive-PIPM at 1.8 – just behind Hall of Famer Chris Paul and former-Spur Cory Joseph.
Derrick White’s development is only just beginning, his work ethic and the organizational structure around him will put him in position to find even more success in the coming seasons.
Next: No. 2 - De'Aaron Fox
2. De’Aaron Fox – No. 5 Pick
After his rookie season, many critics unwisely contemplated De’Aaron Fox’s future in this league. His shooting percentages were low, and he was highly inefficient, but those were only growing pains that Fox is sure to shed as he continues his growth in this league. Fox warranted serious buzz for the Most Improved Player award this past season after increasing his scoring average to 17.3 points per game on 45.8 percent field goal shooting and 37.1 percent three-point percentage.
Like many of his cohorts, Fox is only 21-years-old and is showing serious flashes of top-tier point guards like John Wall, Derrick Rose and Tony Parker in his drive-and-dish style of play. Fox is a nifty finisher on the way to the rack with strong ability to finish with either hand as he flashes his way past defenders with blistering speed.
That quickness is the defining quality that stands out about Fox – no one is going to beat him in a footrace. Upon entering the league, Fox’s speed was compared to athletic powerhouse Russell Westbrook – an athlete of a caliber that the sport has never seen at point guard. The same goes for Wall, another Kentucky product.
Fox is a dynamic defender with a knack for interrupting passing lanes and getting out on the fastbreak, effectively pushing the tempo of his team and forcing them to catch up to him. That’s not to say he doesn’t accommodate his teammates – Fox truly exemplifies leadership qualities.
For as talented as he is, there’s still a serious gap between Fox and the best player of the draft class up to this point.
Next: No. 1 - Donovan Mitchell
1. Donovan Mitchell – No. 13 Pick
This wasn’t a hard decision to make – Donovan Mitchell is the best player to come out of the 2017 NBA Draft class thus far. The 22-year-old came out of the gates as a 20 point per game scorer with dynamic ball handling ability and superstar ambitions. Through 77 games as leader of the Utah Jazz, ‘Spida’ Mitchell averaged 23.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals on 43.2 percent shooting on 20 attempts per game.
More so than any other player in his class, Mitchell transformed his team from the jump. It was easy to recognize through his breakout performances in Summer League that Mitchell was going to be a special player – he’s outward with his passion and always stays true to himself.
Many in the sports media business have noted that Mitchell has shades of Dwyane Wade to him for his craftiness, elusive presence on the court floor and vigorous scoring ability. This is not to say he’s as talented as Wade, but his style and humility are of the same vein.
Now that Utah has added an All-Star quality guard to slot alongside Mitchell in Mike Conley, Donovan could unlock new levels to his game. He’s never had a presence like Conley in the back court, so the guidance of an established player of that moral quality should do dividends for Mitchell’s development.
As part of Gregg Popovich’s concerted effort to accelerate Mitchell’s development as a leader, the rising star has been named a captain for Team USA. Along with Derrick White, Mitchell is gaining extremely valuable experience while being faced with a new style of coaching and competition.
The sky’s the limit for Mitchell and his time playing under Pop will pay off in dividends as the regular season approaches.