Derrick White has embraced his role as the new leader of the San Antonio Spurs second unit and is playing as well as we could have hoped.
Early on in the preseason, it became clear that adjusting to his new role as the leader of the San Antonio Spurs second unit was going to take Derrick White some time. White struggled early on in preseason but came around and turned ambiguity into opportunity.
It wasn’t the first time that White had to adjust to a sudden change to his role on a team, not even close. That would have come last year, when Dejounte Murray, the Spurs presumed starting point guard, went down with an ACL tear. It initially looked like White would step in as Murray’s natural replacement but that was not to be. A heel injury would cause White to miss much of the early part of his second season with San Antonio.
When White finally did return it didn’t take him long to reassert himself as one of the Spurs’ most important players. He quickly showed why he had received so much hype as the next Spurs draft day steal. He would go on to start 55 games for the Spurs and was one of the most impressive players on the floor in San Antonio’s first-round playoff matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
White would go on to turn an invitation to the Team USA Select Team into a spot on the final 12-man roster thanks to his consistent play and more unforeseen opportunity. White didn’t play much in Team USA’s FIBA World Cup run but the experience was important for a player who knew he had more big adjustments coming.
Despite ending the season as the Spurs’ starting point guard, White’s role on the team was uncertain over the summer. With Murray’s impending return and the growth shown by Bryn Forbes, it was unclear where White would spend the majority of his minutes.
Early on in the preseason, it became apparent that Gregg Popovich had little intention of playing White and Murray together and would elect to have White come off the bench as the next great San Antonio Spurs sixth man.
It took some time, but White has found his stride and is excelling in his new role. He’s put together back to back 20 point outings and has the San Antonio Spurs bench playing like one of the best in the league.
A league-leading bench unit has long been an important part of the Spurs’ success as a team. This year is no different. Blessed with one of the deepest benches in the league, San Antonio is using its second unit to expand or shrink leads as needed. With the help of trusted veterans such as Patty Mills and Rudy Gay, White is helping to lead a unit that his fourth in the league in overall plus/minus at +3.3
The free-flowing, pass-heavy style of play of the second unit also has San Antonio in the top 10 in pointers per game with 41.3. They’re also in the top 5 in bench assists with 10.3 per game. White is most comfortable with the ball in his hands and has done a great job of directing his unit’s personnel.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) November 1, 2019
Not only is he setting up his teammates as well as he ever has, but White is also walking the line between facilitating and attacking with ease. White will look to pass, but if the lane is open he’s going right at the rim. He’s not going to pass up an open driving lane and the result has been the scoring output that the Spurs need.
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Marco Belinelli has his role as the Spurs sharpshooter, but Pop’s continuing trend of playing him over Walker and Carroll has frustrated Spurs fans to no end. Many believe that his minutes would be better allocated to one of Carroll or Walker.
A second unit featuring White, Walker, Gay, Carroll, and Jakob Poeltl would be vastly superior to many in the league. San Antonio lacks the star power of some of their other Western Conference foes but they can make up for it by dominating opposing bench units throughout the season.
White’s versatility and adaptability have made him a favorite of players, coaches, and fans. His success in his newly embraced role is just the latest example of White being the consummate team player. He’s going to be a critical part of San Antonio’s success for years to come.