Although his role has fluctuated, San Antonio Spurs combo guard Derrick White is thriving in a chaotic season.
By this point, we all know the story of San Antonio Spurs combo guard Derrick White. He started as a scrawny young guard at a culinary college, continuing to pursue his hoops dreams despite all signs pointing toward failure. However, he never gave up on his dream and worked harder than just about anyone else to get into the D1 ranks, and eventually became a late first-round pick by the Spurs.
He locked himself in the gym all summer to improve his three-point shot after defying the odds and earning a spot on Team USA for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Although it wasn’t his best performance (that still belongs to his 36-point, 3-steal performance against Denver in the 2019 Playoffs), the 25-year-old pushed himself even further and learned from some high-level competition on an international stage.
Now 28 games into his third NBA season, White refuses to stop pushing himself. The fruits of his labor manifested itself in the month of December. He has two games left to go in the month: one against Detroit and one against the Golden State Warriors on New Year’s Eve, but up to this point, he has been stellar this month.
In the final month of the decade, White is shooting 50.7% from the field, 40.9% from three-point land and 84.6% from the charity stripe. He is 1.9% away from reaching the 50% mark on the season in field goal percentage and 10.3% away from 90% free throw shooting on the year. At this rate, there’s a decent probability that he joins the illustrious 50/40/90 club this year – the trait of an exceptional offensive talent not often reached in this sport.
This leaves the question: Just how good can the 25-year-old be?
This depends on a handful of factors. First off, he’ll need an expanded role and that won’t happen with four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan on this team. While he’s an exceptional talent and the best scorer on the team, DeRozan is an isolation shot creator whose primary function on the floor is to generate his own offense. This isn’t to discredit his playmaking, which has certainly improved since becoming a Spur, but it has become evident that he’s not going to change his game. When more shots open up, and both minutes and time of possession can be distributed amongst the rest of the team, White’s scoring potential will uptick.
We also need to see head coach Gregg Popovich start running more plays for White. His distribution of the ball is incredible and Pop takes advantage of that, but a lot of White’s shots come later in the shot clock as a last-resort option. Instead, the team should be running him off of screens for jumpers like they do for guards Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills.
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Though he is a bit old for a third-year player, White has a lot of time to keep improving his game. Defensively, he’s one of the most versatile in the league with a knack for guarding positions 1-through-3, and sometimes even power forwards. He has active hands and a high defensive IQ, boxing his shoulders in front of his opponent and using shifty motion to keep up with players of varying positions and skill sets. He has a long reach and great leaping ability, so White can block and contest shots at the rim or close out on shooters behind the arc.
Combining all of these skills with an innate drive to be great and a diverse two-way palate, it’s not crazy to suggest White can be an All-Star at some point in his career. However, this won’t happen if the organization doesn’t give him a chance to take the reins a bit more. This means playing him alongside starting point guard Dejounte Murray more often and saying goodbye to some of the veterans log-jamming the guard rotation.
It’s getting to a point where the Spurs are stuck in their ways and are beginning to harm the development of their younger players by focusing so much on their veterans. Anyone would agree that White deserves a greater role, but that’s not going to happen at this rate and things need to change before the young players get truly frustrated.
Given his play up to this point, White’s ceiling is the sky, but he needs the Spurs to provide a larger role in order for him to reach it.