Spurs 2019-20 Review: Derrick White remains key part of team success
The return of Dejounte Murray moved him to the bench but Derrick White proved he is still a key part of the San Antonio Spurs future in year three
This time last year Derrick White was preparing to lead the San Antonio Spurs to a Game 1 road victory over the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. White’s solid performance, highlighted by his poster-worthy dunk on Paul Millsap, reinforced what we had learned after a breakout sophomore season: that White was going to be a key part of the Spurs’ future.
White didn’t spend his summer celebrating his success. Instead, he traveled to China with Team USA and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to compete in the FIBA World Cup. And while Team USA ultimately came up short, White’s inclusion on the team indicated that he was headed for another big season in year three.
It didn’t take long for the plan for splitting the minutes in the Spurs backcourt to become clear. Running the second unit was a role that was envisioned for White from the very beginning. While Dejounte Murray spent most of his time running the starting unit, White spent his third season with the Spurs excelling in the sixth man role.
One of the things that stood out most about White in his sophomore year was how hard it was to rattle him. That carried over into year three, as White was rarely erratic and out of control. There were times where he could have been more aggressive in his play but he was remarkably consistent all year.
Last season he showed real promise as a defender and the highlight of White’s game this year was his aggression on that end of the floor. Even though he started most games on the bench, he was tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player often from the moment he checked in. Over the past two years, he’s proven that he can hold his own against some of the best perimeter players in the league.
White’s defensive ability was seen in his league-leading block numbers among guards. Even though he played significantly less than other qualifying players like James Harden and Jayson Tatum, White was still able to lead all guards in blocks (55) before the season was suspended.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2019/10/31/0021900068/182/b1fabefd-a5b6-00c4-782b-b732abfe1d34_1280x720.mp4
White’s skill on defense is part of why Spurs fans have been so high on the idea of him and Dejounte playing together. Combined, they could be one of the league’s most destructive backcourt. But the two only logged 102 minutes together all season. They gave up 106.8 points per 100 possessions when they did share the court, so there is work to be done. That said, it’s a limited sample size and both have the talent to make it work, it could just come down to getting more time to practice and play together.
On offense, the statistics don’t do White’s game justice. While he didn’t appear to take any huge steps forward, he played very well in the confines of the Spurs bench unit. His overall assist ratio took a step back from where it was last year but given his different role that wasn’t entirely surprising.
While the Spurs first unit tended to play more iso ball, the second unit was more free-flowing and put a greater emphasis on ball movement. DeMar DeRozan‘s game has its advantages, but its impact on the overall ball movement is not one of them.
Thanks to his willingness as a passer and quick decision making, White helped lead a Spurs second unit that was one of the most pass-happy in the league. As a unit, they averaged 9.7 assists per game, good enough for fourth in the league.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2019/10/31/0021900068/405/3f1cce20-ccd5-1ed3-8521-9b09b98dc4a7_1280x720.mp4
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One area where he did make a noticeable improvement was in his 3-point shooting. He bumped his 3-point rate up from making around 34 percent last year to closer to 36 percent this season. It’s not a huge improvement but its important growth in the right areas for a key shooter on a team that’s frequently strapped for long-range threats.
More important than how frequently he was making them is how comfortable White looked shooting three’s. He had only put up 142 in his sophomore season but was at 160 before the season was canceled. Questions about his fit next to Dejounte have often been related to the pair’s ability to spread the floor together. White’s growth as a reliable deep threat is crucial to the two eventually playing together consistently.
After unexpectedly being called into a starting role in his second year with the team, Derrick White was asked to take a step back in year three. He took the change in stride and ended up being the leader the Spurs second unit needed next to Patty Mills.
We will have to wait and see what is in store for White in year four. With several key free-agency questions surrounding the Spurs backcourt, he could be asked to step back into the starting lineup next year. Whatever the future holds, Spurs fans can rest easy knowing that White won’t be shaken off his path by anything that comes his way.
Another late-round gem, White has proven that he is going to be a key part of the San Antonio Spurs’ future in his brief time in the league. After another solid season under his belt, we should all be looking forward to what skills he adds over the summer.