Entering the fourth year of his rookie deal, San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White has earned his payday and should remain with the team moving forward.
While it’s true that the San Antonio Spurs have a plethora of guards clogging up the rotation, few are as worthy of their minutes as third-year guard Derrick White. After taking over the starting spot due to point guard Dejounte Murray‘s injury in the 2018-19 season, ‘Whiteout,’ as he’s been endearingly nicknamed by Spurs fans is one of the smartest players in San Antonio.
Combining excellent size and length at 6-foot-4 with a wide reach and great athleticism, White can play either guard position with ease and handles the basketball like a champ. He’s an expert in the pick-and-roll, finding his teammates in the paint or off of a drive at every opportunity. He’s more of a natural playmaker than Murray is and shoots the ball nicely from deep, which makes him the ideal player to pair with the newly-extended point guard.
White has come off the bench for the Spurs this year, serving as the backup shooting guard next to veteran Patty Mills. Most of the reason why White is running with the second unit is to cover up that group’s deficiencies on the defensive end while balancing the abysmal defense of starter Bryn Forbes with the keen instincts that Murray brings to the table.
The 2020-21 season is the last of White’s rookie year, meaning he’ll be eligible for an extension this offseason. While he’s probably considering the free-agent market since he’s stuck on the bench for San Antonio, he’s also a natural fit with the organization both on and off the court. White is humble and reserved but carries an innate will to be great inside of him, which is why Spurs GM Brian Wright needs to do everything in his power to bring White back.
Considering the two players are on similar trajectories and level of skill, the Spurs might want to look at offering something in the ballpark of what they gave Murray: Four years, $64 million-plus up to $6 million in incentives.
It’s a hefty paycheck to give out to a bench player on a losing team, but by all accounts, a contract extension makes perfect sense here.
Next: Bridging the gap between past and future
White is ideal for the Spurs’ culture moving forward
Though White didn’t actually get to play with assistant coach Tim Duncan, who retired from his playing days with the team in 2016, he’s learned quite a bit from Timmy. White did get to be around both Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in their final seasons with the team and has been present since the organization was thrust into the next generation of Spurs basketball.
When he was drafted, it was idealized that White would be a part of the future core, making key contributions as he grew into a more reliable and confident player. His defensive drive has always been there, but now he has the physicality and wits to make him an All-Defensive caliber player.
As I mentioned previously, White’s demeanor aligns with the team’s values splendidly. He’s a notoriously hard worker who has fought for his right to play at every level of his basketball career starting with his high school days. He had to work for his spot on a Division 2 team in college before landing in Colorado and then had to work for his minutes by starring for the Austin Spurs in the G League and the Spurs’ Summer League team.
White is the perfect example of a player who bought into the Spurs’ system of working up the ladder and is being rewarded for it. Now that Forbes’ contract is expiring and White is progressing into the next step of his career, chances are his role is going to increase in the 2020-21 season. Even if they continue bringing him off the bench, he’ll start sharing the floor with Murray more often and will have a higher usage rate as a result.
Regardless of whether they go young or not, San Antonio wants White featured prominently moving forward and the only way to ensure that is by inking a longterm contract extension as soon as possible.
Next: Asserting himself as a playmaker
Being the Spurs’ next great passer
Since he’s the most prolific player on the team, wing DeMar DeRozan handles the ball more than anyone else on the Spurs. With that being the case, he’s learned from head coach Gregg Popovich to initiate offense for his teammates, leading him to post career-highs in passing and assisting. However, he’s not a natural playmaker and won’t lead the team in assists forever.
White is poised to step into a larger role and become the team’s leading assist man despite playing the off-guard position. For many years, we watched as Ginobili poured on assists for his teammates despite Parker being the primary floor general for the squad. This kind of dynamic is likely to prevail as Murray and White get put on the floor together.
Few players are as dynamic in the pick-and-roll as White is. He has the second-highest assist-to-turnover ratio on the Spurs this year at 2.75 behind Marco Belinelli, who doesn’t actually handle the ball himself all that often. This is extreme efficiency for a player who borders the 90th percentile of pick-and-roll ball handlers in the NBA this past season.
As a matter of fact, White is ninth in the entire NBA in Points Per Possession from the pick-and-roll for players who operate the pick-and-roll on at least a third of their possessions. His frequency is high enough that is puts him amongst some of the game’s most elite ball handlers like Chris Paul and Damian Lillard.
Unselfishness is key to White’s ability as a playmaker. Despite ranking fifth in minutes per game for the Spurs this season, he averaged the third-most passes per game with 37.4, which is less than one pass fewer than the team’s leading assister in DeMar DeRozan. While DeRozan’s passes usually equate to assists because he attracts more attention, White makes sure that the ball is moving and everyone is involved better.
Signing Derrick to an extension is signing up for a bright future from your guard positions.
Next: Making an impact on defense
Derrick’s defense never wavers
Every step of the way, White has been one of the Spurs’ premiere defensive players for the last two seasons. He’s the guy who gets assigned to guard the best player on the floor when he’s in the game unless he’s a power forward or center. There’ve been plenty of times when Derrick has heard his name called to step up against the likes of Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, or any number of the league’s star scorers.
White has a better defensive rating this season than any of the players who rank in the top-five in terms of minutes per game. His quick footwork, long reach and athleticism allow him to contest shots from players driving to the basket or stepping out for a jumper.
Despite being a guard, White is uniquely adept at pinning shots near the basket by helping on the weak side and swatting away shots. He ranks third on the team in total blocked shots behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl, who are supposed to be swatting shots as the team’s primary rim protectors. Blocks are an effort stat and seeing as how he ranks third on the team in that category at a position that doesn’t traditionally tally those, you can see how much he tries.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) January 11, 2019
Another stat that should tell you just how much White cares are the number of charges that he draws for this team. Of players who log at least 20 minutes per game, White ranks seventh in the league with 0.31 ahead of star defenders like P.J. Tucker, Marcus Smart and Draymond Green. He puts that expert footwork to use and puts his body on the line for the sake of winning. With 19 total charges drawn this year, he’s tied for the fourth-most in the NBA.
He plays fewer minutes than four of the team’s five starters and still ranks third on the team in total shots contested including the most contested three-pointers on the team. Furthermore, he tries hard to intercept passes and jump into passing lanes, resulting in the second-most deflections per 36 minutes behind Murray.
For a team that has been abysmal on defense this season, White is the saving grace that’s done everything in his power to fix that area of focus for his team. That should be rewarded with a handsome payday and financial security for years to come.
Next: Getting a contract signed
Making the money work
Luckily for the Spurs, everything checks out financially in terms of their ability to sign White to a contract extension. Their cap sheet opens up tremendously after the 2020-21 season, which is when his prospective deal would begin since he’s under contract through next year already. Giving White a four-year contract in the $50-65 million range is totally plausible with some flexibility given the NBA’s unsure cap situation moving forward.
Few players give their heart and soul to a team the way White has in a season that certainly hasn’t gone his way. Many thought he’d be a sure-fire starter after the way he played last year, but Popovich relegated him to the bench to cover up the horrid defense of his peers. His circumstances have held Derrick back this year and he deserves to get paid for his sacrifices.
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White’s agent is Mike Lindeman of Excel Sports Management, who managed All-Stars and rising talents like Nikola Jokic, Khris Middleton, Forbes and White. For as much as he’s going to try for Forbes to get a big deal, his best bet at a bigger commission and a better situation for everyone involved is getting Forbes a sizeable deal somewhere else and inking White’s deal.
Players are going to be seeking financial security in the 2020 offseason after the hiatus and issues between the NBA and China earlier in the season. It’s expected that the salary cap is going to go lower, making a lot of these massive deals obsolete. White isn’t going to expect a max contract from the Spurs, but he’ll definitely get a contract in excess of $10 million per year for his services.
It’s obvious that White is too valuable to let go of, even if it means saying goodbye to Forbes or other players in the process. By the time that White’s contract would start, Mills’ would end, giving way for White’s salary to occupy the cap sheet.
Between the timing of it all and White’s explosion in the last two seasons, the time is now to secure his future in the Alamo City.