Though he continues to impress early in his career for the San Antonio Spurs, guard Derrick White has only realized a fraction of his potential.
Hopes were high for San Antonio Spurs combo guard Derrick White coming into his third season in the NBA and for the most part, he met his expectations. White improved as a jump shooter, continued to display exemplary defensive instincts and fit into any and every role that head coach Gregg Popovich asked of him.
Due to roster construction and the defensive deficiencies of his teammates, White had to take on a bench role after filling in for starter Dejounte Murray last season. Many hopes we’d see more of that tandem on the floor together this season, but White started in only 13 games this season, each of which was with Murray sitting out or coming off the bench himself.
By all accounts, White is blossoming into the player that the Spurs need him to be moving forward. Next season is going to be the most important of his young career as it’s his last season before he hits restricted free agency in the Summer of 2021. White deserves to have his contract extended in my humble opinion and he may see that come to fruition in 2020, but there are no guarantees and White may need to prove himself in one last run on his rookie deal.
This leads me to the areas he needs to work on; of which there are very few. In many areas, it’s less about adding a skill and more about getting better at things he already does. White is one of the most tenacious, young defenders in the game, ranking near the top in charges drawn while widely influencing the team’s chemistry on that end of the floor.
Still, complacency is how a rising talent loses all of the progress they’ve worked to gain and if White takes his foot off the pedal now, he’ll fail to see his sky-high potential through.
Next: Working on that range
1. Progress into a more consistent three-point shooter
After locking himself in the gym and hoisting triples in the summer of 2019, White saw a 1.8 percent increase in his three-point shooting from last season on 18 more attempts up to this point in the frozen season. However, there’s still work to be done if Derrick wants to become a more complete three-point marksman.
As the season drudged on, White’s efficiency from outside started to decline after peaking in December (37.9%). His most efficient zone was the right corner, where he hit an astounding 66.7 percent of his attempts. For some reason, his efficiency from the left corner dropped dramatically to just 31.3 percent. Though many of his three-point attempts come as bail-out shots near the end of the shot clock, White should still be making a higher percentage of left corner triples.
White also made just 34.8 percent of 132 three-point attempts from above the break, which is the most common shot for the point guard to take.
The most crucial aspect of Derrick’s three-point shooting that he’ll need to improve is his ability to shoot off the dribble. It’s something that he’s comfortable doing in the mid-range, but he struggles with from deep for whatever reason. White made 37.5 percent of 96 catch-and-shoot triples this year, which is a decent mark despite ranking seventh of qualified Spurs.
Between learning how to create his own shot from distance, establishing his ability to knock them down from the corners and learning how to make his attempts in high-pressure situations, White still has a way to go before solidifying himself as a high-quality three-point shooter.
Next: Push it into overdrive
2. Learn to be more aggressive as a floor general
Ranking fourth on the team in touches per game and third in average time of possession per touch, White is relied upon as one of the key playmakers on the roster. He’s a leader in his own right, initiating offense for his teammates despite usually playing the off-guard with Aussie point guard Patty Mills slotting in at the one.
Sometimes, White can be a bit nonchalant with the ball in his hands, dribbling lightly before passing off to someone on the perimeter to make something happen for themselves. With a team that so heavily emphasizes unselfish play, it’s understandable to get caught up in that mindstate. Still, if White wants to be a legitimate floor general for this team, he has to take a note out of Tony Parker‘s book and learn to kick it up a notch with the ball in his hands.
White is a great pick-and-roll passer who seems to find small windows and pockets to get the ball in his roll man’s hands. He needs to start calling for more screens to initiate that play type or simply break down defenders to create a shot. His unselfishness makes him pedestrian in certain scenarios when the team needs him to lead by example.
When Parker was at the helm, he was a threat to score the ball every time the ball touched his hand. Defenders feared Parker because of his relentless pursuit of the basket and innate scoring ability with the ball in his hands. White is a talented three-level scorer that could instill that same kind of fear if he learns to start taking initiative and going at his opponent.
Deferring to a teammate is always a great idea if there’s no good shot available, but at the same time, this is the NBA we’re talking about. There’s not going to be a good shot available unless you got and make it happen. If White learns to be more aggressive and confident in his scoring ability, it’ll open up even more opportunity to generate assists to his teammates.
Next: Tighten the handle
3. Add more to the ball-handling repertoire
Similarly to the last slide, this is an area where White has some feel but needs to keep working to unlock that next level of influence over the game.
Up to this point in his career, White’s ball-handling been efficient in the sense that a black and white printer is. With this printer, you know what you’re going to get: A reliable and monotonous finished product that’ll give you the information or photograph that you need, but leaves you yearning for the vibrant product that a color printer could provide for you.
My point is this: White needs to add some flair to his ball-handling skills. Oftentimes, he’ll rely on the same dribble-drive and crossover combination that he’s become so accustomed to breaking down defenders with, but it’s predictable. Every so often, he’ll pull off a move that brings fans to their feet in raucous celebration because of the degree of difficulty and keen execution he’ll pull off. He’s got an underrated eurostep and makes good use of ball fakes, to his credit.
Maybe he could leave the flair to Murray and Lonnie Walker IV, but then he’ll fail to unlock that next level of his game. Creating a more complete dribbling package including more hesitations, spin moves, in-and-out dribbles and spin moves creates a level of dynamism that’s going to help him create more shots for himself and open up lanes for him to drive to the basket.
To some, this may come off as picky. Obviously, Derrick is an effective ball-handler who knows how to make the most of his chances on the basketball court. Even with that being the case, Spurs fans envision a brighter future for Derrick where he’s one of the primary scorers on the team. Eventually, he’s going to draw even more defensive attention that’ll make his life much more difficult as his shot attempts increase.
Very, very sneaky. pic.twitter.com/V5cQESZB1b
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) February 7, 2020
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After Derrick ignited for 36 points against the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of the 2019 Western Conference First Round, he was stymied repeatedly by head coach Mike Malone’s strategy. In that career-high performance, White became a point of emphasis and because his dribbling is so predictable, they were able to essentially take him out of the series.
By adding more to his ball-handling repertoire, White could make it so that never happens again. With more dribble moves to work with, he could effectively escape any kind of defensive coverage and overcome inordinate defensive strategies focused on taking him out of the game when they eventually arise.
White ranks seventh on the team in both average and total field goal attempts on the Spurs this season—A ranking I don’t expect to hold true beyond this season.
However, becoming a go-to scorer from the guard position in this league requires more than just a crossover and a dribble-drive.