San Antonio Spurs: Derrick White’s case for an NBA All-Defensive Team
By Dylan Carter
While the San Antonio Spurs aren’t a defensive powerhouse by any means, combo guard Derrick White deserves a look for an NBA All-Defensive Team.
If history is any indicator, it’s extremely difficult to make an NBA All-Defensive Team without being on a great defensive team. However, being a defensive game-changer like San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White gives merit to his under-the-radar case. On a team with two starters that refute defense and another who’s just getting his feet under him after a devastating injury, White has been the guiding light for a team without an identity on that end of the floor.
Perhaps it’s because of his high motor; keeping with plays and using his long reach to deflect shot attempts. Maybe it’s his willfulness to step in front of any ball-handler to draw a charge in the heat of the moment or the fact that he leads all guards in blocks this season with 56 despite playing nearly 800 fewer minutes than the runner-up, James Harden.
Nonetheless, White manages to assert his dominant presence and towering basketball IQ on any and every opponent he faces. Head coach Gregg Popovich knows that Derrick has a competitive fire within him, which is why he holds his opponents to just 55.1 percent in the paint despite being a 6-foot-4 guard. It’s why Pop ushers Derrick to guard the other team’s best player in crunch time and why he’s always trusted to make the right play down the stretch.
Being that he’s a Spur, White remains a clandestine pick for one of the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams. Those who don’t pay attention won’t think of him as a legitimate option, but those who know what it takes to be an elite defender in this league respect all that he does for the silver and black.
Next: Effort never dwindles
Derrick White is the ultimate hustle player for the San Antonio Spurs.
When’s the last time you’ve seen a player draw five charges in a single tooth and draw a charge in the process? For Spurs fans, it was in the team’s first regular-season game back from a four-month gap. That’s right. Derrick White took five shots to the body — and in some cases, the face too — as the Spurs claimed their first win inside the bubble. It’s abnormal to see anyone not named Marcus Smart, Kyle Lowry, or Montrezl Harrell drawing more than one charge in a game, but no one is going out there and taking five of them.
White’s 24 charges this season rank fourth in the league and are quickly creeping up on the third-ranked spot held by Mo Wagner. It’s a testament to his inclination to put it all on the line for the sake of winning. Maybe Defensive Rating isn’t going to rank White amongst the best players in the league today, but his hustle stats prove that there are few guards as feisty at Derrick.
Derrick White got his crotch kicked and teeth busted to take his 5th charge at a critical moment of a must-win game
How can you not love this kid? pic.twitter.com/tfl6cStb3l
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) August 1, 2020
In a stat category dominated by big men, White ranks 40th in total contests this season with 509, or 8.2 shot contests per game. As previously mentioned, White has played nearly 800 fewer minutes than Harden and is still just two contested shots behind him for the most amongst guards this season. These aren’t just layups and floaters either — White gives constant effort to get a hand up on shooters, which has resulted in 226 contested 3-pointers this season.
For reference, the only player who contests more 3-pointers per minute is Toronto’s blossoming star, Pascal Siakam. White will often have to pick up on a shot left behind by one of the team’s less spirited defenders, sprinting across the court to get in the way of the opponent’s jumper.
White is astounding on and off the ball, picking up the slack for the 24th ranked defensive team.
Next: Shifting the trajectory of his team
The San Antonio Spurs are a different team with Derrick White on the floor.
It’s no coincidence that the Spurs’ defensive rating improves by 3.7 with White on the floor versus when he’s on the bench. When White enters the game, San Antonio has a go-to defensive presence to alleviate some of the pressure from starter Dejounte Murray. While Murray may be the more energetic of the two, White brings a methodical approach that tempts defenders into shots that he knows he can alter with his length and leaping ability.
Their differing approaches complement each other well, which makes them a deadly combination for the Spurs moving forward. Maybe Murray asserted that defensive presence a bit earlier in his career, but it’s hard to deny that White’s overtaken him as the team’s best defender to this point.
With White off the floor, opponents shoot 48.4 from the floor and 38.2 from 3-point land against the Spurs. That efficiency takes a major decline when White enters the game as opponents fall to 45.4 percent from the floor and 36.9 percent from beyond the arch. Not only does Derrick give his all to limit his assignment’s output, but he shifts the paradigm of his team’s mindset.
But don’t take it from me — take it from his teammate, DeMar DeRozan, who commented on it during postgame media availability after Spurs’ victory against the Sacramento Kings: “It’s definitely energizing,” DeRozan said. “For him to pull off the big plays when we needed it came up big – sacrificing his body and just his overall defensive schemes.”
Having a player who can uplift and inspire his teammates is invaluable. There are only a handful of guys like that in this league and none of them have racked up five charges in a single outing like Derrick just did. It’s a testament to who he is as a leader and All-Defensive team candidate in just his third year out of Colorado.
Next: The best shot-blocking guard in the NBA
There’s a case for Derrick White as the San Antonio Spurs’ best shot blocker.
White can be everywhere at once, serving as a threat both on and off the ball. While he doesn’t tally as many deflections as Murray, who ranks near the top in the league, White blockades passing lanes and exceeds expectations as a weakside shot blocker.
The anticipatory nature of his playstyle puts him in a position to slide into the paint when an opponent drives to the basket and send shots packing. For example, White finds that Forbes is getting beat off the dribble by Fred VanVleet above. The 26-year-old is technically supposed to be guarding a wide-open Siakam in the corner. Though he left his assignment alone, White positioned himself to contest VanVleet’s layup attempt or deflect a pass into the corner if it came.
Even when defending on the ball, White always manages to recover after getting beat off the dribble. Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is one of the best players in the league when it comes to creating space on his field-goal attempts. Whether it be a jumper or a layup, Booker uses his shifty handle and deceptive quickness to create space to get shots off from just about everywhere on the court. In this instance, Booker uses the off-arm to create space from White on the drive. Instead of giving up, Derrick recovers near the rim and elevates to swat Booker’s attempt before it could make contact with the rim.
Oftentimes, he’ll box his shoulders in front of his man to keep in front of them, holding his hands straight up in the air to contest without fouling. It’s a play that he implements time and time again when switched onto players with more strength and speed than him.
These are the savvy, veteran-caliber plays that make White one of the most prolific defensive enforcers in the sport. No one else is recovering to pin shots the way White has in 2020 — not even the master of the chase-down block himself, LeBron James.
More from Air Alamo
- San Antonio Spurs: 3 Players who must step up in Aldridge’s absence
- Predicting week 8 results, featuring a double-header with the Warriors
- The Ringer podcast goes crazy over Spurs’ Keldon Johnson
- San Antonio Spurs: Preparing for another DeMar DeRozan All-Star snub
- Rockets suffer another devasting injury before facing San Antonio Spurs
As you can see above, it’s not just about the swats either. White manages to strip the ball from opponents on their way to the rim constantly, using his long reach and instinctive reactions to snatch the ball from the greatest of opponents. This will oftentimes force a turnover as the ball-handler is unable to recover from the shooting motion to make a play on the ball.
White doesn’t just pull these moves off against backups and scrubs. Anyone can get the work if they’re willing to step up on White. This season alone, he’s blocked the likes of Booker, Mitchell, Doncic, Tatum, Young, Kawhi, Lillard, Morant, Beal and the list goes on. Derrick White is an absolutely fearless leader on the defensive end who’s coming along as a shooter and finisher as well, though his scoring doesn’t play into this conversation.
There are only four perimeter defenders I’d rather have in a crucial moment than Derrick White: Kawhi, CP3, Holiday and Paul George. That’s a group of proven two-way veteran players including three players bound for the Hall of Fame and another who’s criminally underrated.
You can make a case for Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics, but he and White are cut from the same cloth and White has the edge in athleticism. I’d give consideration to Robert Covington as well, but his defense seemed to take a step back this year in Houston’s chaotic system.
On the surface, maybe White isn’t an obvious pick for a 2020 NBA All-Defensive Team, but it becomes clearer the closer you look that he fits in this category easily.
*All stats and clips courtesy of Stats.NBA.com, h/t 3Ball*