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San Antonio Spurs: How Derrick White can make his first All-Star team

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs is congratulated by Derrick White #4 after scoring a basket against Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs is congratulated by Derrick White #4 after scoring a basket against Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 03: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs is congratulated by Derrick White #4 after scoring a basket against Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 03: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs is congratulated by Derrick White #4 after scoring a basket against Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Derrick White turned it on for the San Antonio Spurs but can he be an All-Star

Of all of the positive things to come out of the San Antonio Spurs time in the Orlando bubble, and there were a lot, Derrick White’s emergence as the team’s best player was one of the most exciting. For an underappreciated and under-recruited player such as White to rise to the level that he has is nothing short of inspiring.

In order for the San Antonio Spurs to start another two-decades-long run of success and playoff appearances, they’re going to need a lot from their in-house talent. And White looks like the prime candidate to continue his breakout well into next season.

White’s ability to continue his stellar play will weigh heavily on the rotations and strategy that the Spurs decide to use next year. If they continue to play the way that they did in Orlando, with White and Dejounte Murray running together and receiving heavy minutes, then White’s chances for a breakout season are good. But if they, for some head-scratching reason, decide to revert back to their old ways, White’s ceiling should be considered significantly lower, and his chances of making an All-Star team will be all but nonexistent.

Before we explore White’s All-Star chances, and what he will have to improve on to capitalize on them, let’s review how he did this year.

Next: Derrick White's 2020-21 season

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 05: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs brings the ball up court against the Denver Nuggets during the second half at Visa Athletic Center. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 05: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs brings the ball up court against the Denver Nuggets during the second half at Visa Athletic Center. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)

Derrick White has a strong finish to his third season with San Antonio Spurs

Derrick White opened the season as the San Antonio Spurs sixth man. In hindsight, the move was probably a mistake. But at the time it seemed like the right plan. White ended up starting in just 20 games this season compared to 55 last year, with 7 of his 20 starts coming in the Orlando bubble.

There was nothing wrong with Derrick’s play for much of the season. His numbers were largely right in line with what we had seen from in his second season. He moved the ball well, hit the occasional three, played the stellar defense that we had come to expect from him. When the first part of the regular season ended he was actually leading all guards in the league in total blocks.

Injuries and seemingly nonexistent chances of making the playoffs led the Spurs to approach the games in the bubble with a level of open-mindedness that they hadn’t had for much of the regular season. The results for the team, and White, in particular, were stunning.

Prior to the league hiatus, the third-year guard from Colorado was averaging 10.4 points and 3.4 assists per game on 35.6 percent from three-point range. In the bubble, he exploded to average 18.9 points 4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game on 39.3 percent shooting from behind the arc.

The numbers themselves are impressive enough but what really stood out as you watched the game was the mindset shift that White had gone through. During much of the regular season, White would pass up open 3-pointers. Either due to his own worries about not making the shot or feeling like he needed to keep the ball moving, he passed up plenty of opportunities from behind the arc. In the bubble that wasn’t the case at all. If he had a look he was pulling.

https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/03/0021901254/632/3bab4c38-c443-176e-9df3-24244572afe2_1280x720.mp4

Someone needed to step up for San Antonio and Derrick White was that dude. He was second on the team in points per game, third in plus/minus rating, and was the one the team leaned on when they needed to get points quick. He still seeded some of the late game-closing responsibilities to DeMar DeRozan but for much of the game, he was the man the Spurs relied on most.

White closed out the season incredibly well, but can he carry that momentum into the 2020-21 season? He’ll need to if he wants to make his first All-Star game.

Next: How Derrick White can make an All-Star team

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 02: San Antonio Spurs’ Derrick White #4 drives into Memphis Grizzlies’ Brandon Clarke #15 during the first half of an NBA basketball game.  (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 02: San Antonio Spurs’ Derrick White #4 drives into Memphis Grizzlies’ Brandon Clarke #15 during the first half of an NBA basketball game.  (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

Derrick White’s All-Star case is in the San Antonio Spurs hands

At this point, I think we can all safely put to bed the idea that Derrick White isn’t talented enough to make an All-Star team. His play in Orlando proved that he’s got what it takes to be one of the NBA’s best two-way guards. No, his case for making an All-Star game is going to largely depend on things out of his control. There are certain things White can do on his own to improve his case, and we will get to those later, but for now, let’s focus on what his team can do to help him get his first All-Star selection.

Let’s be honest, White isn’t making it into the All-Star game as a starter. He’s not well known enough and plays for a team in far too small of a market to keep up with the Luka Doncic’s and Damian Lillard’s of the Western Conference. He’s going to have to make it in by being voted in by the coaches, and in a conference that will soon be adding Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry back into the field of eligible players, that’s going to be harder than ever to do.

One of the things the San Antonio Spurs can do to improve White’s chances is simply to play him more. During the season restart, he was averaging 29.8 minutes per game, a big jump from where he was for most of the season but still far below where most All-Stars land. Let’s take a brief look at some other reserves from the 2020 All-Star game and their nightly average minutes.

  • Kyle Lowry: 36.2 mpg
  • Brandon Ingram: 33.9 mpg
  • Khris Middleton: 29.9 mpg
  • Jimmy Butler: 33.8 mpg
  • Domantas Sabonis: 34.8 mpg
  • Devin Booker: 35.9 mpg

The only player within spitting distance of White’s nightly minutes was Khris Middleton, who was averaging 50/40/90 for a historically great team. I’m as big of a Derrick White fan as any of you but there is no chance the coaches are voting him in over a player like that. He’s going to need to receive another substantial bump to his minutes if he wants to contend for an All-Star spot.

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An increase in minutes for White could actually lead to the second point that’s more out of his control. More minutes for White could mean more wins for the Spurs, and that’s something that definitely needs to happen if he wants to make the All-Star team.

Consider this, Devin Booker barely made it into the game as an injury replacement reserve and Bradley Beal was excluded entirely. I don’t care what team you support, you have to acknowledge that both of those players are better than Derrick White. And they didn’t make it in because they’re not good enough, the didn’t make it in because their teams stunk.

You can put up some of the best numbers in the league but, more often than not, if you’re not doing it for a team that’s in playoff contention it won’t matter, you’re not getting the invite. If Derrick White wants to make the All-Star roster the San Antonio Spurs need to win more games. It’s cliche but true.

There are things he can do on his own to make his case stronger. His assist numbers could take a bump, we will need to see that his hot shooting from behind the arc over the final seven games wasn’t a fluke, he can continue to play stellar defense and be one of the best two-way players in his conference. But none of that is going to matter if he isn’t getting the minutes he needs to help push the Spurs to wins and push his team back into playoff contention.

Next. Five surprising players you forgot played for the San Antonio Spurs

Derrick White certainly has the talent to make an All-Star team at some point in his career. But his case will largely come down to the strength of his team and the minutes he plays. If the Spurs can put him in a position to become a star we all know he’s capable of seizing the moment.

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