Mar 10, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) shoots against the Dallas Mavericks in the first half at the AT&T Center. (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)
Getting increased playing time for fourth-year combo guard Derrick White is the only way for the San Antonio Spurs to hit their ceiling.
Becoming a viable candidate to reach the 2021 NBA Playoffs won’t be an easy transition for the San Antonio Spurs. As a matter of fact, the team may prefer to stay the course and re-enter the NBA Draft lottery in a loaded 2021 class that features both high school and college prospects for the first time in many years. However, tanking is never something this organization would opt for, so head coach Gregg Popovich is going to fight for a chance to compete in the postseason.
Doing so will take a different approach that prioritizes talent and potential over experience as the only way to gain it is with repetition and opportunity. Therefore, it’s essential that combo guard Derrick White sees an uptick in playing time during the 2020-21 NBA season. After entering the starting five in the Orlando restart, there’s no turning back — White must start for San Antonio.
In the Orlando bubble, White showcased a plethora of abilities including volume shooting, defensive playmaking, tendencies of a floor general and incredible passing that helped the San Antonio Spurs showcase more of their underlying talent as a group. Before getting hurt in a game against New Orleans, White averaged 21.8 points, five rebounds, 5.2 assists and a steal per game in 32.5 minutes per contest.
Beyond the overarching stat-line that impressed, White hit a whopping 45.2 percent of 8.4 3-point attempts per game while hitting 47.1 percent of his shots overall and 81.3 percent of 6.4 free throw attempts per contest. Simply put, White was doing it all until his momentum was halted by the injury.
During his six and a half games in the bubble, White totaled the fourth-most minutes of any Spurs player and posted a 9.9 net rating. This is a player who impacts winning on both sides of the floor and the only way for San Antonio to play similarly to the way they did in Orlando is by deploying a lineup that peppers White with minutes.
Next: Transforming the game on defense
Mar 10, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) backs into San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) in the first half at the AT&T Center. (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)
Derrick White shifts the way that the San Antonio Spurs defend.
Heading into the season, the defensive combination of Derrick White and Dejounte Murray was the most excitable aspect of this San Antonio Spurs roster. Obviously, the team didn’t get to use that pairing often due to the deficiencies of some of their rotation players — ahem… Bryn Forbes — and awkward roster construction.
That flew out of the window once the season began, relegating White to a bench role that tarnished his ability to flourish. White was arguably the most captivating part of the San Antonio Spurs’ 2018-19 season filling in for Murray. Holding him back despite grooming him for a greater role while coaching Team USA might’ve been Popovich’s greatest blunder to date.
Still, Popovich corrected his ways and White dominated the defensive end in Orlando. White’s individual defensive rating was 3.8 points per 100 possessions less than the team’s average in the Orlando restart. However, this isn’t specific to the restart — White’s been the Spurs’ best defender throughout the season as a whole.
Seven #NBA players took at least 13 shots while guarded by Derrick White last season: Luka, Dame, Russ, Booker, Kawhi, Morant and Harden.
— Dylan Hunter Carter (@DylanHCarter) November 5, 2020
White’s guarded the best players on the opposing team in nearly every matchup this season. Even with a former All-Defensive player like Dejounte on the roster, White’s proven that he was the best on-ball defender that San Antonio has to offer. His 11 charges led the league by six since the league restarted and his 0.44 charges drawn per game ranked third of eligible players behind Kyle Lowry and Montrezl Harrell.
For more on White’s defensive prowess, check out my article detailing his case to make an All-Defensive team earlier in the season. The point stands that he’s a transformative defender and playing him extended minutes is imperative to the San Antonio Spurs’ future.
Next: Setting the tone on offense
Jan 29, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) shoots over Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) in the second half at the AT&T Center. (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)
The San Antonio Spurs’ offense is dictated by White’s playing time.
A succinct offensive team throughout the season, the San Antonio Spurs operated like a well-oiled machine by putting their players’ best attributes to good use. With DeMar DeRozan as the primary ball-handler, San Antonio surrounded him with secondary playmakers and shooters who initiated a drive-and-kick offense. The bench unit played differently with more of an up-tempo offense that prioritized perimeter shooting.
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White is the equilibrium between the two that can be the catalyst to a winning product so long as he’s given extended minutes. He fits perfectly in both of these scenarios as a primary ball-handlers who can also make plays off the ball and facilitate when he sees fit. As a pick-and-roll initiator, White averaged a point per possession this season, finishing in the 86th percentile. That places him at No. 11 amongst players with at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions last season.
Beyond that, White’s proven himself as a reliable 3-point shooter in various scenarios. He can be relied upon when spotting up off of passes from DeRozan, whose gravity draws defenders away from the 3-point lineup. Likewise, White made it known during the restart that he’s capable of curling off screens at the 3-point line and launching pull-up jumpers from deep.
A bonafide three-level scorer, White hasn’t been fully unleashed until recently and even then, he never eclipsed 36 minutes in a game. Meanwhile, San Antonio won four of the six games in which White played at least 33 minutes. He averaged 18.8 points per game and 6.2 assists in those games, making his mark on both sides of the floor while helping his team fulfill its potential.
Without a doubt, White needs more minutes for the San Antonio Spurs to succeed next season.