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San Antonio Spurs: What Derrick White’s return means for current starters

CLEVELAND, OHIO - MARCH 08: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts after regulation time ended in a tie at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 08, 2020 (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - MARCH 08: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts after regulation time ended in a tie at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 08, 2020 (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts after regulation time ended in a tie at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 08, 2020 (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts after regulation time ended in a tie at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 08, 2020 (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Derrick White’s return to the San Antonio Spurs will have impacts on these three

The moment that San Antonio Spurs fans have waited for is finally almost here. After seeing Derrick White play for just 23 minutes in early-December, we’re close to seeing him make his second, and hopefully permanent, entrance to the Spurs lineup.

During the Spurs game against the Boston Celtics earlier this week, it was teased that Derrick wanted to play, and probably could’ve, but the coaches kept him out of an abundance of caution. Instead, he would make his return sometime this weekend.

Tom Petrini would later report that White would be out for tonight’s game against Denver, making Saturday’s game against Memphis the likely day for his debut.

White’s return is going to be a massive boost for the Spurs. They’ve managed to surprise some people this year and currently hold the fifth spot in the Western Conference. That they’ve done that without one of their best players is impressive in itself and is a good omen for their playoff chances at the end of the year.

Gregg Popovich will likely bring Derrick off the bench to start things off. That’s what he did in White’s lone other appearance and it would make sense to approach this return the same way. But White will find his way back to the starting lineup before long. So what does that mean for a few of the Spurs’ current starters?

Derrick White’s return could move Lonnie Walker back to the bench

Throughout the season, Lonnie Walker has brought a jolt of energy to the San Antonio Spurs starting lineup with his athleticism and three-point shooting. He’s been a valuable contributor, starting every game and coming through with more than a few big performances when the Spurs have needed him.

But as impressive as Lonnie has been as a starter, he’s probably going to be moved back to the second unit when White is ready to reclaim his spot in the lineup. One of Keldon Johnson or Lonnie is getting moved to the bench and the Spurs need Johnson’s physicality in the starting lineup.

Sliding Walker into the second unit could actually be a benefit to both him and the Spurs. San Antonio already has one of the best second units in the league and adding another skilled scorer and facilitator to that group is only going to help make them even more dangerous.

Coming off the bench, Walker should focus on embracing a sparkplug scoring role. With versatile defenders like Devin Vassell and Jakob Poeltl having his back on the other end of the floor, Walker will be able to gamble a bit more for steals, look ahead to starting fast breaks, and focus more of his attention on offense.

Looking down the road, it’s hard not to see Devin Vassell making his way to the starting lineup at some point. A lineup of Dejounte Murray, White, Vassell, and Johnson would give San Antonio the offensive and defensive versatility they need to contend. Moving Walker to the bench is a move the Spurs were likely going to have to make eventually, regardless of White’s return.

Personally, I think this move is going to be great for Walker. Being able to put more of his energy into offense and doing so against opposing second units could unleash a microwave scoring streak in Walker that we’ve only seen a few times before.

Next: DDR steps back even more

San Antonio spurs
San Antonio spurs

Jan 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) brings the ball up the court during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

DeMar DeRozan could improve his efficiency even more

One of the most interesting players to watch in Derrick White’s return will be DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has consistently adapted his game to be whatever the San Antonio Spurs have needed him to be. This year, that’s meant increasing his playmaking load, adding in a three-point shot to his game, and taking fewer shots from the mid-range. So how does that change with White back in the starting lineup?

It’s not a coincidence that with White out, DeRozan’s assist percentage is the highest it’s been in his time with the Spurs and the highest it’s been throughout his entire career. He’s assisting on almost a third of the Spurs points when he’s on the floor right now, that’s certain to drop when Derrick is back in the lineup.

This isn’t to say that DeMar’s going to suddenly stop initiating the offense, only that it’s not going to be as necessary now. With White back in the mix, DeMar can, like Lonnie, focus more on what he does best – scoring points.

For as much as Dejounte, Lonnie, and others have improved, DeRozan is still one of the few Spurs who can get his own shot off almost whenever he wants. It’s why the team looks to him so much in crunch time and his experience in those moments has made San Antonio one of the most dangerous 4th quarter teams in the league.

With White back, DeMar can conserve even more of his energy for those late fourth-quarter runs. If San Antonio continues to struggle in the 3rd as they have all season, they’re going to need more 4th quarter heroics from DeMar before the season is over.

Having fresh legs in those moments, even at the end of the season, is going to be key for San Antonio. If White can take even a small playmaking load off of DeRozan’s plate it could go a long way towards keeping him fresh when the Spurs are fighting to lock in their return to the playoffs.

Next: The other starting guard

San Antonio spurs
San Antonio spurs

Aug 9, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (middle) dives for a loose ball between San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) and guard Derrick White (right) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Dejounte Murray finally gets his partner in crime back

After months of begging, we finally got the to see the Derrick White – Dejounte Murray we’d been hoping for in the bubble. It wasn’t much but it was nice to finally get a glimpse of what the future of the San Antonio Spurs is going to look like.

The most exciting part of the White-Murray duo is what they can do to opposing backcourts on the defensive end of the floor. The two fit complement each other so well. White’s affinity for blocking shots and taking charges and Dejounte’s long-limbed influence in passing lanes make for quite the defensive combination.

On offense, it’ll be interesting to see how their offensive games blend together. The fear of playing these two together was always about floor spacing. But the improvements Derrick showed form behind the arc in the bubble, as well as the progress Murray has made as a three-level scorer, make those fears less valid now.

Really, it comes down to just wanting to get a greater sample size on what happens when these two share the floor. We only saw them for a few games in Orlando and a few minutes this season. Outside of that, all that we can do is speculate on what might happen.

Together, these two make the bedrock of what the Spurs are trying to build on. Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell might end up being better players but make no mistake, these two are going to be the leaders of this team for the next five years. It’s about time we get to see what it looks like when they share the floor for an extended period of time.

Next. 3 Reasons for optimism after first month of season

Derrick White’s return is going to have ripple effects on San Antonio Spurs starters and second unit players alike. There will be changes but this is all good for San Antonio. They’re finally getting one of their best players back and fans couldn’t be more excited.

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