Former player’s success proves Popovich still has his fastball

The latest player in a long road of Spurs success stories making the jump towards a potential All-Star nod is further proof of Coach Gregg Popovich's greatness.
Gregg Popovich, Derrick White
Gregg Popovich, Derrick White / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

As I’m sure most Spurs fans and basketball lovers in general are aware, former Spur Derrick White has taken a leap this season as a member of the Boston Celtics. In a different role than the one he was awarded in San Antonio, White is averaging 17 points and 5 assists on 49/42/90 shooting splits (career highs pretty much across the board) while helping steer Boston to the best record in the NBA.

For long-time believers in Derrick, it is not surprising to see the outpouring of love that basketball fans have for White, as he’s received an expanded role and exposure in a larger sports market. What is wild (and extremely cool) is that Derrick White has played so well that he’s now getting tons of fan and media support for an All-Star nod.

White was asked recently about the impact that Gregg Popovich had on his early career. In the video below, Derrick says that Pop “saw something in [him] that [White] didn’t see in [him] self.” Yes, it’s been a few years since then, but the coach has still got it, folks! Whether “it” is an eye for talent or the aptitude to draw the absolute best out of players, the 74-year-old is still fit for the job. Not to mention the fact that coaching all of these young guns has seemingly brought about a new energy from Pop.

If there’s a moral to take away from the story of Derrick White’s career, it is that growth is not always linear. The former Colorado Buffalo didn’t have a single offer from a Division I school coming out of high school. It took Derrick until he was 23 years old to make it to the NBA, and it wasn’t until his age-26 season that White put up 10 shots per game.

The fact that he is now arguably the second-best player on the top seed in the East and a candidate for the All-Star team should serve as a reminder to all that players develop on different timelines. Those who have been especially hard on the Spurs’ young guys this season should remember what Derrick White looked like as a rookie and sophomore in San Antonio. At that point, he was 3-4 years older than most guys who get minutes for the team this season are now!

When Jeremy Sochan or Malaki Branham have an off night, it is important to remember that they are 20 years old and still have plenty of room for development. If you’re upset that Blake Wesley, Sidy Cissoko, or Dominick Barlow aren’t receiving a ton of minutes or are in Austin with the G-League team, remind yourself where Derrick played the majority of his first season with the Spurs.

To take the words from Derrick White, as long as Coach Pop thinks these guys “belong,” he will coach them up as long as they can respond to the opportunity. Although this iteration of the Spurs is losing a lot, there are still enough flashes from each of the team’s important pieces that fans should be confident in the base that is being built.

P.S. White’s jump in both play and recognition is not only cool but hilarious, considering what another former member of the Silver & Black had to say about him during an appearance on the All the Smoke podcast this past summer:

Dejounte Murray probably felt entitled to say such things considering that he, not Derrick, was the one with an All-Star nod to that point (although his appearance in 2022 was as an injury replacement). Also, he fetched a much larger return as he was traded from the Spurs—DJ netted three first-round picks and a pick swap, while Derrick was traded for a single first-round pick and a protected swap.

Whether San Antonio received enough in return for White has become the latest contentious topic on Spurs Twitter. It is hard to critique any decision made in the couple of years leading up to the Spurs landing the number one overall pick (and selecting Victor Wembanyama). Luck was involved there, yes, but a lot comes out in the wash when your favorite team ends up with this guy.

If you’re truly upset that San Antonio didn’t get the full price of a burgeoning All-Star back from Boston, just pretend that the White and Murray packages were flipped. As much as I like him, some of the clips we’ve seen of DJ this season tells people he’s likely never to make the ASG again. Enough negativity; back to Derrick White—all the best to that guy. Die-hard Spurs fans will never forget his coming-out party in a near-upset series win over Denver in 2019.