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San Antonio Spurs: The Murray-White backcourt deserves time to flourish

Dejounte Murray Derrick White
Dejounte Murray Derrick White / Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
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San Antonio Spurs
Derrick White / Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Derrick White has the talent. He just needs to stay healthy.

Ever since his sophomore season, Derrick White has been a revelation for the San Antonio Spurs. An unexpected commodity drafted 29th overall in 2017, White has firmly established himself as one of the most talented two-way guards in the entire NBA. Though he appeared in only 36 games due to nagging injuries during the 2020-21 season, White’s on-court results show great promise. That promise subsequently translated to some eye-popping advanced statistics which the broader NBA community isn’t privy to just yet.

White’s defensive versatility is a trait to be applauded. We’ve seen him take on the best offensive creator on the opposing team time and time again, using his shifty movement and long reach to contest and block shot attempts at all three levels. He graded out at an A in both Matchup Difficulty and Defensive Position Versatility last season, per B-Ball Index.

Other than the anomaly that is Jakob Poeltl under the rim, White allowed a lower field goal percentage in the paint than any other Spurs big last year, and he outmatched Poeltl on opponent field goal % on paint shots outside of the restricted area. That’s because he sticks to slashers like glue and forces them into ugly shots instead of easy ones on the perimeter or under the basket.

There are very few times that White has been clearly outmatched versus an offensive creator. When he’s on the court, his defensive focus is among the most disciplined in today’s NBA. Where White must prove himself next is on the offensive side of the floor, where he boasts incredible shot creation ability as both a scorer and facilitator despite shooting below-average from deep and from the field a year ago.

Over the course of the last two seasons, White has become increasingly confident as a 3-point shot creator. He finished last season in the 83rd percentile of 3-point shot creators with an overall B+ for his perimeter shooting capabilities. That being said, he needs to work on actually making those shots once he creates them.

With a defined need from the 3-point line, White took 3.5 more triples than his career average on a nightly basis last season. He did so by creating separation off of screens, breaking down defenders off the dribble, and moving off the ball (B-Ball Index graded him at an A- for points scored off of screens and cuts).

All of the pieces are coming together for White to be one of the most impactful guards in the league in an enhanced role. The next step is for White to stay on the court for as much time as he possibly can. If he’s able to play through a full season without serious injury, White could easily nab a Most Improved Player trophy by the year’s end.

Though his efficiency and turnovers need work, White finished in the 93rd percentile of passing versatility last season. Already one of the best pick-and-roll ball-handlers in basketball, White just needs more reps to rack up the counting stats and show what he really brings to the table.

Now considered a veteran on this youthful team, the Spurs will lean on White for stretches of the upcoming season. With DeRozan gone, someone needs to establish themselves as a primary facilitator for this squad. White needs to strike while the iron is hot—now is the time for him to prove Spurs fans right after rallying behind him for several seasons.

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