San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White could be poised to have a breakout year next season. What was expected to be his breakout season last season proved to be an injury-plagued one. Now healthy, White is expected to play a much bigger role following the departures of several key Spurs players.
With a bigger role, Spurs fans will now be able to see just how good White really is. Furthermore, he has drawn comparisons to Spurs legend Manu Ginobili and does shares some of the same qualities as Ginobili had as a player. While certainly encouraging, White still has a ways to go to fully live up to those comparisons. Without further delay, let's see how White stacks up against Ginobili.
The Quick rise of Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili was famously drafted 57th overall by the Spurs in 1999 but didn't join the team until 2003 at the age of 25. In his first season, he became a contributor on the 2003 Spurs championship team. Later, as part of the Big Three with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, he was a crucial part of the 2005, 2007, and 2014 title teams. Ginobili became known for his unorthodox style of play, in which he used jab steps, pump fakes, crossovers, and euro-steps to keep defenders off balance.
This allowed him to get to the rim almost at will. Then, using his athleticism and craftiness, he was often able to score or get to the line. As a result, half of Ginobili's shots came from within 10 feet of the basket during each of his first four seasons. Factor in his high free throw and 3-point rate, and it's not surprising that he was one of the more efficient perimeter scorers of his era. After turning 30, however, he began to rely more on his 3-point shooting and less on getting to the rim. Therefore, more than 40% of his shots came from beyond the arc in subsequent seasons.
He was also one of the best passing shooting guards in NBA history, utilizing his excellent court vision and unusual passing angles to deliver passes to teammates. That said, he did struggle with turnovers due to taking unnecessary risks. This resulted in him turning the ball over on 14.9% of his possessions over the course of his career.
On defense, Ginobili was often underrated. While not a lockdown defender, he was an impactful one who, despite gambling too often, had a knack for making timely defensive plays. Perhaps the most famous instance was when Ginobili blocked a potential game-winner from James Harden in Game 5 of the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals.
While Ginobili is certainly a future Hall of Famer, his career was limited by injury, which caused him to miss numerous games. Consequently, coach Popovich began having him come off the bench, in part, to try and limit the risk of injury. Eventually, Ginobili was able to stay relatively healthy though only after being moved to the bench permanently.
Comparing the two San Antonio Spurs shooting guards
Derrick White was drafted with the 29th pick in 2017 and, at 23, was also an older rookie. While he didn’t make much of an impact as a rookie, he quickly exceeded expectations in his second season. He emerged as a legitimate two-way threat, proving that he could shoot, attack the basket, create for others, and defend. This was on full display against the Denver Nuggets in the 2018 first-round playoff series. He played stellar defense while also being an offensive threat, including scoring 36 points in a Game 3 win by relentlessly attacking the basket.
His third season saw him move back to the bench where he averaged 16.4 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. Once in the NBA bubble, however, White was able to elevate his game, averaging 18.8 points per game as a starter. He did this, in large part, by being more aggressive shooting threes, attempting 8 per game while shooting an impressive 39% from beyond the arc.
However, his season ended with him breaking his toe. Injuries have been a recurring issue for White. Earlier in his career, he struggled with plantar fasciitis, and just last season, he missed 18 of the first 20 games of the season with foot injuries. Once he finally got going, his season ended abruptly with a bad ankle sprain. While White isn't as injury-prone as Ginobili was, he may also have to play fewer minutes to avoid the risk of injury and thus prolonging his career.
Comparing Ginobili and White at similar points in their careers, Ginobili averaged 15.1 points, 3.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.6 steals during his 4th season, at the age of 28. This compared to White who averaged 15.4 points, 3.5 assists, 3 rebounds, and .07 steals, during his 4th season, at age 26. Overall, Ginobili’s ability to attack the basket in his prime is a skill that few could replicate, as was his creativity as a passer.
White doesn't get to the basket nearly as often but is still effective at attacking the basket. He has also proven effective as a playmaker, especially in the pick and roll. Additionally, he'll likely have the ball in his hands much more next season, giving him the chance to create more for himself and others. He'll likely have even more of an opportunity than Ginobili had during his prime because of Duncan and Parker.
Assuming White is able to replicate his play from the NBA bubble, including shooting a high volume of threes at a high percentage, he could even average 20-plus points per game next season. That would surpass even the best season from Ginobili, particularly when factoring in superior defense.
However, it doesn't mean that White would be destined to have the same level of career success. It remains to be seen just how good White can become. That said, I believe that White will ultimately stack up quite well against Ginobili.