When the San Antonio Spurs signed Derrick White to a four-year, $73 million extension last December, they knew exactly what they were doing. Unfortunately, he hasn't had a chance to prove he deserved that contract to the rest of the world yet.
White missed half of the Spurs’ 72 games last season, nursing several injuries during a brutally scheduled second half for the team. Still, when he was on the court, it was easy to see his impact. While Dejounte Murray still has an edge with on-ball defense, White's overall two-way abilities still make him the best player on the 2022 roster.
Perhaps as important as anything he brings to the court, White's propensity to shoot the deep ball can't be understated. His 6.8 attempts from downtown was double his previous season and led the team just ahead of 3-point specialist Patty Mills.
As I pointed out recently in addressing common criticisms of the new era, the Spurs simply cannot afford to continue ignoring the 3-point shot any longer. They've been at or near the bottom in attempts and makes for a long time now, and their place in both areas last season was awful. Luckily, White has publicly stated he wants to continue working on his 3-point shooting going forward.
Despite missing so much time last season, White averaged 15.4 points, 3.5 assists, and a block per game while playing 29.6 minutes. Still, it was clearly difficult for Derrick to find any sort of real rhythm between his multiple toe injuries and sprained ankle.
Health is priority, then consistency
For Derrick White, the number one priority should obviously be health going into the 2021-22 season. Beyond just maintaining White's body as well as possible, the Spurs could experiment early with bringing White off the bench in a Ginobili-esque role, as my site co-expert previously wrote. That would help make sure he remains the leader of a unit while still easing him back into full-contact basketball.
Coach Popovich might also want to limit White's early-season minutes overall as his body acclimates to the pace of the NBA once again. The last thing anyone wants to see is another health setback in the 27-year-old's career.
If White is able to remain healthy all season, there's an excellent chance he'll put up All-Star numbers, even if the Spurs' record might not give them one this season.
Like Murray, White is heading into his fifth season and is still widely underrated by the league. While Sports Illustrated had him on their radar in their recent top-100 list, he was barely there at number 93. People in San Antonio know Derrick is a better player than guys Robert Covington (80) or Duncan Robinson (85), but he's the only one that can prove that next season.
The time for Derrick White to earn the respect his game deserves is now, and it all starts this October.