San Antonio Spurs: Why Derrick White should come off bench
There's absolutely no doubt at this point that Derrick White is one of the two or three best players for the San Antonio Spurs, and if DeMar DeRozan leaves the team this offseason, that sentiment will only be further solidified.
Since being drafted in 2017, he's been forced to adapt to an ever-changing role on the team, and yet he's improved his game every year. He has a high IQ on both ends of the floor, is one of the better shot-blocking guards in the league, and has developed an impressive jump shot.
With all of this in mind, though, the Spurs may want to consider moving White to the bench unit. This move should not be thought of as a demotion, though, and rather, it should be thought of as a way to optimize both the starting and bench units.
The Spurs will have several players coming off the books this offseason, including DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, and Trey Lyles. Assuming for now that they all leave the team, some changes will obviously have to be made, and I think the smartest long-term move would be to pair White with either Lonnie Walker IV or Devin Vassell as the bench unit's point guard and shooting guard, respectively.
White has already proven that he's capable of being a floor general for the Spurs, as he played that role for the team during the entire 2018-2019 season (when Dejounte Murray was recovering from his torn ACL) as well as times during the NBA bubble prior to the Playoffs. This past season, White primarily played as the Spurs starting shooting guard when he was healthy, while Mills played as the bench point guard.
Derrick White playing as the bench point guard would benefit both units
When the entire starting unit was healthy, between Murray, White, and DeRozan, they had plenty of playmaking available at their disposal. On the bench though, quality facilitating was much more difficult to come by. Mills, Gay, and Walker only averaged a combined 5.5 assists per game, which is about 1.4 assists per game fewer than DeRozan on his own and within 0.1 assists of Murray's per-game average.
The bench unit relied heavily on iso plays from Mills and Gay, and the results weren't particularly inspiring. Having White on the floor as the bench unit's floor general should help to improve their ball movement without compromising on scoring ability.
Moving White to the bench could also benefit the starting unit though, even if it means going through some temporary growing pains. This would mean that Lonnie Walker IV could enter the starting lineup at the shooting guard position and contribute as a primary scorer in the absence of DeRozan. On the other hand, if the team still feels that Walker would be better as a part of the bench unit, that would mean that Devin Vassell could enter the starting lineup playing the shooting guard which, according to him, is his ideal position.
Additionally, because Walker and Vassell would serve as the team's two primary shooting guards in this situation, that would mean Keldon Johnson can slide back to the small forward position in the starting lineup, leaving a spot open at the power forward position for a big free-agent signing (like John Collins) or perhaps the Spurs' 12th overall draft pick.
Ultimately, moving White to the bench would allow each of the Spurs' young players the opportunity to play in more well-balanced lineups in their preferred positions. While switching White for either Walker or Vassell could lead to some initial growing pains in the starting lineup, the move could ultimately lead to more versatility and much fewer mismatches on both ends of the floor.