It’s impossible to not root for Derrick White.
During his four and a half seasons in San Antonio, White captured the hearts of Silver and Black fans with his remarkable hustle, heart, attitude, and charge-taking. He embodied Spurs culture, leaving it all on the court every outing. He’s the picture-perfect winning player, the type of guy you love playing with and competing against. By all accounts, he’s an incredible teammate, relentless worker, and a flat-out great person overall. His smile is contagious, even through a screen.
All of White’s lovable aspects made his departure to Boston via trade in 2022 a heartbreaking one. However, there is a silver lining. Since arriving in Boston, he has flourished. Everything he did in San Antonio has popped for the Celtics. He earned All-Defensive honors this season, a long-overdue nod. He was a stable offensive presence throughout Boston’s recently-ended Conference Finals run, someone who could be relied upon when All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were not at their best. He was also a vital contributor to the Celts Finals campaign last year. The level he’s played at during his time in Beantown is even more extraordinary when you know what it took for him to reach it.
You probably know at least part of that story by this point. He stood six-foot-nothing and weighed just 150 pounds as a senior in high school. He received zero college interest until the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, a Division II school, offered him a partial scholarship. He absolutely balled out there, making two All-American appearances. His performance at UCCS created the opportunity for him to transfer to Division I and play for the University of Colorado. There, he made the All-Pac-12 first team and defensive team. He rocketed up NBA draft boards and was projected as a late first round pick by nearly every major media outlet.
And yet, things were never handed to him while chasing his dream, so even though a future as a pro seemed like a sure thing for White, he and his family did not treat it as such. As reported by Baxter Holmes of ESPN in a recent article, White’s draft night celebration was labeled a “graduation party” just in case he wasn’t selected. His name was called that night, though, as he was selected 29th overall by San Antonio. Once in the league, he used his first paycheck to pay off the student loans he acquired at UCCS. He then had to fight tooth and claw against teammates to earn a rotation spot, something Dejounte Murray spoke on while appearing on Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson’s podcast All The Smoke. White of course earned the trust of Coach Pop and became a staple in the starting lineup.
White’s improbable rise from scrawny high schooler to elite role player on basketball’s biggest stage is one of the most inspiring NBA backstories, but he’s way more than just a feel-good tale. On a Celtics roster that boasts perhaps the most formidable top seven in the sport, White consistently stood out as the most impactful player not named Tatum or Brown this season. He’s as complete of a defensive player as there is in the league. His lateral movement and core strength are impeccable; he’s a hound on the ball. He’s also an expert screen navigator, an intelligent team defender, and one of the best shot blockers at the guard position. Miami Heat superstar Jimmy Butler, who’s been a supernova throughout the playoffs, sought out White on switches throughout the Conference Finals, but White proved to be the opposite of easy pickings.
Offensively, White is the ideal glue guy who can fill a lot of roles depending on the lineup around him. He’s a weapon off the ball because he’s a formidable catch-and-shoot threat. He connected on 40.6% of his spot-up threes this season (via Synergy), an excellent percentage. With the ball, White is a hard-nosed driver who makes plays going downhill, as we saw when he took over for a stretch during Game 7 of the ECF. He’s also a quality pull-up three-point shooter who makes defenders pay for giving him space.
One major takeaway from White’s playoff performance is that he needs to be featured more in Boston’s offense. There were stretches where he was the only Celtic on the floor unafraid to put his head down and attack. He’s a true combo guard who makes things happen with the ball in his hands, and yet he was only sixth on the team in usage rate during the regular season and fifth in the postseason. While backcourt partner Marcus Smart is a very good passer, White brings more to the table as a on-ball creator and should spend more time as the primary ball handler in 2023-24.
Derrick White playoff self-creation
He’s deserving, and capable of handling more responsibility. Boston plays better when he does. pic.twitter.com/mx0t3c8P2E
— Pull up shoot (@NElGHT_) June 3, 2023
White’s game-winning putback to force a game seven in the ECF will go down in history. Even though the Celtics didn’t complete the 3-0 comeback, “The Tip”—as some are calling it—is the stuff of legends not only because of the impressiveness of the play, but because of the hope it created for Boston faithful. And in the midst of all the ensuing attention, White is holding true to the humility and team-first attitude that make him so easy to root for. In a postgame interview right after “The Tip”, White was asked, “What are you thinking right now?” With tears in his eyes, he responded “just happy we won”. White never lets any big play or game get to his head. Instead, he lets his game do the talking, which is a true breath of fresh air in a league filled with guys trash talking and yelling “I’m him”.
His demeanor makes it easy for him to fly under the radar, but Derrick White’s spectacular playoff showing has brought to light both his tangible and intangible contributions. He deserves any success that comes his way, and the hearts of all Spurs fans should be swelling with pride when they see what he’s accomplished and continues to accomplish in Boston.