- Benjamin Gerstel
Derrick White: The value of heart, hustle, and courage has helped the Celtics this season
After the turmoil earlier on in the season, it appears that the Celtics have silenced the doubters. Since the all-star break, Boston has the best record in the league at 13-3, and have looked like one of the best teams in the East. Defensively, they are one of the best teams in the NBA as well. They’ve allowed a league-best 104.0 points per game, are second in blocks, and are on a seven game win streak. Boston is on fire and while many factors are responsible, such as Ime Udoka’s arrival or Jayson Tatum’s MVP-caliber play, we’re going to dive into how the addition of Derrick White, who elevated Boston’s play this season. Since White has arrived, after Brad Stevens acquired him for a package that included Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson, and a 2022 top four-protected first round pick, the Celtics have won 16 of 20 games, and have skyrocketed from 7th place to 3rd in the Eastern Conference.
Derrick White’s patience he brings to the floor is one of the biggest keys that can unlock Udoka’s offense to its full potential. As a combo guard, who is primarily known for his abilities defensively, many people underrate White’s ability to orchestrate an offense. White may not be one of the fastest or flashiest players in the league, and he doesn’t start for Boston, but the pace and calmness that he provides on the ball is invaluable in their offense. Naturally, like any player, it took Derrick White time to familiarize himself with the offensive system. However, once he did, the Celtics became the best offensive team in the league, after experiencing a drastic change in their offensive rating in the month of March. White was traded on February 10th and in that month, the Celtics had an offensive rating of 116.5, which was 8th best in the league (they were 10th in January). While that is not too shabby in its own right, the Celtics boast a league-best 123.0 rating in White’s first month fully-accumulated. White’s patience, ability to move off the ball, and determined defense are all direct causes of Boston’s increased play.
When White is patient on the ball, it allows Boston to extend the shot clock more. By doing so, the Celtics can run plays to their full potential, allotting time for players to cut, get to their spots, and create space for others by setting screens. As a result, this creates a much more fluid offense and Boston can find the best shot available. This aspect of White’s offensive game is in contrast to a lot of other guys on their roster. Boston lacks on-ball playmakers, and that’s exactly what White is. He can also push the pace, or slow down the tempo when need be. Marcus Smart is an elite player, but he can’t quite orchestrate the offense the way Derrick White does. Smart struggles to maintain his composure on the ball sometimes, which can lead to a dead play or forced shot. Payton Pritchard (3 inches shorter at 6’1) is solid at running the point, but he lacks the height White possesses, which deflates his ability to see over screens. With his height, ability to score off the pick and roll, and his defense, White is much more versatile than Pritchard. White can run the pick and roll, get out in transition, run the break, hit guys on narrow backdoor cuts, finish at the rim, and so much more. He can also create space off the dribble, which allows Boston to spread out the floor more, when he isn’t facilitating for the best shot. And that’s just what he does on the ball.
Off the ball, White’s history of being initiated into team-style offenses, such as Gregg Popovich’s, has allowed him to develop a veteran-esque IQ. He is always looking to make an impact, and you’ll see him trying to create space even when a shot is up. In this most recent game against Miami, White was screening for a player off the ball, without noticing one of his teammates was already going up for a flush. He is constantly looking to create space and he can even do so without setting screens. White has a very strong understanding of where he is on the floor at all times, and he is always aware of his surroundings. He is constantly looking over at his teammates, in order to make sure that he isn’t congesting any area on the floor. It’s aspects of these that make White’s game unique as a guard, and they allow him to be effective on offense, even when his shots aren’t falling.
Aside from creating space for others, White is also able to understand where he is on the floor, and he can move off the ball to find his own shot, while players like Tatum or Brown have the ball. Through his 19 games attempted with a three, White has shot a career worst 24.33%, which is horrible for someone who has averaged a 33.6% clip their career. However, because of White’s abilities on the ball, and awareness on the floor, you wouldn’t even notice he was shooting a career worst from behind the arc.
Defensively, White reflects a lot of what he does on offense. You’ll always see him giving maximum effort, and turning his head at least 5 times a possession. Unlike offense, where White turns his head to space the floor, White turns his head to keep a keen eye on his matchup on every single possession on defense. He’ll never lose track of a defender, get caught being lazy on defense, and if no one else is running back on Boston, you can count on White being there. It’s this type of defensive intensity, on every single possession, that separates himself from a lot of guards. Few players in the league, let alone guards, really track down their man every second of every game. White is one of those players and this defensive intensity and IQ are all reasons why Boston has accomplished this comeback.
Derrick White’s length is also a factor that has helped Boston improve their game. Having a 6’4 guard like White, who possesses the defensive intensity does, is a remarkable combination. White can swallow up smaller guards with his length, and his long arms enable him to be a superb shot blocker. His lengthy wingspan can also eliminate any space created by his matchup, by being long enough to be able to swipe at balls, even when contact is being initiated. White is one of the best guards defensively in the game, and he can be an elite asset on either side of the ball.
The Celtics are in the third seed right now with only a handful of games to attempt to get the top spot for the playoffs. With everything clicking, it seems like the C's could have a deep playoff run, but only time will tell.