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This isn’t the same Derrick White

Derrick White’s improved three-point shooting has significant improved Boston’s offensive outlook.

Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

“We’ve thought for years that Derrick was a really good fit with our best players...He is an excellent defender. He just makes the right play on offense over and over and over. He’s a guy that only cares about winning, that will do all of the little things, as you can see in some of his stats, defensively, with regard to willingness to put his body on the line, activity, shot challenges, all of those things. And on offense, just by making simple plays and doesn’t need to do anything to be on the highlights to really, really impact winning.”

Those were Brad Stevens’ words shortly after the Boston Celtics acquired Derrick White at the trade deadline last season. A connector, an accentuator, the missing piece to a complex guard rotation puzzle. And, despite White’s struggles scoring the ball, Stevens was right. White’s addition to Boston’s rotation suddenly linked everything together.

The ball didn’t stick, White cut, he screened, he rotated on defense, and he drew charges. Yet, for some people, the lack of a consistent shot was a contentious point they couldn’t see past.

For me, the Derrick White naysayers never made sense. Year after year, we, as a fanbase, defended Marcus Smart’s inconsistent offensive record, arguing that his defense and hustle plays far outweighed the underwhelming impact on a box score.

Where was that same energy for White once he joined the team? The most logical explanation is probably that Smart is a homegrown talent, having been with the team since Draft Night in 2014.

It’s not like White was awful on offense either; he just couldn’t find a consistent jumper from the perimeter. Elsewhere on the court, the 28-year-old guard was doing just fine at converting his scoring opportunities. During the regular season, White was hitting 60% of his looks at rim, 46% of his mid-range attempts, and 31% from the perimeter. When the playoffs got underway, we did see a slight drop in White’s scoring efficiency, with the recent addition struggling from mid-range, hitting just 34% of his attempts, and a continued freeze from beyond the arch.

However, to begin this season, White’s shooting appears to be a flaw he’s addressed throughout the summer.

“Just go back to the basics, try to work on not being flat, using my legs, trying to stay in the gym, and being consistent with my shot...Ben (Sullivan) was in San Antonio, so he knows a lot of the stuff I liked to do back then, and I like the stuff we’ve been working on...Higher release point, staying in it, a lot of the stuff you did when you were a kid. A lot of the time I lean back, so just trying to stay in it," White said when asked about how he’s approached improving his shooting during the off-season.

Over the first four games of the new season, White has certainly shown some shooting improvements, and by the eye test, has radically reduced his lean when pulling up to shoot, which has resulted in a quicker release and better ball trajectory.

Here is White’s shooting form at the end of last season. A slight curve in the back, head dipping behind his shoulders, and feet landing in front of his body after the release — all of which assimilate to a flat arching shot.

And here’s one from the Celtics' recent victory over the Orlando Magic: shoulders in line with his feet, a straight back on the pull-up, and landing in a square-ish stance, adding some fluidity to the shooting movement and providing a higher release and quicker overall body mechanics.

It might be a small sample size, but if White can continue to hit his threes at his current rate, his addition to the starting five ensures Boston doesn’t have a weak offensive link in that unit. Arguably the best off-ball guard on the roster, White’s presence when relocating through the paint, or around the perimeter is going to force defenses to stretch and will give the Celtics opportunities to run more weak-side or second-side actions to generate easy buckets.

In the above play, Derrick White is running what’s known as a ‘ghost flare’ - a perimeter screen that doesn’t generate contact followed by a ‘pop’ onto the wing. A similar screening action is happening on the strong side, with Jayson Tatum setting a touch screen for Marcus Smart before peeling towards the post — forcing three Orlando Magic defenders to try and contain the action.

Tatum begins to relocate towards the corner, creating a driving lane for Smart, at the same time, Noah Vonleh is setting a hammer screen for White to sink into the weak side corner, and it converts into an easy bucket.

When you have this many scoring threats on the floor, the defense is forced to pick their poison, and will almost certainly choose to contain the All-Star wings before dealing with a guard who struggled from deep last season. The results are speaking for themselves.

Improving his three-point mechanics might have been a minimal adjustment for White, but that slight addition to his skillset could be a revolutionary addition to Boston’s rotation, both when he’s in the starting five and if he should ever move back into a bench role.

Suddenly, a Celtics team that looked deprived of perimeter shooting at times last season now has the firepower to legitimately hold teams to ransom across all three levels, and in a high-paced offense like we’ve seen to begin the season, that could make Boston almost unstoppable.

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