There is a beautiful, unappreciated grace to Derrick White. He plays the game in constant motion, flowing like the wind. While at times it seems like darting randomness, there's purpose in his flight, floating around the court like a hummingbird surveying a garden. He is not the Celtics best player or second, third, or fourth, but there may not be a better player that illustrates how Boston wants to play the game.
Through the first two games of the season, White was largely inconspicuous, at least with a passing glance of the box score. Ten points and five assists total hardly jump off the sports page. But to those with a basketball black light and certainly to head coach Joe Mazzulla who inserted him in the starting lineup and more importantly, elected to play more small ball rather than go with a two-big starting five that was so successful last year, White’s fingerprints were all over Boston’s opening wins against Philadelphia and Miami.
Here, he’s the matador dancing with the former Bull, Jimmy Butler. With Al Horford in drop coverage, White can quickly recover on to Butler from the Bam Adebayo screen. He doesn’t try to muscle Butler or gamble and try to draw a charge. That might be the move of a more headstrong Marcus Smart. White is more delicate in his approach, delicate like a python wrapping itself around its prey.
Even when he goes over the screen, White gets back to chew more of Butler’s bubble gum. He’s always been a plus-defender, but has never had the bravado to campaign nor the self-promotion to be considered for a Defensive Player of the Year Award; his Twitter timeline is more about raising the profile of others than himself. His blue collar demeanor is a striking contrast to his seemingly listless approach to basketball.
Born out of the Spurs system, he’s been trained to consistently make the right play. He is the hockey assist to the hockey assist to the hockey assist.
Last Saturday, White had one of his most productive counting stats games of his 53-game Celtics career, scoring 27 points with four assists. What usually goes unseen was very much seen...in a random Saturday night, mid-October game in Orlando.
Yes, there are times when White is stationary as he stands in the corner waiting for a kick out. Since the start of the preseason, he’s hit 12 of 17 in the corners from behind the arc. He’s matched his footwork of a ballerina with a quicker, flickier jump shot. His perimeter shot now has more arc as if to suggest that trying to touch the heavens has bettered his chances here on earth — hard to argue the results.
Like a basketball Bruce Lee, White is like water here. Against Orlando’s zone, he finds cracks in their defense and flows to its watershed; he scored seven points at the rim (including a dunk and an and-1) in the clutch.
“Just having good energy, good flow. Don’t think — just gotta shoot. Let it go if it’s open,” White philosophized after helping close out the Magic.
White won’t always show out like he did in Orlando. Two nights later in Chicago in the Celtics first loss, White made just 1 of his 5 three-pointers, but even in a stinker, he was the only player of the eight-man rotation with a positive plus-minus in Boston’s eight-man rotation. So, while the team continues to answer a few questions while the regular season is still young, White is its ambassador of “good energy, good flow.”