We love to see undefeated weeks, don’t we, folks? We’re through our fifth week of NBA basketball this season, and the Boston Celtics were riding a nine-game winning streak, surging to the best record in basketball in the process. This week’s victims included the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder, the Atlanta Hawks (third place in the Eastern Conference as of this writing) and the New Orleans Pelicans (sans phenom Zion Williamson).
This, of course, means it’s time to anoint our Player of the Week. But first, the runners-up.
A slow week for Jayson Tatum (22 PPG, 35% FG) opens up the field a little bit this time around. Jaylen Brown picked up the top-end scoring slack with a 25-point average for the week on 53% shooting from the field, though his three-point shot was absent and he had some notable defensive lapses in Monday’s barnburner against the Thunder. The Al Horford-Grant Williams starting frontcourt duo continued to provide fruit, and Luke Kornet appears to have played his way into a more consistent rotation role behind them. Payton Pritchard took advantage of increased minutes in a shortened guard rotation post a pair of timely double-digit scoring performances.
Choices abound, as they often do in undefeated weeks. But in this case, one player clearly stands above the rest.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #5: Derrick White
3 GP, 33 MPG, 21 PPG, 65% FG, 67% 3PT, 4 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1 SPG, 1.5 BPG, +59
It’s odd to say about a prized trade deadline acquisition from just one season ago, but White may be the forgotten piece of this Celtics’ rotation, at least a little bit. Playing behind the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and alongside this offseason’s flashy trade acquisition will have that kind of effect.
Both of those players missed time this week, however. Malcolm Brogdon missed four games with a hamstring injury, finally returning for Friday’s win over the Pelicans (though struggling through a 1-of-8 shooting performance on the evening). Marcus Smart, meanwhile, tweaked his ankle and missed the Hawks and Pelicans games with inflammation. That left the Celtics a bit short-handed in the backcourt, and while, as I mentioned, Pritchard played admirably well in his return to consistent minutes, White is the story here.
The point of contention with White during his time in Boston has always been the three-point shooting. He’s never been much of a sniper from behind the arc in his career, but the Celtics hoped that introducing him to an offense with better spacing than the cluttered San Antonio Spurs might lead to some improvement on his 31% three-point percentage at the time of the trade.
That didn’t exactly pan out last season — he shot 30% from three in the regular season with the Celtics, and 31% in the postseason — but this year has been a different story. He’s shooting a blistering 45% from three-point range this season, and has looked like an entirely different kind of threat offensively as a result. Against the Pelicans, he connected on a comical 6-of-8 from deep.
You’re already thinking it, so let me say it: this is wildly unsustainable. Derrick White is not going to spend this entire season shooting 45% from behind the three-point arc — a final result above even 40% would be a genuinely remarkable outcome. But a version of White that is confidently cashing in on open threes at an at-or-above league average rate (league average is 35.7% thus far this year) makes a demonstrable impact on this offense.
The scoring outburst against New Orleans was certainly White’s flashiest game, but I would argue it was his performance against Atlanta that proved most impactful. Absent both Smart and Brogdon against the Hawks’ dynamic backcourt duo of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, Wednesday’s game had all the makings of a let-down game to end the team’s hot streak. Instead, the Celtics raced out to a 30-18 first quarter and never looked back.
This was perhaps White’s most complete game in Celtics green. He chipped in a health scoring effort with 16 points (6-of-11 shooting, two threes), assumed Smart’s responsibility as offensive facilitator with 10 assists, and contributed defensively by limiting Young to a quiet (for his standards) 27 points on 43% shooting from the field.
It’s the assists that seem most worth highlighting here. White has always been a capable facilitator, but never one that necessarily pops on the box score. He averages 5.3 assists per game for his career, in large part due to having never really been a primary facilitator for a team before. He got a rare opportunity to take on that responsibility against Atlanta, and the results speak for themselves.
And, by the way, lest we forget — White is one of the best players in the league in transition on either end of the floor. His ability to make plays on the run is a genuine weapon.
By and large, this is not going to be a season in which Derrick White gets to show off very often, at least not in terms of box score production. This week, the opportunity arose, and he responded with perhaps his best week as a member of the Boston Celtics. It’s a deserving moment in the spotlight for him, and a reminder of just how deep this team can really roll.
On that note, I’d like to wish you all a happy holiday, and I’ll see you all next week as we crown our next Player of the Week! As always, drop your predictions in the comments below.