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Derrick White remains the Celtics’ biggest x-factor

“I love playing with him, and we need him to be aggressive,” Jayson Tatum said of Boston’s sometimes starter.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics
Derrick White drives to the hoop as Wesley Matthews pursues.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

When we conducted a preseason poll at CelticsBlog, answering the question “who or what is the biggest X-Factor for the Celtics this season,” I couldn’t believe I was the only person who picked Derrick White:

This one could go many different directions, but I’ll say Derrick White. When he’s playing to his potential, the Celtics are almost unbeatable. He was streaky last year but showed his ability and versatility in stretches. This year, his shot looks more fluid, and he has a chance to emerge as a more consistent player. He’s going to get open 3’s over and over again, and has to be able to knock them down with regularity. I expect him to have a strong season and live up to expectations.

Maybe it was because I went first, and everyone else wanted to avoid the obvious choice, but to me, it’s a no-brainer.

When White plays well, the Celtics are just about unbeatable. When he blends into the game, and is passive on the court, they lose a great deal of their luster.

In Celtics wins, White is averaging 11.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists, while shooting 49.7 percent from the floor and 45.1 percent from 3-point range – an outstanding role player on an outstanding team.

In losses, those numbers dip considerably to 5.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists, on...(you might want to move to the next paragraph) 25.4 percent shooting from the field and 17.6 percent shooting from distance. Well OK, then. Not necessarily ideal.

Perhaps the most telling stat is that in wins, White attempts 8.2 shots a night. In losses? 5.9.

There’s enough of a sample size there to clearly and definitively say that White’s production is often a barometer for how the Celtics play as a whole. To be clear, even when he’s not scoring at a high level, he still contributions to winning with timely hustle plays and overall “glue guy” tendencies.

When he’s aggressive and consistently knocking down open shots, though, defenses have almost no chance to stop the Celtics. They exert so much effort worrying about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, that all it takes is a third scorer to punish them over and over again.

Oftentimes, that’s Marcus Smart or Malcolm Brogdon, and sometimes it’s Al Horford or Grant Williams. White can fill the role as well, but lately, he hasn’t done so with regularity.

In November, when the Celtics went 14-2, White averaged 11.8 points on 50.4 shooting and 45.7 percent from 3. In December, as they’ve slumped to a 6-6 record, White is putting up 7.8 points a night and hitting just 34.1 percent of his shots and 23.3 percent of his 3’s.

Obviously, part of that is circumstantial. When the Celtics are rolling as a unit, White gets higher percentage looks and is more likely to make them. But, the inverse is also true. When he’s rolling, they’re much more likely to do the same.

Another noteworthy part of the equation is that he’s averaging 10.5 points on 45.7 percent shooting and 40.5 percent 3-point shooting in 27 games as a starter. In seven games off the bench, his numbers aren’t close to as rosy.

The past two games have been a major step in the right direction. White finished with 18, points, 5 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks in a win over the Timberwolves on Friday and added 12 points and 5 assists in a win over the Bucks on Sunday. He shot a combined 12-of-19 and was a game-high plus-23 against Minnesota and game-high plus-20 against Milwaukee.

White was instrumental in helping the Celtics pull away from two strong teams. The haircut may or may not be fully responsible for regifting him his powers, but either way, the Celtics will take it.

His teammates know how much they need him and how much more dangerous they are when he has his mojo. Tatum said he told right White before the Timberwolves game to look to attack.

“D-White is the ultimate teammate and somebody that everybody would love to play with,” Tatum said. “Just letting him know that we need him, I love playing with him, and we need him to be aggressive.”

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