Scan the box score of last night’s blowout at Brooklyn and Derrick White’s 14 points, 5 rebounds, and three assists with zero turnovers don’t exactly jump off the page. Nearly all the starters had more points. Marcus Smart shined with the lion’s share of minutes at the point and hit 5-of-6 from behind the arc. Without White, the Celtics probably still beat the Nets comfortably, but in his fifth game with the team, it’s becoming very apparent why Boston targeted him at the trade deadline.
For Brad Stevens, White represented a known commodity and was well worth the price it took (Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson, their 2022 first round draft pick, and a future potential pick swap) to get him in green.
“That was one (deal) we had targeted a guy that made our best players better and who also impact us on both ends of the floor at a really good rate,” Stevens told MassLive’s Brian Robb on Thursday. “It was a guy who the numbers love but when you watch it, it makes a lot of sense.”
White was having a down year shooting-wise in San Antonio this season, but by all other measures including the eye test, all White did was make winning plays. He averaged a career-high 5.6 assists a game with the Spurs and has always been a plus defender.
“He’s a guy I don’t really have to worry about. He’s accustomed to being coached hard, he’s receptive to it, and he’s ready to roll,” Ime Udoka said before the tip.
Now as the Celtics’ sixth man, White provides a jack-of-all-trades skillset off the bench. He’s not a natural playmaker, but consistently makes the right play. If there’s a lane to drive, he’ll drive it. If he’s open for a shot, he’ll take it (despite hitting just 30.7% from behind the arc this season).
This is hardly a spectacular play. The Celtics are already up 25 points and playing a little four corners to run out the clock might have been just as effective as trying to score. And yet, it’s White continuing to make the right play. The Nets ran a little a zone against Boston in the second half and to beat that positional defense, you have to force defenders to commit. Instead of taking an early shot clock 3 from the corner, White pump fakes, commits one defender (James Johnson), drives, and then engages another (LaMarcus Aldridge). These are the little things that endear you to coaches.
“Derrick, I think that one of his great qualities is he’s a really good player and he can impact the game with and without the ball,” Stevens said. “He doesn’t need the ball, he’s super unselfish and is all about winning, all the stuff that adds up.”
Through 49 games for Gregg Popovich, White was a plus-32. For the Celtics, he’s played in just five games and is already a plus-76. Yeah, I’d say that’s adding up quite nicely so far.