That’s right, we’ve arrived here once again — it’s time for CelticsBlog’s Player of the Week. It’s time to take a look back on what was, somehow, the second-to-last regular season week for the Boston Celtics this season. And, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: it was a perfect 3-0 stretch for the Celtics, who put the cherry on top of their improbable second-half surge by claiming (albeit, briefly) the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The games in question here are as follows. On Monday, they fended off a chippy effort by the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder to close out their Western Conference road trip. After returning home to Boston, they summarily beat the brakes off of two Western Conference playoff teams: Utah and Minnesota. That made for six straight wins for Boston, all of which featured leads of at least 20 points. Let’s dig in.
As always, our disclaimer: “Player of the Week” does not necessarily translate to “Best Player of the Week.” The idea of this award is to highlight difference-makers from the past week’s games, and to be honest, a strict focus on “best” would lead to this award pinballing back and forth between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They’re the team’s star players, and the most important and impactful players on the court even on their worst shooting nights.
Repeatedly writing about those two, while deserved, would be just a little bit less fun. For that reason, we’re going to broaden our standards a little bit to introduce a little more diversity in the results. The two are eligible for the award, of course, but the bar for them is just a little bit higher.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #8: Derrick White
3 GP, 32 MPG, 14 PPG, 45% FG, 37% 3PT, 4 RPG, 5 APG
Picking a winner this week was a bit of a conundrum. Both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were terrific, of course, but I felt they sort of split the proverbial vote by being equally dominant throughout the week. Beyond that, having highlighted them for three consecutive weeks just recently, keeping the spotlight on non-star contributors seemed like the way to go again this time around.
But who to choose? Beyond the Jays, the Celtics saw a number of standout performances from complementary players across these three games. Grant Williams had a career-best 20-point, 10-rebound performance against the Thunder. Payton Pritchard continued his hot streak, shooting 55% from three on nearly seven attempts per game. Marcus Smart dished out 13 assists (nine in the first quarter) in the team’s dismantling of the Jazz.
But then I noticed Derrick White. Hidden amongst all the team’s heroes, White quietly put together what might have been his best week as a Boston Celtic since being acquired at the trade deadline. White may not be the flashiest or most exciting player on the team, but he’s shown up and contributed in nearly every phase of the game since the trade. It feels like time to take a look at the Celtics’ relatively unheralded contributor.
@ Thunder: 18 PTS, 5-of-10 FG, 5 REB, 5 AST
vs Jazz: 10 PTS, 4-of-10 FG, 2-of-3 3PT, 3 REB, 5 AST
vs Timberwolves: 15 PTS, 4-of-6 FG, 2-of-4 3PT, 6 AST
White’s defensive prowess has been obvious since he stepped foot in Boston. He’s essentially Diet Marcus Smart, and the duo have been terrorizing opposing backcourts since they were brought together. This week, though, we’re more interested in White’s offense, and how he’s adapted to the schemes of his former-turned-new-again coach Ime Udoka.
We’ll start with the obvious: the threes were, mercifully, finding the bottom of the net. Historically, White has hardly been a world-beater from a shooting perspective. His career high is a modest 36% back in 2019, on just 3.2 attempts for those three-point-averse Spurs. Brad Stevens and the Celtics knew they’d be losing some shooting in sending out Josh Richardson as part of the deal, but if White could maintain shooting in the low-30% range (or potentially improve while operating in better spacing alongside the Jays), that would be enough to effectively keep things humming.
Until now, that hasn’t really happened. He’s meshed with virtually everything else the Celtics have tried to do on both ends of the floor, but the threes have been completely absent. He entered the week shooting an absolutely dismal 21% from behind the arc since joining the Celtics — completely off the mark, and seemingly a little shaken in terms of confidence as a result.
At times, he just hasn’t been particularly close, like in his 0-for-8 performance against Golden State (0-for-5 from three).
Though the sample is too small to definitively say he’s out of the woods, this week was a step in the right direction. Hitting 37% from three on four attempts per game isn’t exactly lighting the nets on fire, but it’s a rate that will keep defenses honest and keeps him out of “active liability” territory when he’s behind the arc — and it’s not inherently all that different from the 40% on three attempts that Richardson averaged during his half-season in Boston.
The Celtics don’t need much from White as a shooter. He just has to knock them down when he’s open. This week, he did that.
Another aspect of White’s game that has stood out has been his ability to drive to the basket. He’s assumed the rim pressure responsibility previously held by the departed Dennis Schröder, and he’s comporting himself well. On the season, he’s shooting 62% at the rim, more or less in line with Schröder’s 64% mark on similar volume.
But where Schröder attacked the rim with sheer speed, White’s game is slower and more deliberate. His pace reminds me of another former Spur in the league right now, Kyle “Slow-Mo” Anderson. He just runs on a slightly different tempo than most other players, cruising at a comfortable third gear instead of slamming into fifth.
He finds some fun angles to finish in the intermediary distances, too. Between three and ten feet from the basket, he’s about a 51% shooter on the season, thanks to his nice touch and creative repertoire of floaters.
Finally, White’s passing has continued to be his best offensive attribute. He has really thrived in Boston’s egalitarian ball movement system. He’s a terrific play connector in a way neither Schröder nor Richardson could be — willing and able to make simple, unselfish passes that keep the ball moving. If these Celtics pass the ball multiple times in a possession, they seemingly almost always find a good look, and White has been no small part of that.
I still have no idea how he converted this lob to Robert Williams (get well soon).
What I like about White’s passing is how almost quaint it is. He doesn’t have the penchant for show-stopping passes that we’ve seen over the years in Boston guards like Smart or Rajon Rondo. It’s just pure competency — a cyborg-like focus on delivering the ball as quickly and efficiently as possible, with minimal drama.
This is more a credit to the hard work of Payton Pritchard than White himself, as the only thing White really had to do was finish a wide-open fast break. But it’s simply too cool a play to exclude. Pritchard absolutely smothers Utah’s Jordan Clarkson, forcing a panic pass directly into the outstretched arm of Daniel Theis. Pritchard corrals the loose ball and launches it ahead to White, who slams home the fast break and puts the exclamation point on a huge win against the Jazz.
It’s just a very cool play that encapsulates how dominant this stretch of Celtics’ basketball has been.
That’s all she wrote for this week’s edition of Player of the Week. The coming week seems likely to be an interesting one, a four-game slate consisting of last night’s extremely short-handed loss to the Toronto Raptors, a massive conference battle with the Miami Heat on Wednesday, a Friday night matchup with the Indiana Pacers to avenge a late-February blowout loss and a Sunday afternoon tilt with the Washington Wizards.
Thoughts on this week’s pick, or predictions for the next one? Let us know down below in the comments.