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The Boston Celtics’ little big man

Derrick White is providing defensive value in a manner traditionally reserved for big men.

NBA: Boston Celtics at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Derrick White is an exceptional perimeter defender. He has the quick feet and dexterity to navigate screens with aplomb and keep in front of even the craftiest of ballhandlers. White isn’t enormous, but he’s long enough to contest all but the league’s biggest wings as they attack off the bounce.

He’s equally impactful away from the ball. White has near perfect timing and is rarely out-of-place in providing help and executing rotations. He has a knack for sticking his hand into passing and driving lanes at just the right moment to disrupt an action or force a turnover.

White excels in virtually every manner teams hope a guard will provide defensive value, but his impact isn’t limited to such domains. He consistently contributes in a way traditionally reserved for big men: shot blocking.

White’s 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes are the most of any guard to play 500 minutes this year and are outpaced by only Robert Williams III and Luke Kornet among the Celtics’ rotation regulars, per And they’re not all the swipe down, semi-steal style swats that tend to make up the majority of many guards’ blocks totals (though certainly some are).

White consistently challenges would be scorers as a weakside shot blocker in a way that is uncommon among his positional peers. He has impeccable timing and just enough vertical pop to contest opponents at the apex of their leaps. White’s 1.8% block rate ranks in the 99th percentile as compared to guards league-wide, per Cleaning the Glass.

Opponents are shooting 58.9 percent from within 6-feet when White is the primary defender contesting their shot, per, a healthy 4.0 percentage points below expectations. That’s not an elite level of effectiveness, but its decidedly positive and beyond what would typically be expected from a 6’4” guard.

White’s overall impact as a shot blocker isn’t comparable to the league’s best bigs. He simply doesn’t have the size to be an anchoring rim deterrent, and his responsibilities as a perimeter defender keep him occupied away from the basket enough to keep him from turning away shots as frequently as players who are stationed closer to the hoop.

Being the best shot blocking guard in the league is a little like being the fastest offensive lineman in the NFL. Its interesting and helpful, but ultimately not incredibly important. White’s shot blocking is layered on top of an impressive defensive resume though. He’s great at the things that matter most for defenders of his size. Any rim protection he can provide to the Celtics is purely additive, and he’s offered enough of it to qualify as significant.

Boston is competing at the highest level. Every little detail matters. The extra defensive juice that White’s shot blocking provides gives the Celtics a marginal advantage that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s incredibly difficult to suss out his exact individual impact, but Boston’s performance when he plays offers little reason to doubt that he’s a meaningful contributor.

Opponents are shooting 2.5 percent worse at the rim when White is on the court (76th percentile), minutes during which the Celtics surrender just 109.3 points per 100 possessions (90th percentile), 6.1 points fewer (90th percentile) than when White sits, per Cleaning the Glass. Boston’s stinginess in his minutes really shouldn’t come as a surprise. There is almost nothing that White doesn’t do well defensively, even when he’s tasked with responsibilities that aren’t common for a player of his size.

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