There’s no denying that in order to succeed on a team as deep as the Boston Celtics, you need to sacrifice some of your game so that others can thrive. We hear players talk about their willingness to sacrifice all the time. However, one thing we’ve begun to see in Marcus Smart’s absence is just how talented Derrick White is at setting the table for his teammates and allowing the offense to flow at a high tempo.
White’s ability to orchestrate was incredibly prevalent against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, as he continually set up his teammates as the Celtics looked to steal a win in the most unlikely of circumstances.
The most impressive thing about the above possession is how White sells the layup by bringing the ball up high, as if he is entering into a EuroStep, before firing the pass to Mike Muscala, who had 45-cut from the wing into space around the basket. It’s these heads-up plays that keep defenders honed in on you as they look to contest the shot rather than peeling off to play the passing lane and render the cut useless.
When you couple White’s ability to keep defenders locked in on him with his ability to make decisions in the blink of an eye, you have the recipe for a high-level initiator, which is precisely what we saw from him throughout the game.
Here’s another example of White selling one thing before deciding on going a different route. This time, he curls off the Blake Griffin screen, snakes his dribble toward the nail, and head fakes toward Muscala as if he’s setting himself up to pass. A quick shimmy move has the defense ready to close out on the veteran shooter situated above the break, but instead, White jumps, turns his body, and hits Griffin on the wing for the wide-open three.
Brook Lopez, who is operating in drop coverage and has shaded White’s movements, is now caught out of position and struggles to get close enough to impact the shot, allowing Griffin to set his feet, get his line of sight in order, and release the rock with little-to-no resistance from the defense.
Another aspect of being a good floor general is knowing when to show patience, allowing action to unfold before finding the open man, and making a decision on what to do with the ball. Sometimes, that will mean slowing down, only to attack off the dribble a few moments later, while other times, somebody can spring free, giving you an outlet to generate a scoring opportunity with minimal creation off the dribble.
In the above action, we see the latter unfold, as Muscala breaks free of the defensive coverage courtesy of a ‘Twirl’ action that sees Sam Hauser drag a defender out of the paint, and Grant Williams’ scoring gravity put the tag man in a difficult position. As such, Muscala’s curl goes widely unchecked, and a simple pass from White ends in a statement dunk from the recent trade addition.
When playing as a secondary creator for the Celtics, we’ve all noted how quickly he’s willing to get off the ball in order to keep an offensive possession ticking over. Well, it would seem that mindset wasn’t due to the role he was playing, as throughout the contest against Milwaukee, we saw him take risks in order to put Milwaukee’s defense on the back foot.
Of course, every clip I’ve used here has ended in a bucket and was registered as one of his twelve assists of the night, but for a player stepping into a larger role and finding ways to impact the game when his three-point shot isn’t falling, you can forgive him a few turnovers (he had three on the night) — especially when going up against one of the better defensive teams in the league and having to deal with Jrue Holiday for significant stretches of the game.
Marcus Smart will be back in the rotation sooner rather than later, yet, it would be wise for Joe Mazzulla to increase the playmaking responsibilities that fall on White’s shoulders. After all, his playmaking performance against the Bucks wasn’t a new development — he’s been doing it consistently in Smart’s absence and has proven capable of carrying some additional weight.
White has registered double-digit assist numbers for the last three consecutive games, dropping 10 against the Charlotte Hornets, 10 against the Memphis Grizzlies, and 12 against the Bucks. Furthermore, the San Antonio product has amassed 48 assists since the start of February, although that has coincided with 14 turnovers, so there is certainly a balance that needs to be struck.
Yet, overall, we’ve seen that White is far more than a connector who can stifle opponents on the defensive end. Now we know he can run an offense to a high level and has the scoring tools to be a threat when he needs to create for himself, it might have meant losing Smart for a stretch, but those lessons could prove invaluable once the post-season rolls round, especially if guys are nursing slight knocks and could do with an additional few minutes of rest for a game or two.