In a week where rumors have surfaced regarding opposing team’s interest in Derrick White, the veteran guard reminded everybody of his value to the Boston Celtics, stepping up to the plate in Jaylen Brown’s absence to provide a complete performance against the Detroit Pistons.
Scoring the ball is always going to be seen as a key identifier of a player’s impact, regardless of what else that player does well, and while I don’t agree with that outlook on basketball, I do understand it. Still, White is so much more than a scorer, but he can fill that role quite well when he’s in rhythm and looking to pressure defense.
Nevertheless, White’s most valuable skill is his diversity, like most players on this Celtics roster, in that he can play the role of scorer, facilitator, connector, point of attack defender or team defender. There are no frills to his game, nor does he look to tie little ribbons onto his moves. Instead, White operates in the most efficient way possible, regardless of the situation or opponent.
In the above play, we see White operating as an inverted screener to begin the action; that is where a small sets a screen for a big, Jayson Tatum in this instance. The point of using inverted screens is to force a defensive switch and give your bigger player a favorable mismatch which they can attack in whatever way they see fit. Here, Tatum is looking to get to his spot on the elbow, drawing two defenders; as a result, thus leaving White open on the wing. Rather than calling for the ball so the defense can rotate over and challenge a shot or drive, White decides to back-cut his man and get into the middle of the floor.
There is no sprint. Nor a dawdle. White simply finds the Goldilocks zone, allowing him to drift into space seemingly unchecked before receiving a pass from Tatum and getting an easy bucket around the rim. To most, that bucket is nothing more than a defensive breakdown and opportunistic cut. Yet, in reality, White orchestrated that outcome with his smart screening, positioning, and reading of the defense.
This time we see a little bit of self-creation out of the low post from White, courtesy of some solid footwork and good shoulder feints to get his defender biting before he spins off into space for the open bucket.
Factor in White’s willingness to get off the ball quickly and often, the speed at which he makes decisions, and the regularity with which he finds the open man, and you can see why Brad Stevens saw him as a missing piece last season — especially when operating as a connector.
Perhaps that’s why Stevens has reportedly set the bar at an astronomically high price for any team looking to take the Greg Popovich disciple off of Boston’s hands, as reported by CelticsBlog’s very own Keith Smith.
“White has a ton of value, because he can play both guard spots, on- and off-ball and he can defend most small forwards too. And, for Boston, he fills in for (Marcus) Smart and (Malcolm) Brogdon, who both get hurt a lot. They’ve set a price no one is going to meet.”
According to Bball Index, White is among the top 4% of point-of-attack defenders when guarding starting caliber off-ball threats, a role in which he excels and one you can see an example of above, as White limits Jaden Ivey’s ability to pressure the rim off the rip-through.
Also, note how White’s positioning allows Sam Hauser to stunt into Ivey’s path and force the pick-up without having Hauser cheat too far off his man and risk losing him should he try and re-locate or cut baseline.
Overall, White continues to be exactly the player Boston believed they were getting when he joined the team this time last year: a steady veteran who impacts the game on both sides of the floor without the need for the in his hands or a high usage rate on offense. Sure, there are times when White can vanish for stretches and others when his shots just aren’t falling. Irrespective of those down swings, isn’t the point of adding diverse players such as White, that even when something isn’t going his way, he still has the requisite skill to impact winning on other levels, from other parts of the court?
On Monday night, White stepped into a larger role because that was what Marcus Smart's and Jaylen Brown's absence dictated, and in truth, he crushed it. Still, once those two starters return, White will continue to do what he’s done all season — impact winning in whatever way the game dictates, and for a team that’s clawing for a chance to return to the NBA Finals and challenge for a championship, those types of players are worth their weight in gold.
Fortunately, Stevens has done a stellar job in rounding out the roster with multiple players with that mentality, which is why Boston’s depth hasn’t been an issue this year — unlike it was during the ill-fated season of 2018-19, where their elite depth was to their detriment. As such, I will be taking any rumor of White being traded before the February 9 deadline with a pinch of salt, he simply provides too much value to consider jettisoning off to another team mid-way through one of the most important seasons in recent memory.