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The Derrick White effect

In Year 2 of his Celtics tenure, Derrick White has earned a larger role—even if he doesn’t want to admit it.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After struggling through the beginning of the month losing three straight games off blown double-digit leads and losing four out of five, the Boston Celtics pulled off a convincing 115-93 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night at TD Garden. At halftime, the Celtics had amassed a 60-45 lead and they didn’t just sustain it — they built on it. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Celtics were able to get their starters some rest as the bench closed the game out.

“It’s kind of human nature,” said Derrick White on the Celtics slowing down in games after building leads. “You want to do it every time when you’re up 20, make it 30. But even when you’re down 20, it just takes one play, you make a run off of that. It’s a game of runs… Just keep making the right play.”

In a much-needed get-right game, Derrick White was Boston’s second-leading scorer behind Jayson Tatum, scoring 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 4-of-4 from the charity stripe, 5 rebounds, and a team-high 7 assists in almost 36 minutes of floor time. He led the Celtics in minutes against the Trail Blazers, and was vital in the team’s win.

When asked about his perspective on not playing down the stretch late in close games, White remained humble and unbothered. “I’m playing basketball. I’m blessed,” said White with a smile. “I’m not really trying to just have the right perspective on things, but just understand it’s a team game. There’ll be times where I need to close, there’s gonna be times when Malcolm (Brogdon) and (Marcus) Smart (will need to close). It’s hard to take them out of the game as well. So anytime I’m out there, I just try to do things to help us win games, and even if I’m off the court, just be a good teammate and trust that the people out there are gonna help us win.”

On the whole, Derrick White has been one of the most important Celtics this season, and has arguably been Boston’s best guard out of their three-headed monster of a backcourt. Both Smart and Brodgon have dealt with injuries, whereas White has been Boston’s true iron man playing in all 67 games; he didn’t even miss a game after his scary neck injury suffered against Charlotte.

Per NBA Stats, White is also tied with Robert Williams for Boston’s highest net rating (9.9), albeit Williams has only played 28 game this season; for a better frame of reference, Jayson Tatum has a net rating of 8.1 over 62 games played. Per Cleaning the Glass, Derrick White has the highest efficiency differential on the Celtics with a rating of 8.4, and is in the 91st percentile out of all guards; by comparison, Jayson Tatum has an efficiency differential of 6.9 and falls in the 87th percentile.

The soft-spoken guard doesn’t just pass the eye test. The numbers back up what we’ve seen all season long: Derrick White is one of the most impactful players on the floor for Boston, and his dependability and importance to the Celtics success cannot be understated. All of Boston’s statistically-best lineups with the highest differentials all have Derrick White somehow in the mix either slotted in as the lone point guard on the floor or in some combination with Marcus Smart.

He’s one of the most-balanced complimentary players that the Celtics can put on the floor, and he’s continued to prove that he belongs on the floor more. White has also been massively impactful in the clutch, and leads all Celtics (minimum 10 clutch games) with a whopping 18.2 net rating.

With Robert Williams injured again, it may be time for head coach Joe Mazzulla to make a permanent change with the starting lineup, and keep Derrick White out there alongside Brown, Horford, Smart and Tatum. That’s not Rob’s fault or an indictment on his impact, but following two knee operations, it’s unfair to slot him back into the starting lineup and expect the same impact. It’s unrealistic, and if the Celtics do want to see if he can get back to where he was physically, wouldn’t it be easier with a lighter workload and going against weaker second units?

Keeping Derrick White in the starting five is the best of both worlds for the Celtics, and after Mazzulla’s recent comments on White playing late in games, you can’t help but wonder if it’s a change that’s being heavily considered. With White on the floor, Boston has another high-IQ ballhandler capable of playmaking, playing off-ball, providing spacing, and strong defense. At this point, between Rob, Smart and Brogdon nursing injuries and Horford resting on back-to-backs, it feels like more floor time for White is inevitable.

Whether he’d ask to or not, Derrick White should be seeing the floor more, and with Boston navigating some injuries, now is the golden opportunity to do so.

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