Welcome to the first installment of a 5-article series on what to expect from the Celtics’ starting five next season. If you find yourself confused, perplexed, anxious, scared, panicked, or just plain exhausted with the performance of any individual player at any point between October and June, I hope these articles can be a resource to temper those emotions…or to make them way worse. Whatever floats your boat.
Derrick White, Point Guard
Relevant Details: 6’4”, wears #9. Newly bald.
High-end prediction: He makes NBA All-Defensive First Team, and is a 16+ ppg scorer on >40 percent three-point shooting. In the best case, he makes Kristaps Porzingis look more like a fourth option than the #3 he was advertised as.
Reasonable prediction: White lands back on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, with decent three-point splits. A quality starter on a quality basketball team, but doesn’t improve dramatically on last season.
Low-end prediction: He slips defensively, with a deer-in-the-headlights mentality invading his usual psyche. Fading offensively with such potent firepower around him, White doesn’t adequately fill the hole left behind by Marcus Smart, schematically or emotionally. Tragic.
Does anyone on the Celtics have a higher approval rating than Derrick White? The man hit a tip-in that was more like stopping a bullet than it was hitting a basketball shot, and always felt like the answer when the Celtics’ offense looked like a bowl of question-mark soup.
White keeps the ball moving and has a two-hard-dribbles-spin-left-paint-push-shot (patent pending) that I swear is completely unstoppable. He was never the first, second, or third idea on offense, but sometimes White was the only thing stopping a cold streak from turning into a complete tailspin.
His high-end prediction is based more on an offensive leap than anything he needs to improve on defensively. In my ill-fated efforts to convince myself that playing Marcus Smart in crunch time was a good idea, I used to tell myself the C’s needed his defense. But if you ask any of my analytically-minded colleagues, that was just a coping mechanism.
That’s because White was unequivocally better on defense than Smart last year, making an All-Defensive team by being a relentless on-ball stopper and one of the best shot-blockers in the league. The only area he could improve in is against bulkier offensive creators, as Jimmy Butler hunted White like he was a pronghorn antelope on the low block.
As Al Horford found last year, the best way to serve a team where Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown initiate most of the offense is to go from good to great from beyond the arc. If White can push his 38 percent mark into the low 40s, he can add some sci-fi spacing to a team that already has every dimension of space previously thought possible by astrophysicists.
White’s high-end prediction is awesome because it could totally-absolutely-positively happen. His realistic one is basically just running back what he did last year adjusted for starting every game and playing in crunch time, which is also fine.
The best part is how hard it is to see White getting worse. Since coming to Boston, he has done nothing but add to his game while seamlessly transposing it from a tanking Spurs team to a contender. Now that he’s bald and significantly more aerodynamic, how can anyone slow him down?
Boston is inundated with talent, and White is the highest-budget version of the fan-favorite scrappy guy that every team has and nobody faults for anything. Last year, he was an every-game starter on about 25 teams, and this year he’s going to have his chance on the Celtics. He’ll play big minutes in place of Smart, whose minutes the team made no effort to replace.
I wouldn’t say they’re trusting White with the keys, but they definitely went to the hardware store and made a copy so he could have his own. It’s a lot of pressure, but he’s the best. It would take a calamity to convince me otherwise.