Celtics’ Derrick White Showcases Star Performance

‣ Derrick White is averaging career-highs in points (16.5), assists (5.1), rebounds (4.0), steals (1.3) and blocks (1.2) per game, making him a key player for the Boston Celtics.
‣ The Boston Celtics perform significantly better when White is on the floor, with the team being 11.4 points better per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass.
‣ Despite not being a high-scoring player, White’s overall performance and impact on the team’s success make him a potential candidate for the All-Star game.

Details

Let’s kick things off with some key highlights. Derrick White is currently averaging career-highs in points (16.5), assists (5.1), rebounds (4.0), steals (1.3) and blocks (1.2) per game. Not too shabby, right?

The Boston Celtics are also 11.4 points better per 100 possessions when White is on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass. He’s shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc and ranks ninth in the league in true shooting percentage (66.0).

Now, let’s rewind a bit. Earlier this week, the Boston Celtics were shorthanded in a pair of California clashes. They were missing vital starters to begin their four-game West Coast swing. Against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, Kristaps Porzingis sat out. Against the Sacramento Kings a day later, Jayson Tatum was sidelined.

Each night, Derrick White stepped up. He assumed a grander scoring load to mitigate their absences, tallying a combined 58 points on 37 shots. He also chipped in 10 helpers (one turnover), nine boards, six rejections and one steal. It was production indicative of star-level play.

While White’s box score numbers haven’t popped off the page as vibrantly as those outings, he’s been a steadying force and star-level player all season. He’s embarking upon the finest campaign of his career.

So, why should Derrick White be an All-Star candidate? Through 24 appearances, the 29-year-old is averaging 16.5 points, 5.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks. He’s shooting 42.9 percent from deep and 58.2 percent inside the arc — both of which would be easy career-highs had he not made 61.5 percent of his 13 triples as a rookie (we’ll count it anyway). His 66.0 percent true shooting is ninth league-wide.

Flip on a Celtics game and White is constantly at the heart of everything they do well. What they do well is a whole lot, too. They tout the NBA’s best record at 21-6, are second in net rating (plus-9.9), third in defensive rating and fifth in offensive rating.

The Eastern Conference is loaded with star guards this year. Tyrese Haliburton, Trae Young, Tyrese Maxey, Jalen Brunson, Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard will likely duke it out for the available All-Star spots — and rightfully so. White belongs in the backend of those conversations, even if I’d struggle to pick him over any of them. At the very least, he is the starting point of any discussions beyond that group.

I do not subscribe to the assumption that an elite team is automatically entitled to multiple All-Star selections. It’s far too reductive and does not require true analysis of scheme or personnel. Yet in Boston’s case, it is hard to argue White is not central to its success to the level he should garner consideration for a spot in Indianapolis this winter.

His blend of ball-handling, creation, off-ball scoring, versatile defense and reliable decision-making are anchoring Boston’s 64-win pace alongside Tatum thus far. None of the other high-profile starters have been better or more integral.

The natural pushback to his case is mediocre scoring output. But it is not unprecedented for sub-20-point scorers to make cameos at the NBA’s mid-winter classic. Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, Paul Millsap and Al Horford all fueled high-level regular season winning to receive nods. Jrue Holiday did the same last year. White is of that ilk currently, despite pedigree suggesting high-end starter more than fringe All-Star.

Pedigree should not be relevant, though. The All-Star Game is a snapshot of the season up to that moment; it is not a wide lens view of the league’s overall landscape. Regardless of whether he punches his ticket, White holstering a legitimate case does not mean he’s an outright star or someone who needs that label immediately bestowed upon him. It would simply mean he’s played like a star thus far this season — and he has.

Players ebb and flow every year. There are one-time All-Stars who earned the designation during a career-best season littered throughout NBA history. Reorienting the notion of an All-Star is crucial to entertaining White’s legitimate candidacy.

So, what’s changed for him this season? The driving force behind his emergence is increased responsibility and efficiency as a creator. White is Boston’s point guard. He initiates plenty of possessions, pilots pick-and-rolls, works off the bounce and scores at all three levels.

According to PBPStats, 50.8 percent of his field goals are self-created. His 57.8 effective field goal percentage on those shots is eight points above league average and ranks fifth on the Celtics. Horford, Svi Mykhailiuk, Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet have higher marks and they’ve only recorded 24 combined attempts (White has 135, fourth-most on the team)

When he sees an ounce of daylight beyond the arc, he fires. When defenders slip under screens, he pounces. He’s drilled 40.7 percent of his 54 pull-up long balls and 58.3 percent of his 24 pull-up 2s. Boston entrusts him to create because he’s fairly adept at it and his confidence is unbridled. He certainly has glue guy qualities, but he’s been far more than that.

He’s just not launching off-the-bounce bombs either. Despite lacking interior size and depth, Boston is loaded on the perimeter. White is often defended by point guards and leverages his 6-foot-4 frame to wiggle downhill. He loves burrowing his shoulder into mismatches, has the balance to comfortably play through contact and wields a soft floater as a counter against bigs parked near the rim.

Between the shooting and slashing, he’s been a dynamite pick-and-roll pioneer, generating 1.07 points per possession (87th percentile). His 74 percent clip at the rim is in the 90th percentile among combo guards, according to Cleaning the Glass. A career-low 35 percent of his shots around the basket are derived from assists as well.

The allure of his skill-set is his duality. On-ball dominance is a feature, not a necessity, in his game. He’s equally willing and able to slide off the ball, space the floor for Tatum and Brown, or screen, roll and pop for them. Nailing 44.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, he’s bombing away no matter the closeout.

He amplifies Boston’s highest-volume scorers as both a creator and play-finisher without any hiccups. His connectivity has been prevalent since the moment he joined Boston nearly two seasons ago. It’s now being complemented by budding on-ball opportunities and effectiveness.

White’s supremely beneficial environment cannot be ignored. Rarely, if ever, does he sees the stiffest of on-ball stoppers, though he’s dispatched quite a few pesky point-of-attack defenders. The Celtics’ five-out spacing provides such a wonderful context to get downhill stress-free. All of that is worth mentioning and acknowledging as it pertains to his All-Star application.

But it’s not as though he’s merely being efficient in his role like last year, when he averaged 12.4 points on 60.4 percent true shooting. He’s notching 16.5 points a night on 66.0(!!!) percent true shooting while igniting half of his own shots.

The eight players ahead of him in true shooting are seven dudes who dunk the ball a ton (or shoot very close to the hoop) and Aaron Nesmith. That’s not normal stuff for a point guard launching pull-up triples and engineering various chances out of ball-screens every game.

That sort of white-hot efficiency augments his All-Star chances because of his staunch defensive exploits. He typically takes the opposing team’s point guard, which allows Holiday to slide up and wrangle with bigger wings to compensate for some of Boston’s size deficiencies. Their presence together is symbiotic and cannot exist without White’s point-of-attack genes.

He’s tremendous in this role. His screen navigation, body control and shot-blocking instincts are masterful. There’s not a single guard better at swatting shots than him. He fastens himself to ball-handlers, refuses to concede an inch and still only averages 2.3 fouls per 36 minutes. The White-Porzingis pick-and-roll duo defensively is among the NBA’s best this season. After nabbing his first All-Defensive Team berth last season, he’s poised to contend for another this year.

His off-ball defense hammers home his prowess. He astutely stations himself on the weakside to control 1-on-2 situations, shrewdly times gambles as a helper, and his pesky hands are always lurking like havoc-seeking missiles. Somehow, he’s both intrepid and principled — wired to blow up an action, yet disciplined enough to preserve ideal positioning and avoid fouls. His marriage of body control and playmaking instincts are an NBA solar eclipse.

For years, he’s undertaken important defensive gigs and flourished. It’s partly why he’s always been a good player who’s since progressed to very good starter. This season, however, that vital defensive role is complemented by an expanding offensive role — albeit not as hefty as his defensive one — and he’s flourishing with that, too.

Plenty of All-Stars reside on the inverse spectrum: thriving in a vital offensive role and succeeding in a smaller defensive role. White’s responsibilities are prominent on both ends. He’s a good offensive player having a very good offensive season whose defense is malleable and resolutely great. That’s star-caliber play, and it’s time to recognize it as such.

James Shotwell
James Shotwell
James, a dedicated writer for BasketballHour, holds a degree in English and Creative Writing. A genuine sports enthusiast and skilled betting advice provider, he writes engaging articles and valuable winning strategies for sports.

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