Derrick White stepped up in Marcus Smart’s absence, building on great season for Boston Celtics

Derrick White has stepped up in Marcus Smart's absence in several ways for the Boston Celtics during this 2022-23 season Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Derrick White has stepped up in Marcus Smart's absence in several ways for the Boston Celtics during this 2022-23 season Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

Last season, at the trade deadline, the Boston Celtics acquired Derrick White from the San Antonio Spurs. By all accounts, the trade was a win for both teams. White was a quality playmaker and great defender, someone who could effectively eat minutes and take some of the load off of Marcus Smart. In the 26 games with Boston, White proved to be a great acquisition.

One thing that some fans perhaps overestimated was his shooting ability. In San Antonio, he had one or two good shooting years but overall he was below-average shooting from three with 2022 being his worst percentage season at 31%.

In the playoffs he put up similar numbers and didn’t play exceptionally well in the, only averaging eight and a half points on 25 minutes per game.

Derrick White has had a brilliant 2022-2023 season for the Boston Celtics

This year, however, White has played notably differently. In what will be his first full season with the Boston Celtics, White is averaging 38 percent from three, his best season average not including his 17 game rookie year. His playmaking has held up with an assist to usage rate of 1.03, 74th percentile for guards, and only turning the ball over 9.3 percent of possessions per cleaning the glass.

Having a year to get adjusted helps, but the most remarkable part of White’s game is how he stepped up when Marcus Smart went down. In the 11 games Smart sat White only played more efficiently, shooting 43.6% from the 3-point line and 78% at the rim. His assist to usage ratio increased to 1.16 and his turnovers decreased to just over 8% of possessions, and he averaged nearly 21 points.

What sticks out particularly is his attacking the basket. White has shown that he can be relied upon to get the team a good look in crunch time. He can get into the restricted area and finish amongst rim protecting bigs. His efficiency also shows he can carry heavy workloads for extended times, which will become invaluable in the playoffs as the stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown need to find moments to rest.

Derrick White’s growth

The biggest jump of course is his shooting more than anything. His defense and playmaking were known when he was brought in from San Antonio. An important takeaway from his remarkable play, both recently and all season, is how his game is still being refined.

It can be common for players to be viewed as more or less finished products, especially role players. It can be common thinking when they come in that they are what they are, yet we see that narrative flip nearly as much as not. White is 28 years old and this should be him entering his actual prime. He’s proving to be an effective glue guy along with other off-season acquisition Malcolm Brogdon. In fact White’s durability in a starting role has helped Brogdon keep his minutes right around 25, which has in turn led to a more durable season for him as well.

All in all White was a great trade for the Boston Celtics last year, but he’s really finding his niche this season. San Antonio is a great organization to come from, players already have so many good habits developed, White has been able to build on top of that.