Derrick White: The Boston Celtics' elite...shot blocker?

Derrick White is known for his defense, and it's only gotten better this year. He's averaging the most blocks per game among guards.

Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls
Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages
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Derrick White's defensive abilities have been well-known throughout his career going back to his time in San Antonio. This season, as point-of-attack defenders, both he and backcourt partner Jrue Holiday have helped the Boston Celtics maintain the third-best adjusted defensive rating in the league, per dunksandthress.com.

Surprisingly though, the Celtics have found defensive production from White not only in the backcourt but in the least expected of all places, at the rim. White is not only averaging a career-high blocks at 1.2 per game but also leading all guards in blocks. This becomes even more astounding when compared to the rest of the league.

Currently, White is No. 19 overall in blocks per game and No. 17 in total blocks with 65. White is the only guard and the only player under six-foot-five in the top 20 of both lists. It stands out, yet is still flying under the radar. What's even more remarkable is that these blocks aren't just coming against other guards or smaller players. He's logged blocks on considerably taller forwards and centers such as Myles Turner, Nikola Vucevic, and Paul George.

White's defensive tenacity and acumen to block shots have given the Celtics yet another useful tool in their bag against good offenses, something that will be an even bigger asset in the playoffs. Even when teams will be scouting against them, a six-foot-four guard blocking shots at the rim isn't something anyone expects.

What really sets White apart, and gives him the ability to get his hands on shots from much taller players is his timing and knowledge of the game. What he makes look serendipitous, is a reflection of the work and practice he's put in over the years.

"Yeah I mean I got switched on to him," White said after a February win over the Chicago Bulls, a game where he blocked Vucevic twice. "So just trying to make him work and I know he kind of likes that little quick little hook shot, so probably didn't expect me to jump or to react that quick. So I got that one and then I figured he was going to go with the left hand and I was on that side so, just got the second one so."

And that isn't an isolated instance. With every defensive play, White is thinking a step or two ahead. He's learned what can be effective against every type of opponent, whether it be bigs or smaller players attacking the rim. Even when he gets beat he can keep good positioning so that he still has a chance to affect the shot, and without fouling, wich is a big difference maker.

“I feel like the floater is one of the most popular shots,” White told The Athletic's Jay King last year. "People are trying to get to that floater. And I’m just trying to get to the side of them, get behind them, so you can just use your arm and not hit them with the body or anything like that. Sometimes I’ve gotten some fouls on it, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making it difficult on them even if I don’t block it.”

Derrick White can represent Boston Celtics on another All-Defensive team

In 2023 White was Second-Team All-Defense and might make similar honors this year, despite the NBA switching to a positionless voting format. Even with the addition of a First-Team All-Defensive guard next to him, Holiday, White has only gotten better. He is just that important to this Celtics team holding a +2.5 estimated defensive plus/minus, ranking in the 97th percentile league-wide per dunksandthrees.com.

“I just think he brings multiple efforts on the defensive end,” head coach Joe Mazzulla also told The Athletic. “So go back to the [2022] Miami series, I think he did a great job chasing and challenging and fighting through off-ball screens.”

Once the playoffs start, and old rivalries start to heat up, Boston will need every inch and every play they can get. It's not a matter of if they will need White's well timed shot blocking in the playoffs, it's a matter of when.

Fortunately for the Celtics White has shown he is up to that challenge.