While the San Antonio Spurs are fighting for their playoff lives, 80 miles up IH-35 their G-League affiliate, the Austin Spurs, have rampaged through the playoffs and are waiting for their finals opponent, hoping to win their first championship since 2012 and second overall. Leading the way is none other than 2017 first round pick Derrick White, who has averaged 20.1 points, 5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in Austin this season.
Many probably know his story by now, but just as a refresher he was a late bloomer who always had the talent but was extremely undersized in high school. After no Division I offers, he spent three years playing Division II ball at Colorado-Colorado Springs — where he suddenly had a growth spurt to go from a rail-thin six feet tall to 6’4” and buff— before having a breakout performance at the University of Colorado his senior year, earning a spot on the All Pac-12 first team.
Drafted by the Spurs, White was seen as a jack-of-all-trades player who could play both guard positions and had a decent shooting touch and passing IQ, but also an average athlete who lacked the speed to defend quicker guards.
Like many Spurs rookies before him, White has spent most of his time developing in the G-League with a NBA few appearances here and there. (He even led the Spurs in scoring once!) We’ve seen the success other players have had taking this route — Cory Joseph, Kyle Anderson and Dejounte Murray immediately come to mind — and from what he has shown us there’s no reason to think a bright future in the NBA doesn’t await him as well.
Check out some highlights from some of his recent performances, including a 37-point explosion back in March, as well as his two performances in the G-League playoffs so far:
Like always, it is important to note that the G-League is no NBA, and there’s no guarantee that performances there will translate at the next level. However, before a player can be expected to contribute for the big club in San Antonio, he needs to be standing out in the minors. White seems to have plenty of aspects to his game that will work in the NBA, so let’s dive right in.
The first thing that comes to mind is he is deceptively athletic — not overly, but more than advertised. Again, although this is the G-Leauge we’re talking about, he can be seen easily driving right past defenders and straight to the rim. While his versatility and ability to create on offense was already considered a strength, he was seen more as a spot up shooter who was more likely to pull up in the mid-range than take the ball all the way to the hoop.
Getting to the rim off the pick-and-roll is a staple for guards in the Spurs system, so the more he masters that art instead of settling for pull-ups, the better he will fit. (Although he’s still pretty good in the mid-range and already has a far better shooting touch than Murray, so this is not to say he should abandon that aspect of his game all together. It’s just good to know there is more to his game than pull-ups.)
Then there’s his pull-up three, particularly from the top of the arc, either in transition or just off an iso-move within the offense. Although he is only shooting 33 percent from three in the G-League this season, he shot just under 40 percent from three in college, and in an extremely small sample size has hit 8 of 13 in the NBA. It’s not hard to imagine that number rising within the Spurs system where he will not be the focal point and will likely get more open looks. As players like Danny Green and Patty Mills have shown over the years, transition threes can be huge game-changers.
Finally, there’s the defense. Again, while White was advertised as a decent defender in college thanks to his size and instincts, there was no telling how that would translate to the NBA due to his lack of speed for a guard. Well, as many Spurs before him have shown, speed isn’t everything, and with a little coaching from Gregg Popovich those instincts can go a long way.
Similar to his college stats, White is averaging over a steal and a block per game in Austin, and in the highlights above you can see him using those instincts to follow the ball and block shots without necessarily having to beat his opponent to the spot. Also, that deceptive athleticism is coming into play again with him getting higher to meet his opponents than you might expect.
Like many Spurs rookies, White has been an afterthought this season, but his development and potential future with the Spurs should not be ignored. It’s hard to pinpoint his skills enough for the sake of comparing him to another Spur. He has some poor-man’s Manu Ginobili with his passing and basketball IQ, and maybe a little Danny Green with the transition threes and blocking abilities for a guard.
While not nearly as long, rangy, or defensive-minded as George Hill, he could be the Spurs’ first two-way guard since then who can play on both ends of the court and lacks a severe weakness that may hinder his performance (although Murray could surpass him in that department when he develops more of an offensive game).
In the end, White has the potential to be his own unique player and has all the skills to fit right into the Spurs system. He will likely participate in the Summer League for the Spurs again this season, where he could easily see a role similar to Bryn Forbes, who was thrown in as the main attraction last summer and given the chance show what he can do. It earned him plenty of minutes this season and a likely future with the NBA (be it with the Spurs or elsewhere), and this might be White’s chance to do the same.
He will be an excellent reason to tune in this summer, and hopefully for several more seasons to come.