Derrick White is officially part of Team USA. Following Friday’s scrimmage, the Spurs’ guard was promoted to the main squad, as previously rumored. He’ll make the trip to Los Angeles for the final stage of preparation and could be one of the 12 players who will represent America in the FIBA World Cup.
White didn’t blow anyone away during the scrimmage, finishing with more shots than points and almost as many turnovers as assists in a losing effort, but was arguably the leader of a select team that featured several of the league’s top young players. It was a good reminder of how far the former 29th overall pick has come.
Beyond his performance in the scrimmage, Spurs fans should be delighted by what White has done this summer. Even on this diluted version of Team USA, Gregg Popovich has some very good players under his leadership, so for White to stand out enough to warrant an invite to the last stage of practice is impressive. His familiarity with the coach and the fact that he was one of the few NBA players who participated in the qualifiers probably helped him get a closer look initially, but no one makes it this far in the process without earning their way.
His strong showing in such a competitive setting over the summer has not only been a boon for a depleted Team USA but also signals that he might be ready to make the leap the Spurs need from him. For all the positive attention his play rightfully commanded last season, White struggled with consistency. There was at least some room for doubt about his value outside of the specific role he filled last season. His good performance during Team USA training camp, on a different setting and alongside other promising young players, did a lot to erase any remaining question marks. White’s gotten almost universal praise as everyone, from coaches to his new teammates, has exulted his leadership, intensity and versatility.
Now comes the hardest part for White, as he attempts to earn his spot on the final roster. Making the cut seems unlikely, but not impossible. Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell will likely start in the backcourt, but there are some question marks behind them due to injuries. White seems like a perfect replacement for either Kyle Lowry or Marcus Smart if they end up being ruled out, as he’s a tenacious defender who can guard multiple positions and play on and off the ball on defense, just like those other two. The other likely options to fill in, De’Aaron Fox and Joe Harris, have skill sets that don’t really replicate what the injured veterans would bring to the table. On talent alone Fox should make it over White, but if the coaching staff values defense and versatility from its reserve guards, White will have a shot.
Whether he ends up making it to China, the fact that White appears to be in the mix this late in the process is impressive enough. This summer was expected to be a huge one for the combo guard, as he prepared to build on a breakout sophomore season. In what has almost become the norm for him at this point, he’s already exceeded expectations.